Does your business need a visual guide to support autistic customers?
At least 1% of the UK population has autism so it is very likely that you have autistic customers. Is your business supporting them every way you can?
Everyone with autism is different, it is a spectrum condition and as such each person will present differently with varying needs. However most autistic people have issues relating to language, social communication and sensory processing.
Depending on the type of business you run the way to support autistic customers (or staff) will be different. Having said that all businesses should provide equality and diversity training that includes autism awareness. Teach your staff about different disabilities including autism and how they should make any reasonable adjustments to support peoples’ needs.
If you are a shop you may want to consider having dedicated quiet hours for customers with sensory processing issues. This would include dimming lights, turning off music, avoiding obstacles in the aisles. Find out more in this post about shopping and autism.
If you are a venue people visit then a visual guide is an easy way to support your customers.
What is a visual guide and why do I need one?
A visual guide is simply a document with pictures of your venue to help prepare someone for their visit. Autistic people can find new places very hard. One of the main reasons is they can be very anxious about not knowing what to expect or what may happen. We all feel more comfortable when we know a place but for some the anxiety of a new place can make it extremely difficult to enjoy somewhere new.
Research (Visit Britain) shows 83% of visitors looking for accessibility information prepare by looking at the destination websites, but only 39% find the information that they need.
Whist many would discuss where you are visiting, verbal language can be very difficult for some autistic people to understand. This is why using a visual (photos or pictures) is better. So why not just look at your website? Well websites are great for information but many autistic people particularly young children need lots of time to process information. This is why having a short clear guide that can be printed out from your website is ideal.
Some people need to think about and process a new place for some time before visiting. A guide can be used over time in preparation for a visit.
I use visual guides to prepare my non-verbal, 5 year old autistic son, when we are going on day trips or on holiday. If it is a new place and something he may find difficult like going to an airport or dentist, we would look at the guide over a few weeks. If it is a new place but somewhere he will enjoy I may just introduce the guide the night before and then again before we go out and he will have it to look over on our journey.
Once we have visited somewhere it is familiar. However using the guides to talk about where we have been and where we are going ensures he understands what we are talking about, what is happening and where we are going.
How to write a visual guide
You need to consider your audience and the purpose of the guide. Is the guide to show the customer what will happen at your business or to familiarise them with the site and facilities. This will depend on the type of business.
For example a cinema will be a similar experience each time. In this case a guide to walk through the customer journey makes sense. It would start with entering the building then buying tickets and going to the cinema and finding seats. You would also point out when the lights go on it means the film is finished and it’s time to leave. Some of this may seem obvious but for many autistic people social concepts do not make sense. A clear guide of what will happen and what is expected can make a huge difference.
A venue for day trips such as a zoo would not necessarily have the same experience for each customer. People will visit different areas and spend time doing different things. Therefore a guide that is more about familiarisation of a venue and highlighting any sensory triggers would be more sensible.
Consider the content
It is very important that the guide accurately reflects the experience that a customer will have. Avoid promises of what will happen and focus on what may or might happen when someone visits. If areas might be closed make sure this is clear. The guide is to prepare customers for their visit if they are told they will do something and it then doesn’t happen this can be very challenging for the customer. Change, in particular unexpected change, is very difficult for autistic people and they need time to process it.
The main focus of a guide should be the imagery. Photos are best and start with a photo of the entrance. I would use limited text but make sure you are highlighting areas that may be a trigger to someone with sensory processing issues such as:
- Loud or unexpected noises
- Bright or flashing lights
- Busy crowded areas – some people will have difficulty being in close proximity to others i.e. queues as being touched is an issue
- Strong smells
For many people being able to prepare in advance means they will be able to manage that trigger. For others having the knowledge means they may be able to avoid that particular trigger or bring a sensory aid to support them (such as headphones).
It is best to create a simple document that can be easily printed at home for people to use before they visit.
Let customers know when something changes. Social media is a fantastic tool to let your customers know when things have changed. Change happens but telling customers about those changes as soon as you can will make a big difference to some. A quick photo on your social media accounts will be very helpful so that customers have time to process the change before they visit.
We are very lucky as we have the fantastic Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park on our doorstep. I have worked with Avon Valley to develop a visual guide for visiting the park. Whilst preparing the guide it was important to consider the sensory trigger areas such as noise in the indoor play barn and the use of tannoy announcements. It was also important to use photos that will help familiarise someone with the site and its facilities. I avoided listing all the rides, events and extras available at the park as this in itself could cause upset if a child uses the guide and then expects to go on all the rides in it.
The guide is designed so that it can be easily printed at home. Parents using it with young children can remove pages that they don’t want to include or change the order to suit their own needs. You can access the guide on the Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park accessibility and facilities page on their website.
Here is what Avon Valley had to say about the visual guide:
“We’re always aiming to make Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park as accessible as possible, so we’re thrilled to have worked with Jade to create a downloadable Autism-friendly booklet. We hope that those planning to visit the Park will take advantage of the detail within it and be able to use it to maximise their enjoyment during their visit to us”
How does your business support its autistic customers? Let us know in the comments below.