LIDL Ireland launches new autism awareness training

LIDL Ireland have announced that they will be holding an autism awareness training programme for all staff members. 

The need for such a programme was highlighted after a mother and son were turned away from a store in Nutgrove, Rathfarnham, Dublin earlier this month.

In an interview with Journal.ie, the mother explained how she and her son were asked to leave a store, due to the presence of their autism assistance dog.

The dog was wearing an official Guide Dogs blue jacket, as is the recommended protocol with autism assistance dogs. The dog was trained, vetted and supplied by the Irish Guide Dogs association as part of its Assistance Dog programme.’

Autism Assistance Dogs are fully trained by the Guide Dogs Association and are recognisable by their blue coats.

The incident, which caused a great deal of emotional distress to the mother and son, led them to complain to the store in question. The assistance dog is connected to the boy, which stops him from running away; a common problem for children with his specific type of autism. After receiving an explanation which she considered unsatisfactory, the mother filed an Equality Status Act complaint to Lidl Ireland.

“I explained to the customer service manager and the regional manager that the reason I’m not letting this lie is that I want to ensure that my son, and other people with disabilities, can lead the most normal life possible. They have a legal responsibility to educate their staff about equal access rights,”

The woman’s experience has sparked an online debate, with other parents who have experienced similar refusal of entry taking to LIDL’s Facebook page to complain.

The company have made several public responses so far, stating that they will now be training all their staff to be more aware of the variety of guide dogs which are available for people with disabilities, as well as focusing on the needs of autistic customers.

In April, LIDL Ireland will begin holding autism-friendly evenings for their customers, in which there will be reduced sensory elements in place throughout the store. The company issued a statement:

Our store teams are in the process of being trained to gain a greater understanding of autism and our customer’s needs. In addition, sensory adjustments are being made to stores which include reduced lighting, no in-store announcements, no music, priority queueing for customers dealing with autism as well as extra assistance upon request and lowered till scan sounds.”

The LIDL autism-friendly evenings are set to take place every Tuesday from 6-8pm.