What has changed after one year of Big Bazaar’s Quiet Hour?
One year ago, Big Bazaar started off a small revolution when it introduced Quiet Hour every Tuesday across select stores. This was as part of its accessible shopping experience sabke liye. Since then the initiative has taken wings spreading from 16 stores to 43, reaching out to over 15,000 people with autism and intellectual disabilities. We spoke to some parents and organisations to find out how this has changed lives.
At the Action for Autism centre in New Delhi, children eagerly await Tuesdays. They make shopping lists in advance, comparing prices and choosing items. Because every Tuesday, they get to shop at Big Bazaar during the Quiet Hour, dedicated to people with autism and intellectual disabilities.
A year since prominent retail group Big Bazaar launched the initiative across select stores, the transformation it has enabled are many.
Beginnings of independence
“The children remind us constantly to make a note on our calendars about going to Big Bazaar on Tuesdays”, says Preeti Siwach, who heads Vocational and Employment Services at Action for Autism. “They love going there because of the environment created during the Quiet Hour”. In the initial days, they needed their parents or the staff to make the shopping lists. “Now they do it on their own, choosing one item for themselves and the rest for their homes”.
It’s a remarkable transition given that many of them prefer to avoid public places, Malls and large stores are especially a no-no. Big Bazaar has lifted that barrier by making shopping a sensory-friendly experience. Lights are kept dim and there are no announcements and music. Even the cash registers don’t ring. To help them negotiate the many aisles and products, there’s a pictorial checklist by Big Bazaar. Little touches that give them the confidence to build on their skills.
“Some of them have learned to make their own budget over time”, adds Preeti. “We give them a certain sum of money and tell them how much of it they can spend. They have learned to shop within that amount by comparing the cost of items online and opting for what’s cheaper at Big Bazaar”.
Learning to shop for themselves & their families
At the CanBridge Academy, a Chennai college for youth with developmental disabilities, a visit during Quiet Hour is a part of the regular curriculum.
“We made a pictorial shopping list for the first batch to assist them as they were all non-verbal”, says CanBridge Academy Founder Kavitha Krishnamurthy. “We started off by making them look at the things they wanted to buy”. Something that is often overlooked, she points out. “Because they are non-verbal, they are not seen as capable of making a choice or offered the option to choose. So, we made a visual card and they put strips of paper on the items that they wanted to buy”.
Apart from shopping lists with images, there are ‘I Want Cards’ made of Velcro for items not found on the aisles. “This is a small card made of Velcro where they stick the name of the item they want”, explains Kavitha. “For instance if chips is on their list, they put that on the card and show it to the shopping assistant who helps them out”.
Opening new worlds & learnings
Offering these children and youth innovative communication tools has opened a new world and taught their own families to respect their power to choose. “I won’t say that we have completely achieved independence. They do need some assistance but these tools helped them move their way from a parent or teacher to someone in the outside environment”, says Kavitha.
In the shopping lists, lies the story of their progress. “We started asking families what they would like and would add that to the list”, says Kavitha. “We would tell them their moms wanted them to buy soap bars or cornflakes or stuff we needed at CanBridge. It has been a progressive expansion of the shopping list. We gave it a focus and made it a learning goal. It’s been a consistent effort and that is the only thing that works with autism”.
Today the students at CanBridge Academy are comfortable shopping at Big Bazaar. Kavitha credits the attitude of the staff a great deal for this. “Our students know that there will be these people to welcome them and even the people at the aisles are so friendly. They have understood and really extended themselves for our boys. This has been the biggest contributor to the learning”.
Anupam Vasudeva, who is a parent to a child with autism and runs the Dawn Rehabilitation Centre in Pune for children on the spectrum, sees a great surge in the confidence levels in the children in his school. “I have been waiting for a programme like Quiet Hour since 2013 when I started my school. Since it was launched here in Pune, I have not missed a single Quiet Hour. My students are non-verbal and on the extreme end of the spectrum, but they are eager to go because the whole experience makes them feel confident. They wait for Tuesdays”.
Above all, it is this feeling of going into the social environment of the community and being a part of it that is the biggest takeaway.
“They have learned to make choices, and to be out and about making them”, says Indrani Basu, Autism Society of West Bengal. “They have learned that if their favourite item is not available, they should choose something else. Other shoppers at the store don’t even bat an eyelid now when they see our kids”.
Going ahead, Indrani hopes that this attitude of acceptance has a spill over effect. These learnings and attitude should be all across, not just in the Tuesday staff. That way the learning carries on into the community”.
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