Pioneering Cork-based initiative for autistic and disabled shoppers going national

A pioneering Cork-based initiative to cater for autistic and disabled shoppers has gone national after similar schemes were adopted by major retailers across the country — and even by a supermarket in the UK.

The groundbreaking move to hold a weekly autism-friendly shopping evening was first launched by Scally’s Supervalu in Clonakilty, West Cork, shortly before Christmas.

The initiative, which has been embraced by the seaside town’s community, involves dimming the store’s lights and switching off the tannoy and music for a designated period every Tuesday to create a calmer environment for people with autism.

The ‘quiet hour’ has proved such a success, it is now being replicated across the country — and even by UK-based supermarket giant Asda, which has introduced a similar scheme in one of its Manchester outlets.

Similar schemes are also up and running closer to home in Marks & Spencer on St Patrick St, Cork, and at Supervalu outlets in Trim, Co Meath, and Greystones, Co Wicklow, while a hairdresser’s outlet in Bandon, West Cork, has also embraced the initiative.

Autism-friendly shopping environments are also due to be set up in the coming weeks in Boots’ Bandon outlet, along with Supervalu in Navan, Co Meath.

Patricia O’Leary, the mother of three behind the initiative, said she is thrilled to see it being rolled out nationally.

Ms O’Leary, 48, who came up with the simple idea while studying autism studies at University College Cork, said: “I’m delighted with how many shops are rolling out this initiative. I’ve been involved with some of them which have since set up the scheme, but a couple of them have done it themselves.

“As long as it’s done properly I don’t mind, because at the end of the day we’ve proved that this idea works.

“It’s about creating a suitable environment for sufferers of autism.

“I’ve recently finished my autism studies and I intend to devote a lot more time to this. And judging my the take-up so far, I feel confident that in a few years autism-friendly shopping environments could become widespread across Ireland.”

Some supermarket chiefs who have introduced the scheme have also noted the weekly ‘happy hours’ have been good for business, as regular customers opt to shop in a less intense environment.

Sufferers of other conditions — such as epilepsy and those with hearing problems — have also embraced the calmer atmosphere in shops.

Paddy Holohan, store manager of Daly’s Supervalu in Greystones, said: “We run our autism-friendly shopping evening every Tuesday from 7pm to 9.30pm. We introduced it a couple of weeks ago and the response has been phenomenal.

“It offers a more sedate and better environment to shop in. We’ve been delighted with the response and I can certainly say that it’s here to stay.”

Autism, which affects as many as one in 100 people in Ireland, is a highly complex neurological condition.


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