Today (November 13) is Purple Tuesday – the UK’s first accessible shopping day aimed at making it easier for customers with a disability or impairment.

And support for the initiative has been pledged by the North East Autism Society, which is already leading the way by training retailers in the region to be more aware of the needs of shoppers with neurodiverse conditions.

Some of the UK’s best-known retailers are getting behind Purple Tuesday by introducing new measures to make shopping in town centres and online more inclusive for disabled customers.

The initiative – set up by disability organisation Purple – is set to become an annual event as more focus is placed on the needs of the disabled.

The pioneering North East Autism Society launched the UK’s first Autism and Neurodiversity Academy (ANDA) in November 2017 with the aim of providing flexible on-site training to help a wide range of organisations.

One of the organisations to go ahead with the training was The Cornmill Shopping Centre in Darlington, which introduced a monthly “Quiet Hour” on Sunday mornings to enable people affected by autism and other neurodiverse conditions to shop in a more relaxed way.

The changes made by the shopping centre – including adjusting lighting and turning off music and children’s rides – proved so successful that the Quiet Hour was extended to become weekly. Discussions are now taking place about how to develop the idea further.

Single mum Emily Wright, who has two autistic sons, Noah and Isaac, was among those to praise the changes made in Darlington. “We have to raise awareness and help people understand that those with autism have different needs,” she said.

Susan Young, manager of the Cornmill Shopping Centre, said: “The ANDA training really made a big difference to the way our staff think. We have a customer-first approach and are pleased to take steps to create a more relaxing and enjoyable shopping experience for all.”

North East Autism Society chief executive John Phillipson said: "It’s fantastic to see a national initiative like Purple Tuesday spreading the word about the need to make shopping more accessible to those with disabilities.

Through the work of the Autism and Neurodiversity Academy, we believe we are making real progress in providing vital training for organisations, including shopping centres, to help them become more aware of the needs of people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions.

“We hope the first Purple Tuesday grows as a national movement and, coupled with the work being carried out by ANDA, it makes a real difference to people’s lives.”