Continuing their fight for a more autism friendly UK, The National Autistic Society are launching Autism Hour between 6-13th October, an initiative which promotes autism friendly shopping experiences across the UK. Shops, businesses and shopping centres will take simple steps to make their businesses more accessible to autistic people for one hour during the week, such as turning down music and other noise, dimming fluorescent strip lighting and sharing information about autism with employees.
There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK, as well as three million family members and carers. Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and can struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can make busy public places, like shops, overwhelming.
A film created by Don’t Panic and distributed by VT demonstrates just how overwhelming it can be, and calls on people to spread the word ahead of the first Autism Hour this Saturday - encouraging autistic people, their families and members of the UK public to go along and show support.
The National Autistic Society hopes that the initiative has a lasting impact beyond the week of activity, and that many businesses will follow The Entertainer’s example and introduce permanent changes like their weekly Quiet Hour, or work towards the Autism Friendly Award. This is an opportunity for shops to make a big difference to the lives of autistic people through simple changes.
“The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour is a brilliant way of showing shops how easy it can be to make little changes that have a huge impact for families like mine. As a mum to autistic children, it is my job to protect them and help make a world which works for them. Like any other family, we want to have the option of going to shops, to go clothes shopping with them and let them pick out clothes and experience a fun family day out. Something that people may take for granted.
“I really hope that so many shops get involved, and that everyone makes an effort to learn something about autism during the week.” - Christine McGuinness, mother to 5-year-old autistic twins Penelope and Leo, and star of ITVBe’s Real Housewives of Cheshire.
“I rarely go into supermarkets. I find that environment really challenging, all of the bright lights, the confusion of the enormous complexity of goods in there, plus all the smells and the sounds. It’s a difficult environment. And that’s why I’m very keen to support Autism Hour, those shops which offer an hour where they make the whole atmosphere a lot more relaxing for autistic people.” - Chris Packham, TV presenter, naturalist and National Autistic Society ambassador.
“It's important to recognise that all autistic people are different, and what could cause a meltdown for one person may not for another. I'm delighted to support Autism Hour. For me, the perfect shopping experience would be peace and quiet. Ideally no music, and if the alarm goes off, or someone begins working with power tools in the shop, I'll be out of there very quickly. Also, don't hover, I'll ask for help if I need it.” - Anne Hegerty, The Governess on ITV’s The Chase and National Autistic Society supporter.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “It’s wonderful to see so many well-known high street retailers have already signed up – and ready to make the world a more autism friendly place. Autistic people represent a huge part of our society and it is a disgrace that 64% of autistic people avoid the shops. And, shockingly, 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated to their autism. They and their families want and deserve to have the opportunity to go to the shops, just like anyone else.
“The National Autistic Society want a world which works for autistic people. With Autism Hour, we want to show retailers the small things they can do to help open up the high street for autistic people. “
Carrie-Ann Lightley, Marketing Manager at AccessAble, said: "We fully support important initiatives like Autism Hour, enabling everybody equal access shops and retailers. At AccessAble we have over 8000 Detailed Accessibility Guides covering shops and supermarkets on our website and App. The Guides are 100% fact, figures and photographs and will give you loads of useful information to work out if somewhere is going to be accessible to you. They cover everything from parking to hearing loops, noise and lighting levels and accessible toilets."
Find out more about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour and how to get involved by visiting: autism.org.uk/AutismHour