Café Autistique: What barriers do autistic people experience when shopping? And what can we do about them?

In this blog post, our Peer Development Worker Gill Loomes rounds up what we spoke about at last month’s Cafe Autistique discussion group about shopping. It coincides with Purple Tuesday, a national campaign to make shopping more accessible for disabled people.


Tuesday 13th November 2018 is a big day in the UK for disabled people and our supporters. It is the first ever “Purple Tuesday”: an awareness-raising day dedicated to accessible shopping. Nearly one in five people in the UK is disabled, and over half of UK households have a connection to someone with a disability. We have a collective spending power (known as “the Purple Pound”) of £249 billion.

And yet, much of this potential income is limited by real (and perceived) barriers. These make it harder for people with disabilities to find work, to spend money in-store/online, or to go out for drinks or meals.

Purple Tuesday aims to raise awareness among businesses of these challenges and opportunities, in the hope of inspiring long-term change.

You can find out more about Purple Tuesday here. And on this 4 minute video clip.

What we talked about

At Leeds Autism AIM, our monthly discussion group “Café Autistique” talked about our experiences of shopping. We shared the challenges, and discussed what would make shopping easier and more enjoyable for us. Here’s what we had to say…

  • Planning and coordinating shopping can be really difficult. Making lists can be overwhelming
  • Communicating with shop staff can be hard. If I’m having problems, I’d rather they spoke to me
  • I work on tills. I find it really hard because I’m sensitive to customers’ moods, and if they’re upset or angry, I take it personally. I think I might make a small sign to put discreetly under the till, saying “Don’t take it personally”
  • I struggle with self-service, and find large shops difficult
  • I prefer smaller shops where people get to know me
  • Unplanned, recreational shopping can be hard as I find it difficult to make decisions. I have a separate budget set aside for discretionary purchases
  • I find too much choice overwhelming
  • I am a wheelchair user and sometimes, physical access is difficult in shops. My autism makes this even harder as I can’t always communicate my needs to staff members. I’d rather they thought about access by themselves

We know that some shops have introduced “Quiet Hours” aimed at autistic shoppers and their families. Here are some of our thoughts about these schemes:

  • Some of us are tempted to use them
  • We think they can be good for raising awareness
  • We worry that aiming the schemes specifically at autistic people could be patronizing
  • We know non-autistic people who would benefit from shopping in quiet environments. We wonder whether businesses could consult with autistic people about making changes to their shops for more than just one hour per week

We would love to hear your views and experiences on shopping. What works for you? What do you find hard? What would help?

Next group

The next Café Autistique discussion group is 17:30-18:30 on Tuesday 27th November at Lovell Park Hub, Leeds. We’ll be talking about Autistic Socializing. If you are in the Leeds area, you can find out more about activities at the Hub, and about Leeds Autism AIM here.