Sensory-friendly shopping time set at St. Anne’s grocery store
St. Anne’s Sobeys is dimming the lights, turning down the music, and reducing any other noisy work for a few hours every Thursday evening.
Store operator Jordan Firth said it’s all a part of bringing a sensory-friendly shopping time to the store.
“It’s really some simple gestures and changes we make in the store but it can make a world of difference,” he said.
As far as Firth knows, his store is the first in Manitoba to offer this. Other Sobeys stores in Atlantic Canada and Ontario already have inclusive shopping times for people with sensory sensitivities. He said he first heard about it from a franchise in PEI. Firth wanted to do this at the store because he said everyone deserves to come grocery shopping in a safe and inclusive environment.
“When I first heard about it, it really hit home with me,” Firth said. “I have a seven-year-old son who’s got some sensory issues.”
Florence Chapman, a spokesperson from Sobeys, told CTV News in an email that a sensory-friendly environment is when elements that can contribute to sensory overload are adjusted.
“Our stores reduce lighting by 50%, silence or reduce all sounds from PA systems, music, telephones, scanners and registers; lower department noise (for example deli machines), and refrain from collecting carts during the hours,” she wrote.
Chapman confirmed the initiative started in PEI. A store there collaborated with the local Autism Society and the response form the local community was so positive that other stores have been inspired to introduce sensory-friendly shopping hours.
Cheryl Glazebrook researches how sensory disorders impacts a person’s movement at the University of Manitoba. She says sensory-friendly programs are important to make places like grocery stores accessible for people living with disabilities that others may not recognize immediately.
“If you see someone in a wheelchair you think about the fact that you need a ramp, you need to clear the snow to make that an accessible activity for them,” she said . “The sensory information can be that snow for someone with autism, where it prevents them from being able to go shopping and participate in that activity.”
She said grocery shopping can be a challenge for families with a child with sensory issues as well as adults, because it requires a lot of a person’s attention.
“The sensory information, you can think about it as eating up that attention or using up your available attention,” said Glazebrook. “So if you have that sensory overload all you experience is that light and the sound and you don’t have any resources or attention left to do that task that you came there to do and that you want to do.”
Kimberley Dudek lives with Asperger’s Syndrome and says she does not go into a grocery store without a detailed list.
“Know what you are going in there for, go in, grab it, and get out because for some of us that’s all we can handle,” she said.
For her there are many things that can make grocery shopping overwhelming.
“Lighting, smell, sound, just that general sense of this huge space,” she said.
She is encouraged that more businesses are doing sensory-friendly shopping times, and calls it a good first step. The next one she would like to see is more employees being given sensory-friendly training.
“Management, cashiers, everybody to understand a little bit more about what a sensory reaction, what we call a meltdown, can look like.”
Sobeys St. Anne’s sensory-friendly shopping will happen every Thursday, starting August 22nd, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.