Ensure staff are properly trained
The first thing that can help with having an inclusive retail store is to make sure that your staff are trained to assist autistic shoppers. This will mean your workers are better prepared to offer a service that is both compassionate and useful when these people come into your store.
You might also want to set up general disability awareness training in your workplace, and refresh these training sessions when you have new employees join the team — or every six months, to keep everyone regularly trained up on this subject. You will be sure to get some positive feedback from your customers on this. BeyondAutism offer bespoke training to suit your needs.
Build relationships with customers
It’s important to remember that autistic children and adults all have very individual and specific needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This means that you will need to tailor your service to each new situation, and the easiest way to do this is to build relationships with your customers to ensure that you know their needs.
Here at Charles Clinkard, we offer a system where parents can book shoe shopping appointments in advance for their children, and request support for autism or other needs. This allows people to set their minds at ease, knowing staff will be ready to accommodate them. If possible, build communication with your customers and offer appointments or accommodations for autistic people so that they can be sure their needs will be catered for.
Reduce sensory overload
Many autistic children and adults can experience sensory overload, where the input from the world around them becomes overwhelming or unpleasant. To make them feel more welcome in your store, you can reduce this by lowering the volume of music or turning it off when asked, and dimming the lights slightly as shop floor lighting is often extremely bright.
Other options can include painting your walls, floor and ceiling in neutral colours that aren’t going to be overpowering to those who are more sensitive to visual stimulation.
Create a quiet area
As well as offering some quieter opening hours in your store, you might consider having a quiet area cornered off in your store for those who might need to be away from the usual hustle and bustle of the retail environment. This might be a separate room or a corner of the store that is slightly further back from the usual busy areas.
You could also adapt this space by having no music, less vibrant colours on the walls and floor, and comfortable seating for people who might want to take their appointments slower. This can allow you to have a permanent space to offer autistic customers in which they can feel more at home.
Offer extra opening hours
If possible within your business, you could also consider offering special extra opening hours for customers who prefer to shop when there is less of a crowd. This might be earlier or later than your usual hours, or on specific days. If you opt for this, have these hours on your website and listed in a noticeboard in the front of your store so people can easily find out about these options.
Your quieter opening hours might also include changing the environment slightly. As well as turning off music, this could include limiting the amount of customers or appointments, and dimming the lights if this is not something you are able to do during your main opening hours.
Making your retail environment more autism-friendly can feel somewhat overwhelming at first, but once you know where to start, you can create an inclusive environment more easily. Incorporating some of these tips into your store can allow autistic children and adults to feel more comfortable while shopping, and ensure that your staff are confident and sensitive when making them feel welcome.