We at AsIAm were proud to work with Vodafone Ireland to introduce autism-friendly retail hours in a number of its stores across Ireland. The new initiative is part of a company-wide neurodiversity programme that will run across retail, employment opportunities, events and education. James Magill, manager of HR for Vodafone, explained the thinking behind this direction. “Vodafone in Ireland has a purpose which is to connect for a better world. We have a real focus on inclusion for all. That means as we are designing and delivering digital society we’re reducing the inequalities that exist in society. Neurodiversity is a topic of real importance to us, to our people and to our customers. So we reached out to Adam to help us understand the topic better and to understand what interventions we’d want to put in place.”
The overall goal is to create an atmosphere that improves the shopping experience for autistic visitors. To that end, an audit of Vodafone stores was conducted, identifying areas that could benefit from improvement. AsIAm CEO Adam Harris spoke at length to Vodafone managers and leaders. He then conducted a sensory experience within Vodafone headquarters where over 350 people went through sensory exercises to put them into the shoes of someone on the spectrum. The training team then drew up Elearning modules for each of Vodafone’s store managers.
The new shopping experience will see reduced noise, priority seating and appointments every Wednesday between 9am and 11am. The shops will also make sensory boxes available in each of their autism friendly stores. The box, easily accessible to all customers, will include sunglasses with a visor, a stress ball, ear defender equipment and scented tags. However this is just the beginning according to Retail Manager Jenny Hayes “Going forward we hope to introduce sensory maps on our website as well as social stories for common customer experiences. We also would like to roll out eLearning training for all staff in Vodafone, beyond just managers.”
Numerous staff members reached out once training began to share their own experiences with autism. Channel Marketing Manager Elaine Kelly was delighted to see these new measures introduced. Kelly, who has an autistic son, wished to see a business where he could enter a shop with staff who are both understanding and accepting. She also noted this was useful from a family perspective. “My son is 9 so obviously he doesn’t need to go into a store. However as a family to go in with an autistic child it’s really important to be able to go into an enviroment that is calm, stress and judgement free. It’s great to achieve that.”
Magill also noted that Vodafone will embrace neurodiversity not just for customers, but for employees. The organisation is partnering with Specialisterne Ireland. to increase their neurodiverse staff. He understands that unemployment is an issue in the autistic community and wants to address this through autism-friendly hiring policies. Magill concludes “Our product is all about connecting people to each other, businesses to businesses and making communities. Inclusion s necessary for this!”
The autism friendly store hours commenced at 25 Vodafone stores across the country. Vodafone plans to roll out across the rest of Ireland later in 2020