Starting this Sunday, shoppers at Sobeys outlets across the province may experience a little less hectic grocery run.
For an hour on Feb. 24, the lights will be dimmed, the clattering of carts being corralled will be suppressed and the music silenced as the grocery giant aims to be more inclusive to shoppers with sensory sensitivities.
Darryl Wilson, the manager of the Sobeys location in Windsor, said stores across the province will be taking part in the new initiative and hosting at least an hour of sensory-friendly shopping. The Windsor location will be doing it Feb. 24 from 6-7 p.m.
“There are a lot of people who are sensitive to noise and light and (have) other sensitivities and coming into a grocery store can be difficult,” said Wilson.
The manager said they’ve been “learning a lot about autism, about inclusion in the workplace and diversity” and they want to implement positive changes.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. According to Autism Nova Scotia, people living with ASD experience challenges with communication and social interactions and often display restrictive or repetitive behaviour. For some, shopping can be a challenge.
A handout will be provided to Sobeys customers at the event to explain what autism is and how it can show differently for individuals. Not everyone with sensory issues has autism, and not everyone with autism has sensory issues, however, many do.
“When an autistic child is having what looks like a temper tantrum, it may be that they are reacting to the pain caused by the bright lights of a store display, or the noise from air conditioning,” the Autism Nova Scotia website notes.
Some people with autism also have extreme touch sensitivities.
Toning down the store’s lights and sounds may help deter a sensory overload.
Wilson said the response the Windsor location has received since announcing the special shopping hour has been overwhelmingly positive.
“There’s been some customers take me aside and say some really positive comments... and say they are going to use it that day,” he said.
Wilson said shoppers who stop by the store that night will immediately notice a difference.
“We’re not going to be working any stock in the store, we won’t have any music playing over the PA, there will be nobody using pallet jacks or anything that really makes noise,” said Wilson.
“Cashiers won’t be using scanning devices, we will turn the lighting down a little bit and not use the PA system at all,” he said.
Sobeys has partnered with Autism Nova Scotia for the initiative and Wilson said the stores will host the sensory-friendly hour bi-weekly, with an option to increase the regularity depending on demand.
For Greenwich resident Suzie Cochrane, the news comes as a pleasant surprise.
Cochrane, who is a part-time masters student attending NSCAD, has experienced sensory issues since she was a child. She has autism and experiences ocular migraines.
Cochrane said she appreciates that Sobeys is doing this to be more inclusive.
“It’s not just for people with autism but anybody who has problems with being overloaded with too many sounds, too many smells, lights and that sort of thing,” she said.
“I can only speak for myself but I’m sure I will be really struck by how we are bombarded by so many lights and sounds,” she said.
Cochrane said many people don’t notice how prevalent noise and lights are in their everyday lives until it affects them, or it’s taken away.
“Everybody is bombarded every single day with incoming sensory issues. Processing all that is hard,” she said.
This sensory-friendly shopping hour will help highlight that aspect.
Cochrane said she feels the new initiative is an enhancement for all shoppers and is looking forward to attending the first event.
“It’s sort of acknowledging that there’s a segment of the population that struggles with so-called simple, day-to-day errands or tasks,” said Cochrane. “It doesn’t impose on anybody else. It’s not an imposition; it’s an enhancement to daily living.”