For the visually impaired, a simple task like grocery shopping can quickly become disorienting and overwhelming. Navigating unfamiliar store layouts, reading product labels, and identifying prices are suddenly daunting hurdles. But with the proper tools, assistance, and adaptations, shopping can remain an achievable and even enjoyable activity.

There are many strategies and technologies available today to empower those with visual disabilities to shop confidently and independently. With some planning and support, grocery runs or trips to the mall no longer need to be sources of frustration. Regaining accessibility and freedom to perform this essential everyday activity is possible. We will delve and explore in this article, a few tips and tricks to make shopping easier for individuals with visual impairment.

1. Shop with a Sighted Assistant

Having a sighted assistant or friend join you makes a tremendous difference. They can serve as your eyes, guiding you through the store, reading labels and prices aloud, reaching for items, and providing help at checkout. Inform them beforehand of any specific ways they can assist, like reading expiration dates or clothing sizes.

Many retailers offer volunteer shopper programs that pair you with an assistant free of charge. These are often organized through vision advocacy organizations or local outreach groups. Do some research to see if programs exist in your area. If not, consider reaching out to local community centers or places of worship to find volunteers. Having the same assistant regularly can be helpful to build rapport.

2. Use a Mobility Aid

Using a white cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid enables safer navigation through parking lots and stores. White canes detect drop-offs and obstacles, while guide dogs confidently lead their handlers around impediments. Visiting guide dog-friendly stores also signals staff that you may need extra assistance.

3. Request Store Accommodations

Most major retail, grocery, and pharmacy chains offer accommodations to improve accessibility for blind and visually impaired customers. Depending on the store, these may include personal shoppers or guides to take you through the store, reading labels and signage aloud upon request, braille, raised text, or large print signage, special checkout lanes with accessible payment terminals, and loading assistance to and from vehicles.

When seeking accommodations, call ahead to ensure services will be ready when you arrive. Ask about regularly scheduled shopping assistance hours. See if they have braille store directories or layout maps. Request drive-up parking spots near entrances. Inquire about delivery services to avoid carrying heavy bags. Confirm guide and service dogs are permitted inside the store.

4. Organize Structured Lists

Structured, organized shopping lists minimize confusion in finding needed items. Formatting lists in an orderly way makes them easier to reference.

Here are some tips:

  • Group items categorically by product type or store section.
  • Note specialty items that may require assistance finding.
  • Put perishables like produce and dairy at the top.
  • Format using bullet points or numbered entries instead of long paragraphs.
  • Use a clipboard so the list stays clearly visible.
  • Cross off items as you go to avoid duplicates.
  • Share the list electronically ahead of time with any assistants.

5. Use Identification and Payment Aids

Carrying identification and utilizing accessible payment tools discreetly communicates your visual impairment and need for assistance. Helpful options include:

  • Medical ID indicating you have a visual impairment.
  • A signature cane tip identifies you as blind if needed.
  • A doctor’s note explaining vision loss if questioned in-store.

For payment options, smartphone or smartwatch payment apps enable accessible tap-to-pay. Specialized Braille credit cards are available from some issuers. Ask cashiers to confirm amounts and identify bills verbally. Proper identification and payment methods helps ensure you receive needed assistance and accommodations. Cashiers can also provide greater payment guidance when made aware of your vision needs.

6. Ask for In-Store Assistance

Do not hesitate to ask staff for help locating items, reading labels, reaching high shelves, or anything else you require assistance with. Here are some tips for asking staff for help. Politely explain you have a visual impairment and need help finding or reading something. Seek help in service departments like the deli counter that requires close communication—request guides to take you through confusing store sections. Have an item description ready in case you get diverted. Most stores encourage employees to provide courtesy assistance to shoppers who need it.

7. Have a Store Layout in Mind

If available, study store maps or layouts in advance to gain a general idea of the floor plan. Many grocery stores have similar overall designs. Identify any major landmarks like customer service desks, pharmacy, and deli counters, produce and freezer sections, and checkout lanes and exits. Having a mental map makes navigating easier. You can reference your list order to orient through sections. If still need direction, ask any employee for guidance. They should be able to point you towards key areas.

8. Shop During Less Busy Times

Shopping during slower weekdays and morning hours means fewer crowded aisles and products to navigate around. With fewer customers, staff are also more readily available to provide assistance. Weekday mornings are the least crowded times at most stores. Some stores offer special “senior hours” with fewer shoppers. Visit pharmacies right when they open to avoid wait times. Check websites for off-peak hours or store traffic trackers. Plan multiple errands for one outing to limit trips. Avoiding peak hours like weekends reduces chaos and distractions. With more free stuff around, getting help locating items or reading labels is easier as well.

9. Seek Orientation and Mobility Training

There are programs that provide training tailored for blind people on shopping and life skills. These teach efficient store navigation and product identification, label reading aids and magnifiers, smartphone apps for shopping assistance, credit/debit card use and signature guides, techniques for organizing money by value, methods like echolocation for spatial awareness, and more.

An occupational therapist can also help implement orientation and mobility strategies for shopping. This builds confidence in managing shopping independently. Inquire at local vision advocacy organizations or your eye doctor’s office about possible programs.

10. Utilize Products for the Visually Impaired

There are many products for the blind and visually impaired available today that make shopping easier. These include handheld barcode scanners that identify grocery products aloud, smartphone apps that enable real-time remote-sighted assistance, digital magnifiers that enlarge labels and prices, specialized braille credit cards and statements, audio shopping list recorders, contactless payment rings for greater checkout accessibility, and more.

Discuss low-vision aids with your optometrist as well. Items like large print tags, high-contrast tape, and portable video magnifiers can assist in identifying items. As technology progresses, more advanced tools emerge.

With the proper tools, assistance, and preparation, the challenges of shopping with visual impairment can be overcomed. Being proactive in seeking accommodations and help makes all the difference. Utilizing these tips will help ensure shopping becomes more accessible, independent, and enjoyable.