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Australian supermarket introduces 'quiet hour' for customers on autism spectrum

Hannah Uttley
The pilot will run every week in two of Coles’ supermarkets until October (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

A supermarket in Melbourne, Australia, has launched a ‘quiet hour’, to help customers on the autistic spectrum feel welcome and comfortable when doing their weekly shop.

Coles, which is one of Australia’s biggest supermarket brands, will create a “low sensory” environment for its shoppers once a week in two of its stores in Melbourne, Victoria, in collaboration with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), the country’s largest service provider for people with autism.

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Every Tuesday for an hour at 10.30am until the end of October, Coles will make small changes to the store such as dimming lights on the shop floor by 50%, reducing the supermarket’s radio to the lowest volume and have trained team members to assist customers.

A poster for Coles’ Quiet Hour (Coles/Aspect)

According to research carried out by Aspect, one of the most common time to shop for those on the spectrum, parents, or carers, was Tuesday mornings. The study, which asked about shopping habits, also revealed that bright lighting was the most common cause of difficulty in supermarket shopping, while music, register beeps and queuing were all also major obstacles.

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Despite having only been running for a week, the pilot has already received high praise. Writing on Facebook, the mother of a nine-year-old boy with autism said she was “fighting back tears” after they were able to successfully complete their grocery shopping for the first time thanks to the supermarket’s quiet hour.

“Today I walked out of our local Coles (New St,Ringwood) with my son, and a trolley full of groceries. We spent 40 mins in the store, casually walking up and down each aisle selecting the items that we needed. The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears,” she wrote.

“Today was a milestone for us. We filled a trolley!!! No mad dash to get in and out as quickly as possible only grabbing a handful of items. Lachlan was provided with such a positive experience in an environment that is challenging.”

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Victoria Anderson, national employment coordinator for Aspect, who came up with the idea behind the programme with colleague Linzi Coyle, said the initiative had also received positive feedback from customers with varying mental health conditions.

“We’ve heard from people with severe anxiety disorders, those with depression and customers with learning disabilities who have really benefitted from the pilot. It’s also been great for customers that live together in group homes, as carers are able to help get all their shopping done together rather than in smaller groups.”

Anderson added that Aspect hoped to develop and improve the scheme using feedback from customers.

“Our [Aspect’s] motto is ‘nothing about us without us’,” she said. “Any initiatives or policy changes we introduce as a company will always come through the suggestions and advice of people on the spectrum.”