The initiative, which is due to go live on October 7, will see customers with hidden disabilities have the option to wear a sunflower lanyard in store, in order to let staff know that they may need extra assistance.
It aims to help people with hidden conditions such as autism, dementia and anxiety who may find it frustrating and distressing to explain symptoms which aren’t immediately obvious.
The lanyards were first introduced at Gatwick airport in 2016, with nine other airports across the UK having also welcomed the scheme since then.
Sainsbury’s will be the first retailer to roll out the scheme nationwide, after trials in a number of stores have proved successful.
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“It’s just about making people with hidden disabilities more comfortable,” said Kevin Robb, customer training manager at the Stanhope Road store in South Shields.
“People don’t realise that for someone with autism coming into a store, with the lights, the people and the sounds, it can be quite scary for them.
“It’s important that people understand that if someone is in the store and they look stressed, it might not be what they think, it could be because of something hidden.”
Customers in South Shields can access a lanyard by asking at the customer service desk in Stanhope Road, Prince Edward Road and Binchester Street stores, without having to disclose their condition or any personal information.
“They can wear the lanyard but not feel like they are exposing themselves, it just makes the staff aware. The staff won’t ask any personal questions, just what we can do to help,” continued Kevin.
Staff have completed training in what they can do to make people feel more comfortable, Kevin continued: “It’s so we know to give them a bit of space, or if it’s a child and they are getting agitated we wouldn’t put the heavy cages out, for example, because it might make them more stressed.”
He hopes to link up with local charities to spread the word.
He added: “I want to get others involved so people in the town know about it.”