2019 Employer Initiative of the Year, Eastern Canada: Sobeys – Sensory Friendly Shopping Program

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : September 25, 2019

MacKenzie Pudwell

Sobeys Inc. has demonstrated a commitment to inclusion through the creation and implementation of their Sensory Friendly Shopping Program in Atlantic Canada. I sat down with Heather, Tammy and Lori from Sobeys to discuss the initiative, how and why it started and where it’s going from here.

Tammy started this program when she was approached by Autism PEI seeking to establish a partnership to create accessible shopping opportunities in PEI. With several examples from the UK as inspiration, Tammy was easily able to implement a number of changes within the store to create a sensory friendly environment. The Autism Society of Prince Edward Island helped Sobeys see the potential barriers that may trigger sensory sensitivities, – including bright lights and loud noises, and provided guidance on more accessible signage. They supported Sobeys to understand how these barriers impacted the experience of visitors with sensory sensitivities. Sobeys initiated work arounds for these barriers which included dimming the lights, assigning a “runner” for phone transfers rather than using the speakers, reducing scanner and register sounds, refraining from cart collection, and adding larger images and written signs for products.

The pilot project started with a couple of hours every other Tuesday evening and was a smashing success, receiving strong positive feedback from the community. With the success and buy in from PEI stores, word spread fast as Lori, the Northern Nova Scotia District Operator jumped on board with this program. Lori was keen on joining this project because she saw how easy it was to implement store changes that would provide an opportunity to help connect and support the communities. She further appreciated that this program was a grass-roots initiative that was owned by individual store teams in their communities, and as a mother of a daughter with sensory sensitivities, Sensory Friendly shopping provided a more accessible and inclusive shopping experience for customers in the community.

For Heather, as Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Sobeys, this is exactly what she hopes to see as a D&I practitioner. Champions running with an idea, watching it take root and supporting each other’s efforts to create inclusion and community connections. Seeing stores across the Atlantic taking an easy to implement program from a biweekly pilot project to a weekly regular program that’s inclusive of all members of their communities has been fantastic. Sensory friendly shopping not only supports those community members with sensory sensitivities, but many other community members and even staff members appreciate the atmosphere that the program creates in stores. The program’s success from PEI and Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and now Ontario continues to see store engagement in regions across the country.

Tammy was blown away by the feedback she and her colleagues received, and stated, “that was honestly the biggest win for me seeing how we are in the people business and we just happen to sell groceries.”

Tammy sums up the success of this program to the support of local store teams willing to implement the initiative, the essential relationship with experts like the Autism Society of PEI that promoted the awareness and supported the implementation of the program, and the support of Sobeys as a company to Sensory Friendly shopping.

Lori is proud to work with such committed teams and for a company that creates opportunities to provide an inclusive shopping experience for people in the communities it serves. For Heather, this kind of program reinforces Sobeys’ belief that a commitment to diversity and inclusion is important to building strong community connections.

Please visit your local Sobeys stores for Sensory Friendly Shopping hours. Stay tuned for more stores launching this program near you.

Tags Awards of Success Awards of Success 2019 CCDI Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion Sobeys

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