30th August 2023: A shop in Derby is making the annual trip to buy shoes for the first day of the school term much less stressful for autistic children and those who get overwhelmed in busy and noisy environments.

This August, sales assistants at Clarks in the Derbion Shopping Centre have been equipped with visual stories and communication aids from Widgit to help explain to very young children and neurodivergent people what will happen when they visit the store to choose their shoes. This means they know what to expect and are less likely to feel overwhelmed in a busy environment like a shoe shop in the weeks before school starts back.

In addition, the store has designated a quiet corner where children’s feet can be measured and shoes fitted away from the main shop floor. Staff wear lanyards around their neck with commonly used symbols to enable non-verbal children to indicate which shoes they like and dislike by pointing to the relevant symbol so they can make their own school shoe choices.

Designed by Widgit specifically for the Clarks store in Derby, the symbols represent words and phrases frequently used in the shop such as ‘measure’, ‘walk’, and ‘shoes off’.

Kayleigh Hutchinson, store manager of Clarks in the Derbion Shopping Centre, said: “Our sales team members have seen first-hand how overwhelming and difficult getting new shoes can be for parents and children who have additional needs.

“Our specially trained staff understand and recognise the signs of sensory overload some children can experience and we’ve worked closely with Widgit to make the store as inclusive as possible. We want every customer to leave having had the best experience, regardless of their individual needs, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback.”

Grainne Fleming, sales and service manager, said: “Some colleagues in store have grown up in and around the SEN community and our key aim is to make shoe shopping much simpler and more memorable for children and their families. We’re delighted customers feel we’ve achieved that.”

The quiet corner in the Derby store is equipped with sensory lighting and toys in addition to the symbols to make the space fun and help put children who are sensitive to crowded or noisy environments at ease. Customers can pre-book longer appointments in the space to allow more time for shoe fitting by a staff member with advanced training in additional needs and autism.

Families can request to collect a social story from the store in advance of their appointment which they can use to help their child prepare and understand visually how their feet will be measured and what will happen when their shoes are fitted. This reduces the anxiety some children experience in unfamiliar situations and makes it easier for children to choose the shoes they need to go back to school.

Rebecca Lynch, education specialist at Widgit, said: “Clarks in Derby has pushed the boundaries in retail and created a welcoming and inclusive place where children with a range of additional needs can engage in one of the key events that marks the new school year – choosing their school shoes. It’s great to have played our part in making this important space a reality for families and children across Derby.”

The symbols and dedicated quiet corner are designed to support all neurodivergent children and adults through the process of being measured and fitted for shoes. Call Clarks in the Derbion Shopping Centre, Derby, on 01332 382541 to book an appointment in the quiet corner and arrange to collect the communication aids.

For more information on the symbols and resources Widgit has developed for parents and to sign up for a free trial of its software for creating symbolised resources, visit www.widgit.com.

About Widgit

For over 40 years, Widgit has developed innovative symbols and software used in over 10,000 schools, thousands of homes and multiple healthcare settings to support language, communication and learning. Widgit symbols are increasingly being used to ensure key public services, local attractions and sporting venues are inclusive for children and adults with special needs.

For more information, visit: www.widgit.com.