Scottish technology company Neatebox is offering supermarkets across the UK access to innovative new technology which, the company claims, can remove the challenges millions of individuals are currently facing when they visit a store during the pandemic.
Social distancing rules, queues, changing opening times and protected hours for key workers are just some of the vital new rules being employed by supermarkets countrywide to help protect both staff and customers from COVID-19.
However, for those with a visible or hidden disability, the new regulations can increase anxiety, cause confusion and, in some cases, pose a significant barrier to simply shopping for essentials.
Gavin Neate, Founder of tech company Neatebox, explained the challenges: “Supermarkets have had to adapt rapidly to an evolving situation, creating innovative ways to minimise the risk of viral spread. However, for millions, the new rules are impossible to follow without more support.
“For individuals with autism, the rules can add an extra layer of anxiety. For someone who is blind, finding the end of the queue to enter the store is hugely difficult. Knowing where to stand on the 2 metre-spaced markers and when to move forward is impossible without help, while social distancing is reliant on other people being aware. Supermarkets have had to adapt quickly so there aren’t tactile markers or trained door staff able to effectively assist customers who require that level of additional support.
Neate said, “Our technology, called ‘Welcome’, is designed to address inadequate customer support by alerting a venue to an individual’s visit in advance, outlining their specific requirements and, most importantly, providing staff with an overview of the customer’s condition and clear guidance on how to interact with that customer.”
The app, which is free for end-users, allows customers to tell the venue in advance about their upcoming visit and indicate any specific customer service assistance they may require. The shop is then notified of the visit and receives an overview of the customer’s condition.
This includes guidance from the appropriate charity to aid all interactions with the customer, including easy to follow top tips. The aim is to facilitate better communication between customers and staff to create long-lasting and mutually respectful relationships.
“75% of disabled people have left a shop or deserted a business because of poor disability awareness or understanding,” Neate said.
“At present, the challenges are even greater for the 13 million disabled people living in the UK. We recognise the importance of immediate action and can install and deliver a trial of the system for free during the lockdown to help manage the disruptive effects of COVID-19.”
‘Welcome’ is already used in a variety of venues across the UK, ranging from banks and offices to galleries and hotels, and is now available on a free trial basis to all supermarket brands in the UK, the company says.
Gavin Neate founded tech company Neatebox in 2011 after 10 years with the Royal Air Force and 18 years working with Guide Dogs UK. His career as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor helped him to build a comprehensive knowledge of visual impairment and to develop an increasing interest in new and ground-breaking assistive technologies.
Now, Gavin and his team focus on improving the opportunities available to the disabled population across the UK with two apps – Button and Welcome.