COLES is rolling out its autism-friendly, “low-sensory” Quiet Hour shopping experiment nationwide, with reduced noise, lighting and in-store distractions.
COLES will dim the lights, turn down the music and reduce in-store distractions at 173 stores from tomorrow as it more than doubles the number of Quiet Hour locations.
The supermarket said it was expanding the autism-friendly shopping experience to an additional 103 supermarkets nationwide to provide a “more inclusive shopping environment for all customers”.
Quiet Hour, which received massive support from parents of autistic children after a successful trial in August last year, will now be offered in an additional 103 stores — 56 in New South Wales, 27 in Queensland and 20 in Western Australia — every Tuesday from 10.30am to 11.30am.
“It’s been very positive,” said Sydney mum Sarah Miller, whose nine-year-old son Cameron and six-year-old Kevin are both on the autism spectrum.
“Shopping is one of those life skills that as a parent I need to teach my boys, not just actually going to the shops but making healthy choices, spending money, going through the cash register. With this I’m able to take a bit more time.”
Ms Miller said Kevin would get “very upset” and “worked up, particularly in busy environments with lots of lights and things going on”. “The stigma of shopping with kids on the spectrum is pretty difficult,” she said.
In the past she would try not to take them both shopping at the same time, but that was often not possible. “I would try to divide and conquer,” she said. “Now I make a point of putting (the Tuesday shopping trip) on my visual calendar, just like I would book in speech therapy, occupational therapy appointments. For my boys that becomes familiar.”
Ms Miller said Quiet Hour also increased the likelihood of bumping into other parents in a similar situation.
“We’ve listened to our customers, and our store teams have worked hard to make our stores more welcoming and responsive to the needs of the local communities in which we operate,” Coles managing director John Durkan said in a statement.
“We initially started with 70 Quiet Hour stores across the country, and now we’re thrilled to be more than doubling this figure to make Quiet Hour more accessible for our customers and help make a difference to their shopping experience at Coles.”
The program was developed in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia. The initial trial at Victorian stores Ringwood and Balwyn East was then expanded to 18 stores in Victoria, 20 in NSW, 14 in Queensland, six in South Australia, nine in Western Australia and one each in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and ACT.
Coles said the initiative would be introduced to additional stores in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the NT and ACT in the coming months.
During Quiet Hour, lighting is reduced, Coles Radio is switched off, register and scanning volume reduced to the lowest level and PA announcements are stopped except in emergencies. Trolley collections are also paused and roll cages removed from the shop floor, while additional customer service staff are available and free fruit is offered.