Vodafone Ireland has today announced it has introduced autism friendly retail hours in a number of stores across Ireland including its O’Connell Street and Crescent Shopping Centre locations.
The aim of this new initiative is to ensure a better digital future is accessible to all, making technology and employment opportunities more accessible to members of the autism community.
The programme will see reduced noise, priority seating and appointments every Wednesday between 9am and 11am.
The introduction of autism friendly retail hours is part of the wider autism friendly programme being run by Vodafone Ireland.
Autism immediately affects a quarter of a million people in Ireland when taking in the family unit.
Vodafone is committed to helping this community by creating accessibility measures in store, supporting inclusive employment and making its technology services more accessible to autistic people.
Vodafone is the first network in Ireland to introduce autism friendly hours in its retail outlets.
The programme has been created in partnership with AsIAm, a not-for-profit charity organisation working on behalf of the Autism Community in Ireland to empower, educate and advocate concerns for the Autism Community.
AsIAm also work on improving the understanding, awareness and support of Autism across Ireland and the charity has undergone an environmental audit in Vodafone retail stores.
The audit aims to identify opportunities to improve the shopping experience for autistic visitors, noting areas of difficulty in-store.
An autistic person may become overwhelmed by their sensory environment. To help with this, Vodafone retail stores will offer the free use of a variety of sensory inputs to its customers in store.
This will be in the form of a ‘Relaxation Box’, which will be easily accessible to all customers, and will include sunglasses with visor, stress ball, ear defender and scented tags.
Not only will Vodafone be providing these services for customers in store, it has developed a training module for staff in conjunction with AsIAm.
This course aims to educate Vodafone retail staff about autism and give them the tools and knowledge to meaningfully include people on a day-to-day basis.
The in-store autism activity is just one element of Vodafone’s Autism friendly programme, other initiatives across the business include:
- Employment Opportunities: 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.
- Education: 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’, also hosts several modules which educates users on the challenges faced by people of different abilities.
- Inclusive Events: Every year Vodafone hosts a Christmas kids party for all employees and their families. This year Vodafone offered neurodiverse families a bespoke sensory Santa experience. These 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.
Speaking on the announcement, James Magill, Human Resource Director at Vodafone Ireland said:
“At Vodafone, we believe in inclusion for all and that opportunities and the promise of a better digital future should be accessible to the many, not the fortunate few.
“Through our technology, we will help bridge the divides that exist in our societies. 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.”
Adam Harris, CEO, AsIAm:
“We want to extend our congratulations to Vodafone on becoming Ireland’s first autism-friendly telecommunications company. Autistic people can find shopping, securing employment and dealing with administrative processes overwhelming, stressful and inaccessible.
“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.”
The autism friendly store hours will be starting at 25 stores across the country with plans to roll out across the rest of the country later in the year.