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Target store experiments with offering “quiet hours” for autistic shoppers

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(BUSINESS NEWS) Target may have just proved once and for all that a push for inclusivity is about more than raking in the cash.

Accommodations for sensitive shoppers

As we roll into the Christmas season, one Pennsylvania Target store is pledging early morning quiet hours for autistic shoppers and the rest of us who can’t stand the falalalalas and fluorescents blaring out of Target’s giant white ceiling.

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From 6:00 to 8:00 am every Saturday, folks of all strokes can do their holiday shopping in peace. The Lancaster Target will dim the lights, turn off all music and announcements, and keep store activities to a minimum, specifically to accommodate anyone on the autism spectrum. People on the spectrum can have high sensitivity to bright lights and noises, making normal shopping hours a frustrating nightmare.

More companies are on board

This Target isn’t the first store to introduce amenities for differently-abled clientele, and they certainly won’t be the last. Toys-R-Us stores in the U.K. have offered quiet hours for autistic children and their families for three years, and officials hope to roll out similar programs in select U.S. stores soon.

AMC has partnered with the Autism Society and is offering sensory-friendly screenings where they raise the lights, lower the sound, and allow viewers to get out of their seats, dance, sing, and shout. Jet Blue even has a program that helps autistic children get acclimated to flying before adding the stress of travel.

Accommodating people with different abilities is a growing demand in the U.S. According to the Autism Society, 0.60 percent of children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism in 2000. In 2010, that ratio grew to 1.5 percent of children, and the disability directly affects 3.5 million Americans not including their families.

While accommodations shouldn’t necessarily be mandated for brick and mortar stores, businesses should take note if their customer base is mainly children and families.

Responding to a community’s needs

This Lancaster Target is simply responding to the preferences of their community. They’re providing a safe space during generally ill-traveled (if not inconvenient) hours for a percentage of the population who otherwise would not be likely or able to patronize their store.

Target corporate says they don’t have plans to expand this program to all stores, but encourages individual stores to make program decisions based on customer and community needs.

A growing number of businesses are offering programs for people of all needs, and while these programs don’t seem like gimmicks, they certainly don’t harm their public image. I know I’m certainly more likely to attend an AMC theatre, fly Jet Blue, or patronize Target or Toys-R-Us stores if I know they’re doing more to accommodate everyone.

It’s something we should all take stock in this Christmas season. What kind of businesses do we want to support? And, more importantly, what kind of businesses do we want to be?

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