Virtual reality brings autism awareness to shoppers at intu Chapelfield this August
Published on 18/01/2019

People visiting intu Chapelfield, Norwich, will get the chance to experience a shopping centre visit from the perspective of an autistic child this August.

The centre will be handing out virtual reality headsets to customers on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 August, to help people understand what it feels like to experience the sometimes overwhelming sights and sounds of a shopping centre, if you are autistic.

The project is part of a pioneering initiative between intu and the National Autistic Society, aiming to bring better awareness and support for autistic shoppers and their families.

The virtual reality experience is touring around 14 other intu shopping centres this summer, starting at intu Trafford centre in Manchester on 9 July before ending at intu Merry Hill in Dudley in September.

Using virtual reality to simulate the sights and sounds of a shopping centre, as experienced by someone on the autism spectrum, the project is linked to the National Autistic Society’s viral film ‘Can you make it to the end?, a 90 second film which portrays the sensory overload which can be experienced by an autistic child when visiting a shopping centre.  [Watch the film on YouTube]

The virtual reality shopping experience is the latest event in the National Autistic Society’s ‘Too Much Information’ public awareness campaign. Launched in April, the campaign aims to increase public understanding of autism and is one of the first times virtual reality technology has been used to raise awareness of the condition.

Working towards becoming an ‘Autism Friendly’ shopping centre, intu Chapelfield staff will attend a half-day training course this September called ‘Understanding Autism’. Those who attend will train others in the centre, with additional online training sessions offered too. The aim is for all intu centres, including intu Chapelfield, to achieve the charity’s ‘Autism Friendly’ status within two years.

Sheridan Smith marketing manager at intu Chapelfield said: “We’re pleased to be working with the National Autistic Society to raise awareness of autism among all our shoppers and staff using this impactful virtual reality experience. More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and our action in support of this campaign will help intu Chapelfield be as accessible and welcoming as possible to all guests.”

Alex Marshall, the 10-year-old autistic star of the campaign film said: “It really helps when people understand things, and this is a really cool way to do it – you can just show someone inside your head! When someone’s seen what it’s like, I think they’ll know why I get overwhelmed, and then they’ll understand that I’m not being naughty.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society said:  “Half of autistic people and their families sometimes or often don’t leave their houses because they may receive judgemental and negative reactions to their autism from other members of the public. Virtual reality is such a fantastic medium and we want to use it to help people identify with a young autistic boy who is having a crisis in a shopping centre.”

To take part, visit the National Autistic Society’s stand on the lower ground mall, near Game, between 9am and 7pm on Saturday 27 August and 11am to 5pm on Sunday 28 August.

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