The adults in the Independence360 program are always on the move, whether running errands, taking part in sports, going on day trips or simply making a run to the grocery store — the same as most of us every day. And it’s important that the places they visit are accessible, inclusive and most of all are welcoming.

This goal is a key aspect of Autism Acceptance Month, which is to empower people with autism to live life fully as members of their communities — not as guests invited to visit.

Which is why Spectrum360 celebrates the businesses and public spaces that welcome our students and adults as customers, as participants and as individuals. 

One such place that is a favorite of our adults for its friendly service is Wegmans Food Markets of Hanover, NJ

The regional East Coast supermarket chain, headquartered in Rochester N.Y., prides itself on its kindness and respect for both employees and customers. 

Store Manager Tim Lockwood explains: “One of our core values is respect — for every person who shops here and every person we hire. We seek out people that are good with people, and the people who work here are genuinely kind, friendly and welcoming.” Tim adds, “We are one of the top companies in the country to work for, and we believe that if we provide a great work environment for our employees, they will provide a great experience for our customers.”

These values are evident to the Independence360 staff who accompany the adults on their once or twice weekly shopping trips, reporting that from the moment they step into the store and until they leave, the incredible customer service makes guiding their groups enjoyable.

“The staff are extremely friendly to our clients,” says Karen Chrobock, an I360 group leader. “They go out of their way to engage my group in conversation and the guys respond to them.” 

The group is big on Wegmans produce, which they bring back to their Whippany campus to cook for lunch. Karen adds, “Mike and Matt in Produce always stop and say ‘Hello.’”

Tim is proud of the Wegmans’ workplace ethos. “One of the first seminars our new hires take is in Customer Service, and they are trained in all things that are important to the company, DEI, values, and so on. Because every person who comes through our doors has a different story and everyone wants to be treated in a respectful and important way.”

Businesses such as Wegmans are essential for promoting acceptance and inclusiveness, because not only do they welcome people with autism as equal to other customers, but their example demonstrates to those other customers how to treat and interact with neurodivergent community members. 

Tim concludes, “We don’t look at people as if “they have this” or “they have that” — we look at them as individuals, as customers to respect and as people who shop.”


Learn more about Wegmans’ “Values in Action:”

Video: Welcome to Independence360