Accessibility as the basis of an inclusive shopping experience concept
Accessibility as the basis of an inclusive shopping experience concept
Whether online or offline - pedestrian streets and shopping malls are crowded and credit or debit cards are working overtime. While some people count shopping among their hobbies, people with disabilities are often not quite as excited about shopping. REHACARE.com has researched and listed some easy ways for supermarkets to facilitate a more relaxed and calmer shopping experience for people on the autism spectrum and reveals where you can order coffee drinks in sign language.
Last year, a Starbucks branch opened in Washington DC where baristas sell coffee drinks in ASL.
Shopping is a weekly ritual for many of us, usually done on certain days and at roughly the same time. Yet depending on the day you have had or the stress level you experienced, this isn’t always a fun endeavor. Some scenarios we are all familiar with: other consumers block the aisle with their shopping cart to chat with someone, long lines at the checkout, the background music plays an annoyingly catchy tune and the cashier at the register asks whether you have a payback card to earn your rewards. This bad combination of too many people, dreadful music and forced communication is often too much even for those who are not on the autism spectrum.
Meanwhile, supermarkets follow specific patterns in their setup: lights, music and product placement play an important role along with smells. Everything is designed to prompt consumers to add more items to their shopping carts than they actually need.
Autism Aware stores curb sensory overload
People on the autism spectrum are overwhelmed by added and truly unnecessary sensory input. Needless to say, they, too, develop strategies to manage their weekly grocery shopping. They schedule trips right before closing time or before the rush hour, write their lists in the order of how products are placed at the store and usually stick with buying the same products. However, some still need help to prevent them from being overwhelmed at the store. While adults on the autism spectrum have learned to manage their shopping excursions in one way or another, parents of children on the autism spectrum equate their weekly shopping trips with an enormous obstacle course.
After all, children are even less able to cope with sensory overload that waits for them at the supermarket. That's why Katja Cragle started a petition on Change.org. She is unable to go shopping and bring her son along because the setting is too overwhelming for him, triggering him to become aggressive and lash out, scream or throw things. This is uncomfortable for all parties involved but mostly for Katja Cragle and her son. That’s why she calls on LIDL Germany to introduce autism-friendly quieter opening hours. Her petition has been up for nine months and has so far collected 2,021 signatures (as of January 22, 2019).
What prompted this mother’s idea of autism-friendly quieter opening hours? LIDL Ireland began this initiative in time for World Autism Day on April 2, 2018 across its entire network of 194 stores in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Every Tuesday between 6 pm and 8 pm people on the autism spectrum can complete their shopping in peace and quiet. During these hours, the supermarkets reduce the glare from the bright lights, there is no distressing music or announcements and even the scan sounds at the cash registers are lowered. What’s more, autism assistance dogs are always welcome and people on the autism spectrum take priority over other customers at the checkouts. The entrance area also provides an in-store map to plan and avoid areas with strong smells or loud sounds.
The Lidl branches in Ireland have autism-friendly opening hours. At the supermarket entrance, parents with autistic children, for example, can find out where disturbing sources of noise or odours are in the market and then bypass them.
#AutismHour – simple changes, big impact
Unfortunately, LIDL Germany has no plans to introduce autism-friendly business opening hours at this point. Incidentally, the UK seems to be further ahead than Germany when it comes to accessible shopping. Back in 2016, a store of the ASDA supermarket chain in Manchester was the first to introduce its so-called "Quiet Hour" to help customers with autism get their shopping done. During this time, the store turns off escalators, monitors and music. By now, the supermarket chain has expanded this concept and added a new "inclusive hour". Stores in Kent and Manchester also offer their support to elderly people by providing rollators or scooters. Plus, less sensory stimulation also benefits persons with dementia when they shop.
Other supermarkets in the UK are now also offering special opening hours on a regular basis. The National Autistic Society has created the hashtag #AutismHour in 2017. During a campaign in October, the hashtag draws attention to how easy it is for retailers to help people on the autism spectrum to visit their stores.
Statistically, about one percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. This makes people on the autism spectrum not the primary target market of retailers. Yet they are still consumers of course. Despite the many online options, weekly shopping is still a necessary evil. By now, grocery chains like REWE are also delivering groceries ordered online to people’s doorsteps and some supermarkets also have self-checkout systems, which eliminate the need for interaction with cashiers. However, lights, music and other people who are not familiar with persons on the autism spectrum still remain an issue.
By the way, the Signing Store in Washington, D.C was actually not the first of its kind in the history of Starbucks. The company already opened a store in 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with nine deaf associates. Its American counterpart employs 25 staff members.
Accessibility and inclusion a social responsibility
Meanwhile, supermarkets in other countries are not the only ventures that recognize a duty to social responsibility towards people with disabilities. Another company that gained attention and cult status thanks to its "Fair Trade" certified coffee is Starbucks. The company from Seattle has conquered and transformed the world of coffee. Its company policy states: "Creating a culture of belonging is a core value that makes Starbucks a unique place for our partners (employees) and customers around the globe. It is not only a business imperative, but it is our global social responsibility to create a coffeehouse experience of warmth and inclusion – where everyone is welcome, respected and valued – and an environment that is accessible for all."
True to its motto, the chain opened its first US "Signing Store" in October 2018 in Washington, D.C.. A team of hard-of-hearing, deaf, and hearing employees sell coffee drinks in American Sign Language (ASL). "There are more than 200 deaf employees working at Starbucks stores worldwide, but typically those partners are working alongside hearing coworkers who don’t necessarily know sign language," said Marthalee Galeota, senior manager for accessibility at Starbucks. "This is a first for us, and though it’s a mix of hearing, hard of hearing and deaf partners, the common denominator is sign language, which puts everybody on an equal footing."
The Starbucks signing store is located just blocks from the renowned Gallaudet University, one of the oldest universities serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the US. The store was designed to create more open spaces and remove glare from surfaces. What’s more, the store designers incorporated several aspects of the DeafSpace Project, which was established at Gallaudet University. In collaboration with architect Hansel Bauman, the Department of American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University developed technical design aspects that make shopping easier for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. This included aspects such as sensory reach, mobility, light and color and acoustics.
"All the barriers are gone from being able to communicate, or from people being able to demonstrate their skills and show off the talent they have. We think this store celebrates the culture of human connection on a deep level," said Galeota. Those who are (still) new to sign language can take advantage of the store’s visual displays for ordering and receiving drinks, as well as a console with two-way keyboards to facilitate typed conversations. The company hopes that even walk-in customers will take a little time to broaden their horizons. That’s why the store also features a chalkboard with the "sign of the week" that shows how to sign a word like espresso in ASL for example. In doing so, it offers customers who otherwise don’t have access to ASL the opportunity to learn something new each week.
For District Manager Margaret Houston, working with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals has been a rewarding, enriching experience. She believes there are more Signing Stores to come and that other companies will increasingly follow suit and put accessibility and inclusion on their agenda. "At Starbucks it is happening now, and I believe you will see other businesses doing it as well."
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
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