Bluewater shopping centre goes autism friendly

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 April 2019

Bluewater shopping centre. Photo: Adrian Brooks/Imagewise

Bluewater shopping centre. Photo: Adrian Brooks/Imagewise

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The Bluewater shopping centre has been supporting World Autism Awareness Week this week with a pledge to take significant steps over the next year to prioritise autism-friendly services.

More than 700,000 people in UK have been diagnosed with autism.

According to the National Autistic Society, 50per cent of them and family members sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried about other people’s reactions.

And 79pc of autistic people and 70pc of family members feel socially isolated with 28pc of autistic people asked to leave a public space because of behaviour associated with their condition.

To combat these worrying statistics, Bluewater is introducing new services to guests to tackle some of the barriers faced by people with autism and their families.

These barriers include social isolation and a lack of understanding from the wider public. The new services will be introduced throughout 2019 and all will be in place by Autism Week 2020.

As a start, Bluewater is offering daily quiet hours during the week between 3pm-5pm with retailers invited to join in.

It also hosted a special event for autistic children in the Place of Quiet room to enable autistic children to start their visit to Bluewater in a specially created, calming environment.

Bluewater is permanently introducing services, including weekly quiet hours with a reduction in music and dim lights in central areas.

There will also be sensory toy bags available for children with autism during their visit; downloadable and printed guides, to allow guests to familiarise themselves with the layout, look and feel of Bluewater in advance of their visit; hidden disability lanyards, to allow staff to proactively offer assistance; the use of a quiet room to allow families or individuals to rest in a calm, quiet space; and autism-friendly screenings at Showcase Cinemas on the second Sunday of every month at 10am with adjustments including soft lighting, lower volume and no trailers.

Front of house staff will receive training in how to support these guests.

Robert Goodman, general manager at Bluewater, said: “We’re confident these measures are a step in the right direction.”

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