Autism-friendly shopping experience coming to Penneys

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Pictured at the launch of the Penneys and AsIAm autism-friendly shopping at Penneys flagship store on Dublin’s Mary Street are Adam Harris, Founder and CEO of AsIAm & Nessa Maher, Assistant Manager Penneys, Mary St. Pic: Naoise Culhane

Penneys is introducing autism-friendly shopping experiences including sensory-friendly shopping hours to its stores in Galway and across the country.

The initiative, developed in partnership with AsIAm, is intended to create an inclusive shopping experience for autistic people and their friends and families.

Every Sunday, starting from 14 November, autistic people and those close to them can visit Penneys stores during the Sensory Friendly Shopping Hour, which is the first hour of store opening.

Several measures will be in place during the hour to ensure a calmer and more inclusive shopping experience, including noise reduction across the store such as silencing tills and in-store announcements and turning off in-store music.

There will also be additional assistance and support from in-store Champions who have all received specialised training from AsIAm.

As part of the Autism-Friendly Shopping Experience, Penneys has created special digital support materials accessible on the Penneys website to ensure that shopping is more accessible for autistic people outside of the Sensory Friendly Shopping Hour.

Customers can visit the relevant store page and, through visual and audio aids, prepare themselves for the sights and sounds they may experience while in store that may cause sensory overload.

It also includes a store map and visual guide called My Trip to Penneys to prepare for their visit and help identify how they can navigate through  the store when they arrive.

Customers will also be able to easily access these online supports through QR codes placed in-store.

Commenting on the initiative, Damien O’Neill, Head of Sales at Penneys, said: “Penneys is for everyone, we want everyone to feel welcome in our stores and we understand that for some customers we need to adapt the way we work to provide a better experience.

“This is just one of the ways we’re doing that and we’ve learnt a lot through AsIAm  about how making some small changes can have a big impact.

“We are really looking forward to continuing our work with AsIAm as we work to raise awareness and understanding of autism among our colleagues and in our stores.”

AsIAm also conducted thorough audits of Penneys stores and highlighted areas of high sensory input as well as a list of  recommendations to create a more comfortable shopping experience for autistic people during all trading hours.

Adam Harris, Founder and CEO, AsIAm, said: “Shopping and the retail environment can be an incredibly overwhelming experience for autistic people and their families, due to crowded environments and the sensory overload from noises.

“We are delighted in AsIAm to have partnered with Penneys to make shopping more accessible for our community.

“Outside of the weekly sensory friendly shopping hour, we wanted to ensure that meaningful accommodations were in place all of the time that will enable an autistic person or their family to comfortably navigate the shopping environment, as well as training all Penneys staff in understanding autism.

“We are very excited to start this journey and to continue to work together in our commitment to making shopping as inclusive as possible.”

As part of the rollout, Penneys employees will receive training supported by AsIAm. This training will be delivered through a custom-built Autism Awareness e-learning module, which will be hosted on Penneys’ digital learning platform.