Sensory Supermarket Event Helps Businesses Make Public-Facing Spaces More Inclusive for Autistic People

12 August 2022

  • Between 5-17% of the general population process sensory information differently meaning that everyday experiences like visiting the supermarket can be overwhelming.
  • Sensory processing differences are more common in autistic people. Autism is a developmental condition associated with differences in the way people communicate and experience the world. Approximately 1-2% of people worldwide are autistic, and studies suggest that up to 90% of autistic people have sensory processing differences.
  • However, a 2021 survey by Sensory Integration Education found that less than 10% of the general public had a strong knowledge of the concepts sensory integration or sensory processing and 36% had never heard of either term.

Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Reading – in collaboration with awareness-raising organisation Sensory Spectacle – are hosting an innovative event called Sensory Supermarket as part of the Sensory Street research project. This free event is an opportunity for retailers and other public-facing businesses to explore the adaptations that they could make to support autistic customers in their spaces. It will take place 19-20 August at PEARL in Dagenham.

Dr Cathy Manning, Principal Investigator who conducted the research at the Universities of Oxford and Reading, said, “This event was designed in collaboration with autistic people, who told us that supermarkets present the biggest sensory challenges to them. It’s the first event of its kind and aims to show how spaces like these could be transformed to be more accessible.”

Autistic people describe visiting new environments as a complex “spider web” of sensory experiences. One participant said, “I want to say to people, it’s about actually looking at all those little things that build up.”

Researchers from the Sensory Street project found six common themes that can make public spaces more challenging for people with sensory processing difficulties, from a lack of staff awareness to an unpredictable space. As a result, people with sensory processing difficulties – around 5-17% of the population – may reduce the time they spend in these spaces or avoid them completely.

Sensory Supermarket will help business leaders and staff understand what they can do differently, through an immersive supermarket experience, video presentations, poster boards, talks and more. As Oxford University research assistant Catherine Woolley explains: ‘We want to show how making small changes could help make public spaces more accessible for everyone.”

Event attendees will be equipped with practical tips and ideas and will have the opportunity to speak to members of the research team. In addition to raising awareness about sensory processing differences in autistic people, Sensory Street hope to inspire businesses, individuals, and urban development to create more accessible spaces in the future.

Notes for Editors:

  • Further information about the Sensory Supermarket event, including how to register, can be found at
  • Full research findings can be found on the Sensory Street website.
  • Further information, quotes and images for journalists is available at:
  • Sensory Supermarket and the Sensory Street project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Enriching Engagement Grant at the University of Oxford.
  • The University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology Department’s mission is to conduct world-leading experimental research to understand the psychological and neural mechanisms relevant to human behaviour. Wherever appropriate, we translate our findings into evidence-based public benefits in mental health and well-being, education, industry, and policy. Key areas of research include Behavioural Neuroscience, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, and Psychological and Brain Health.
  • The University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences is at the forefront of ground-breaking research into the inner workings of the mind. It is home to two NHS-partnered clinics as well as an independent Centre for Autism, which uses a range of techniques to explore autism and support the development of clinical interventions.
  • The research team includes researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Reading and awareness-raising organisation Sensory Spectacle, and neurodiverse collaborators such as the multi-talented illustrator/podcaster/graphic designer Emily, also known as @21andsensory. Her Instagram account has over 10k followers and raises awareness of autism and sensory processing differences through hand-drawn illustrations.

Quotes from Participants:

  • “I think a common misconception is that… all autistic people are the same and have the same sensory triggers, which just isn’t true. Like, what might affect someone pretty badly doesn’t affect someone else at all…”
  • “What makes a supermarket challenging I think is… just the noise… you can just hear everything, so you hear people, you hear like beeping, you hear like people pushing stuff, like you just hear everything. It’s very overwhelming.”
  • “I think neurotypical people don’t realise that when we’re trying not to show a sensory environment is affecting us, because we don’t want to be perceived to be “difficult” about asking for the lights to be turned off or for the radio to be turned down, it really drains us.”

Quotes from researchers:

  • It’s very important to create awareness of sensory processing difficulties as they are a key part of what makes the world quite a disabling and uninviting place for autistic people – Emily, Autistic Research Collaborator @21andsensory
  • We want to show people how making small changes today could make a big difference for autistic people tomorrow – Catherine Woolley, Research and Engagement Officer, University of Oxford

Key Contacts for interviews and more information:
Chris McIntyre, Media Relations Manager (Research and Innovation), Public Affairs Directorate, University of Oxford, [email protected], 01865 280534

University of Reading Press Office, [email protected], 0118 378 5757

The University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences is at the forefront of ground-breaking research into the inner workings of the mind. It is home to two NHS-partnered clinics as well as an independent Centre for Autism, which uses a range of techniques to explore autism and support the development of clinical interventions.
Contact [email protected] or 0118 378 5757

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