Submitted by: Empish J. Thomas, CVI’s Public Education Manager
We all need to eat and grocery shopping is a routine task that we must do. But sometimes this very mundane chore can be a bit grueling when you have vision loss; getting transportation to and from the store, finding a sighted person to assist you with navigating down the aisles, reading small packaging labels and price tags, handling the purchase at the checkout and finally unpacking your food items and organizing them in your kitchen. After all of these steps you might just want to order take-out Chinese or a pizza for dinner and call it a night!
Don’t be discouraged or feel overwhelmed. Yes, there are several steps involved when grocery shopping if you are blind or visually impaired. With some advance preparation and thoughtfulness, the experience can be a lot more pleasant and not as time consuming. Read below for some useful grocery shopping tips.
- Before going to the store make a list of what you need. Make sure to survey your kitchen and check your refrigerator, cabinets and pantry to see what you are running out of. As you do this, make notes and jot down your food items. Great note taking devices for the visually impaired are a 20/20 pen and dark line paper. You can also use braille, digital recorders or apps on your smartphone. I personally type my list on my computer, print it out and hand to a sighted person to assist me at the grocery store. Additionally, when creating your list, it is a good idea to place items in categories. For example, put all produce in the same section on your list. Put all dairy products in the same section, all meats and poultry, etc… Making your list this way will help the sighted person that might be helping you to shop find the items better and you don’t spend so much time going up and down the aisles. You can shop by section of the store instead.
- While preparing your shopping list, check sale ads. I know you might be asking “how do you do that if you are visually impaired and can’t see a printed ad?” Well, there are a couple of things you can do. One, you can have a sighted person read sales ads to you or you can read them on-line. Some grocery stores like Publix and Kroger run their weekly sale ads on their websites. Additionally, they will even send you e-mail alerts when the new ad is available to read. I shop regularly at Publix and get a weekly e-mail and just log in and read the weekly ad. From there I can build my grocery list and print it out to take to the store.
- Once you have created your shopping list, it is time to head to the grocery store. If you don’t have a sighted friend or family to assist you, most stores will provide assistance. You can ask for help at the customer service counter. Some stores will ask that you call ahead of time or it might be okay to just go in. Check with your local store for more details on this. Typically, a sales person will come over and grab a cart and help with your shopping.
- When the sales clerk comes over, the first thing I do is introduce myself and say thank you for assisting me. I have found that saying thank you goes a long way in having a pleasant interaction with people and that people are more willing to help. I give my list to the person and hold on to the front of the cart while they pull from the other end.
- It is important to handle your groceries. As the sighted person places the items in the cart you will want to ensure they are what you want. Depending on your personal preference, you might want to have the person place an item or two in your hands so that you can feel the size, width and weight of the item. If you are low vision, this is a good time to use a small hand-held magnifier or other aid to read the label. Also, you can have the sales person verbally repeat the item name back to you to verify that the right one was picked up off the shelf. Some might think this step is a bit tedious, but when an incorrect item is placed in your cart, purchased and then taken home, you will quickly realize how important this step really is. There have been times in my own grocery shopping experience when I did not realize I had the wrong item until after I had already open it up for eating or cooking and then, of course, it is too late.
- When ringing up groceries and handling money at the checkout line, it is a good idea to have the sales person call out the items as they scan them across the conveyer belt. Calling out the items accomplishes two things: one, it reviews your items one more time before purchasing and two, it confirms you are paying the correct prices for them. Since most sales screens at grocery stores can be hard to see and sale receipts can be hard to read, this method can be extremely helpful when crosschecking information.
- Your shopping is now done and it is time to get your food home. Instead of using the small flimsy plastic bags that are used in the grocery store, you might want to bring your own bags. I use tuff and sturdy earth bags. I also have bags that have insulation for my frozen and cold items to keep them cool while traveling home. You can also use duffle bags, backpacks, or collapsible metal grocery carts on wheels. Using bags like these are much easier to travel with whether you are walking, using public transportation, taking a cab or having a friend or family member pick you up. Additionally, you can fit more groceries in these bags, thus eliminating excess plastic and waste.
So, are you ready to go grocery shopping? Did you find these hints helpful? What things do you do to make your grocery shopping experience as stress-free as possible? Share your tips and suggestions in the comment section.