Vodafone Ireland introduces autism friendly retail hours
Vodafone Ireland has introduced autism-friendly retail hours in several stores across the country as part of its company-wide neurodiversity programme.
In a bid to make technology and employment opportunities more accessible to members of the autism community, Vodafone retail stores will implement reduced noise, priority seating and appointments every Wednesday between 9am and 11am.
The programme was created in partnership with AsIAm, a not-for-profit charity organisation that works on behalf of the autism community in Ireland. AsIAm conducted an environmental audit of Vodafone’s retail stores to identify opportunities to improve the shopping experience for autistic visitors.
An autistic person may become overwhelmed by a sensory environment. To support its customers, Vodafone retail stores will offer a variety of sensory inputs such as a ‘relaxation box’, which includes sunglasses with visor, stress ball, ear defender and scented tags.
The in-store autism activity is just one element of Vodafone’s Autism friendly programme, other initiatives will run across employment opportunities, events and education.
In Ireland, 80% of autistic people are unemployed or under-employed. Vodafone’s internships and work experience programmes aim to tackle this by partnering with Specialisterne Ireland, who recruit and support talented people on the autism spectrum. Vodafone also work with a local day care centre and invite members of the neurodiverse community to contribute to the business and gain independence and life skills.
Along with implementing training for its retail staff, AsIAm and Specialisterne have hosted sensory exhibitions at the Vodafone head office. This gave employees a greater understanding of how autism can affect an individual on a day-to-day basis. The company’s online training portal, ‘The Vodafone University’, educates users on the challenges faced by people of different abilities.
Vodafone hosts an annual Christmas party for all employees and their families. This year, Vodafone offered neurodiverse families a bespoke sensory Santa experience. Families were given access to Santa 30-minutes before general guests and availed of entertainment in a quiet environment. A sensory room was set up ensuring families had access to a relaxing space.
“Through our technology, we will help bridge the divides that exist in our societies,” said James Magill, human resource director at Vodafone Ireland. “We believe in a future where technology levels the playing field, bringing connectivity and an opportunity for everyone to reach their full potential. We are committed to ensuring that nobody is left behind on the journey toward a digital future.”
“Autistic people can find shopping, securing employment and dealing with administrative processes overwhelming, stressful and inaccessible,” said Adam Harris, CEO, AsIAm. “This can come from busy sensory environments, unclear communication and not knowing what to expect in a given situation.
“Staff training, proactive measures to support and recruit autistic talent and creating a calmer shopping time not only supports the autism community but puts in place inclusive, people friendly measures for all.”
Autism-friendly hours will be launched at 25 stores across the country with plans to roll out across the rest of the country later in the year.