Helping our customers with invisible disabilities

As a mother of an Autistic child with sensory issues, public spaces can be a daunting experience. The lights, smells, noises in a supermarket can often be scary and overwhelming. As much as we prepare for the trip my son can often find these experiences tricky. I hear other people judging my parenting – staring or tutting at my son’s perceived bad behaviour. They cannot see he has a hidden disability. They judge my parenting and when I was a new mum starting out on this journey the experience was awful.

Airports are a particularly stressful space – so much so, that one year that my husband and I had decided to pack in holidays altogether. My son finds queuing extremely difficult. This is common for people with autism and having had a bad experience I could not cope with all the judgement in the passport queue again.

But then we heard about something that could help – Gatwick Airport had started something really interesting. Travellers who have a hidden disability can choose to wear a sunflower lanyard that signifies that they, or someone in their group, has a hidden disability and would like a little extra help. 

My husband and I decided to give flying another go and it was life changing. Staff were conscious of us – they kindly guided us through the queues, this stopped the hanging around and turned what was a very stressful experience the previous year, into a very positive one.

Gatwick Airport’s sunflower lanyard changed everything and inspired me. Our trip was made so much easier by the simplicity of the lanyard and by the colleagues knowing and being understanding about our situation.

As a parent of a child with special needs I do everything I can to raise awareness about autism. It just happens, I am one of many colleagues who manage customer experience in Tesco stores – I particularly take an extra interest in improving the shopping trip for disabled shoppers. And after speaking to customers with a variety of disabilities I wanted to see if the sunflower lanyard could work in our stores.

We’re now trialing the sunflower lanyard initiative in 15 stores to help colleagues identify customers who are open to offers of help.

Any customer wearing the lanyard is signalling that they have an invisible disability, or that they are a carer for someone they're with, and might need extra help while shopping. This could include:

  • Giving them more time to shop, and at the checkout
  • Packing bags and taking them to the customer’s car
  • Speaking face-to-face to allow lip reading
  • Using clear and easy-to-understand language
  • Helping with harder-to-reach products
  • Reading labels for partially-sighted customers
  • Finding suitable trolleys or scooters

Colleagues won’t need to know about individual conditions and customers won’t need to share details if they don’t want to.

We’ve also created a visual guide designed to help make the shopping trip a little easier for people on the autistic spectrum. The guide is made up of pictures to aid communication with an adult or child who has difficulty understanding or using language.

We hope this offers a little help to our shoppers with hidden disabilities and we continue to explore ways we can do more for these customers and their families.