AsIAm Founder and CEO Adam Harris helped launch SuperValu’s Autism-Friendly Shopping project earlier this week in Lucan, Co. Dublin.

A new series of initiatives undertaken by the supermarket chain aims to make shopping experience easier and more comfortable for autistic shoppers and their families.

Mr Harris was joined in launching the project by Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath TD, the Middletown Centre for Autism’s CEO Gary Cooper and SuperValu’s Marketing Director Des O’Mahony.

SuperValu has held a series of autism-friendly evenings in 40 stores around the country, holding its first over two years ago in Clonakilty, Co. Cork. It has worked closely with autism advocates and experts from across Ireland in developing the project since then. An expert panel was appointed by the supermarket to consult and to ensure that the changes made were impactful, and relevant for families and workable for retailers.

Speaking at the launch, Adam Harris praised SuperValu’s initiative in making steps to become more autism-friendly: “At times when we talk about autism, we find ourselves caught in a constant discussion about services and therapies. These resources are vital but what we sometimes lose sight of is that without whole communities engaging in becoming more inclusive and accessible, we will never truly have equality for the autism community. SuperValu have shown leadership in recognising the difference they can make to autistic people and families by making small but powerful changes.”

Gary Cooper, CEO Middletown Centre for Autism echoed the sentiments saying: “I welcome the development of the inclusive environments that are being created in store for the autism community and commend the SuperValu team for their foresight and commitment to this world-class initiative.”

And SuperValu Marketing Director, Des O’Mahony added: “We began this journey 18 months ago with autism-friendly shopping times and the introduction of an Autism-friendly trolley in a small number of stores and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

One of the main features of the project are the inclusion of Autism Lifeskill Friend (ALF) trolleys. The trolley was designed in Cork by Tony and Theresa O’Donovan from Togher who have a 16-year-old son with autism with the aim of making supermarket shopping a more enjoyable experience for an autistic, while also giving them a lifeskill.

SuperValu has developed a series of initiatives with the Middletown Centre which it plans to roll out to its stores nationwide. More stores will have sensory-friendly times and families will be able to use store maps to pre-plan their visit.

The standardised beep sounds on tills will also be reduced in stores nationwide and staff will take e-learning modules to build up their awareness of autism.

There will be downloadable store sounds to de-stress the store visit and beep sounds on tills will be reduced and standardised. An online autism awareness educational programme that will be offered to all staff also outlines how the steps taken in the store will make a difference.

“It is exciting to see a retailer as big as SuperValu go on this journey” Mr Harris went on to say. “We hope it will trigger a conversation in communities around Ireland about how we can make all aspects of our villages, towns and cities more accessible.”

A dedicated webpage is available from the supermarket’s main website, detailing the various supports offered, as well as including images of a typical store’s layout and downloadable samples of expected noises heard on a busy shop floor.