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Five-year-old inspires new accessibility initiative

Asda has been praised by a major UK charity for helping to break the stigma around invisible illnesses and disabilities

Asda has been praised by a major UK charity and thousands of its supporters for helping to break the stigma around invisible illnesses and disabilities after launching an initiative, inspired by a five-year-old customer and her mum.

Asda has launched a programme to introduce accessible toilets in more than 400 stores including clear signage to indicate that not all disabilities are visible, helping to ensure customers feel comfortable when using the facilities in-store.

Two woman and a young girl stand near a sign that reads "not all disabilities are visible"

The move follows its introduction of Silent Hour, which is designed to support autistic and disabled customers at its Manchester Fort store.

The idea was prompted by a conversation between Asda Newark manager, Abby Robinson, and customer, Tonya Glennester, who was visiting the store with her daughter, Evalynn, five and was questioned by another customer about why they used the disabled toilet.

Tonya said: “Evalynn has ADHD and autism and can be affected by the noise of the hand dryer as well as queues and crowds of people. It can often cause a sensory reaction causing Evalynn to become upset or have aggressive outbursts, so the accessible toilet gives us a little bit more space and privacy. When we walked out on this occasion there was two customers waiting, one of whom was in a wheelchair, and they disagreed that I should be using the toilet.

“I also suffer from health issues that that can cause pain, chronic fatigue, bowel pain, and balance problems meaning I often have to use hand/grab rails.

“I tried to explain that not all disabilities are visible but we were told ‘you don’t look disabled’. We were both really upset and left the store but I decided to go back in and speak to the manager because I know there are so many stories like ours.

“I am a member of the Newark & Sherwood Autism Support Group and I know several children and adults with additional needs who have been hit by the same brick wall - where society just looks at the cover of the book instead of reading the details so to speak. I just thought it was time for something to be said.”

Tonya, who is a Digital Design & Mixed Media Artist, asked if there was anything that could be done to help the situation and Abby talked to colleagues in Asda’s Head Office who decided to roll out initiative to support customers with invisible illnesses in over 400 stores with separate disabled toilets.

She added: “I was overwhelmed to see that Asda took my concerns so seriously and has made these changes nationwide. So many people will benefit from this - it will raise awareness and help people understand that you can’t always see someone’s disability. The standard disabled sign is no-longer a true representation of the disabled community so it isn’t really viable anymore and it’s great that Asda appreciates that and has taken action.”

Abby, who has just taken over as Store Manager at Grantham, said: “I feel very proud that a simple conversation with a customer and her daughter has resulted in this initiative to raise awareness of invisible illnesses.

“We want to make sure our customers have the best experience in our stores and feel comfortable shopping with us. This will go some way in helping people’s understanding of this issue and not jumping to conclusions.

“We have been able to implement the change quite quickly so over the next few weeks this will be rolled out to all 421 Asda stores, which have a separate disabled toilet.”

The move has also received recognition from Crohn’s and Colitis UK, which provides support and information for people with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, (IBD), including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, after one of its supporters noticed the sign in the York store.

A spokesperson said: “It is fantastic that ASDA has recognised that not all illnesses are visible. For many people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), the sudden and uncontrollable need to use a toilet is a genuine and recognised symptom of their condition. Whilst they may not look ill on the outside they are affected from debilitating symptoms that affect all aspects of their lives.

“Many members of the charity feel that they are judged for using accessible toilets because others perceive them to be well and not entitled to use the facilities. The experience or fear of faecal incontinence is, as you can imagine, very undermining to a person’s confidence and self-esteem. We are thrilled that ASDA will be adopting these signs throughout their stores across the UK and we hope that more businesses will follow suit and help the public to be aware of ‘invisible’ diseases.”

The charity has received more than 9.5k likes and thousands of shares of a picture of the new sign in the York store.