9 Shopping Tips for All People With Disabilities

Updated on December 1, 2017
Tim Truzy info4u profile image

As a counselor, Tim has taught independent living skills (shopping, cooking, etc.) to his clients and students with disabilities.

Rubber bands can be placed in different places on a can to aid with identification,.
Rubber bands can be placed in different places on a can to aid with identification,. | Source

How Do People With Disabilities Shop?

Because I spent years working with individuals who have disabilities, many questions were asked of me regarding daily living activities. One group I was often asked about was my clients and students with vision loss. Many of these individuals also had secondary disabilities: hearing loss, neurological issues, and cognitive problems, to name a few. They all wanted to learn how to carry out various activities including shopping. Here are some tips for how people with disabilities can shop.

1. Separate goods by size and shapes.

Many products have unique designs; for example, a bottle of vinegar is probably not shaped like a bottle of cola. A box of laundry detergent is probably not shaped like a box of noodles.

When returning from a grocery trip, divide goods by their shape and size to help manage when the supply of those things become low and plan to shop for them. This helps people with visual impairments, individuals who are elderly, or people dealing with fine and/or gross motor skills difficulties. People with memory problems would also benefit from this strategy. Let manufacturing design preferences help you sort out and prepare for your next visit to the grocery store or mall.

2. Use labels and markers

Some goods, like canned products, may require more time to distinguish. Use color stickers to help identify certain products. For example, you may use green stickers for beans, red stickers for fruit, and white stickers for vegetables. Stickers can be acquired from many retailers, or you may wish to buy stickers from organizations like the American Printing House for the Blind. A link to their products is provided.

You may mark these items with a marker as well. Or you may wish to be creative. In the photo, a picture is shown of a can with a rubber band on it identifying it as a can of vegetables. This approach would also benefit the groups mentioned above.

3. Place items in different locations based on their use.

This tactic will help a variety of individuals with disabilities. By putting items where they are used most, you can determine quickly when shopping is needed. For example, placing toothpaste, toilet paper, and soap in a bathroom helps you notice when they are running out. Or place the same type of products together, if possible. For instance, one client of mine kept all of her cleaning products under the kitchen sink.

4. Prepare a list.

Because items are marked or labeled, knowing when to visit the grocery store becomes easy. The same is true because items have been placed in certain locations. You can quickly prepare a list of what supplies are needed, and then, plan to carry out shopping duties. An added benefit: The shopping list can be prepared as time goes along when things are noticed in order to make one trip, or shopping can occur when certain products become low.

5. Have money prepared and organized.

Folding bills and grouping them according to their denomination in a wallet or purse is one way for individuals with vision loss to handle the responsibility of paying for groceries and other financial obligations. Placing credit or debit cards in an easy to access place helps avoid these items being lost or misplaced when reaching the cash register.

Having change in a small pouch is also a good way to organize funds without assistance. Another option is to use a currency identifying program on a smartphone. The U.S. government provides a free currency reading device to citizens of the country. (See link provided below.) Controlling financial resources independently helps all individuals with disabilities feel accomplished and valued.

6. Use customer service staff to assist with shopping tasks.

Customer service personnel normally have training in helping people with disabilities. These people are usually friendly and don’t mind finding things for a customer. Build a respectful relationship with such individuals at stores and other businesses. In time, they will begin to understand your shopping needs if you are a frequent customer at their store.

7. Have more than one shopping option.

Sometimes, your favorite store may not have a product you want. It’s important to develop good social interactions with various shops and vendors. Occasionally, switch where you like to shop in order to have a variety of choices. Develop the skills of being assertive and polite in order to make shopping anywhere a comfortable and rewarding experience.

8. Get to know people who can help you.

Have trusted friends, relatives, or others available to assist from time to time. They may help you with these aspects of shopping: transportation, recognizing different shapes and sizes of products, labeling and marking items such as cans, and offering encouragement. Of course, everyone would probably prefer to be as independent as possible, but occasionally, even the most independent person needs support.

9. Educate when possible.

Many people simply do not know how to interact with individuals who have disabilities because of infrequent exposure. Encourage those who wish to assist you. They will eventually pass knowledge on to others. This makes your shopping a more enjoyable experience because more people understand your abilities and limitations; thusly, they can respect your needs and feel as if they have contributed in a positive way.

Bagged groceries waiting to be put away
Bagged groceries waiting to be put away | Source

People with Disabilities Use the Same Approaches to Shopping as Others with Modifications

Truthfully, the level of the challenge to do any task associated with independent living depends on various factors. Some of those variables related to shopping include, but are not limited to: the severity of the disability, where the person with a disability lives, and access to transportation. For example, living in a city normally would provide a person with vision loss or any disabling condition more ways to travel to a store: buses, subways, cabs, etc. A person who uses a wheelchair may prefer to visit a store with wide aisles and electronic shopping carts. Specialists and rehabilitation professionals work with people who have disabilities to maximize their options for addressing activities of daily living, such as shopping.

Indeed, people with disabilities will shop in any combination of ways. This is much like individuals who are not disabled. However, people with disabilities may alter the approaches somewhat. In fact, the desired level of independence in conducting activities of daily living is one of the most crucial elements in determining how a person with a disability chooses to shop. Here are a few important methods used:

  • Online – With the aid of speech and magnification technologies, people with visual impairments can use computers and smart phones to shop. They may schedule to pick items up or some companies will deliver products. People who are deaf-blind may use a computerized Braille display as well.
  • Phone – Individuals with vision loss may call a store and have items gathered together for them. They then arrange to pick them up. People who use wheelchairs may do the same, especially if the store does not have room for them to move around. Individuals with hearing loss may use text messages with the customer service staff to assist with getting groceries and other goods.
  • In-Person – Some people with visual impairments who have usable sight may prefer to walk and scan the shelves for products using magnifiers. People who use wheelchairs may prefer to move throughout the store to shop.

Should people with disabilities have access to stores and malls to shop?

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Understanding Your Rights

Cyber Monday reportedly earned stores over five billion dollars according to some sources. People swarmed the internet looking for bargains on the first Monday after Thanksgiving. Black Friday was lucrative for retailers, bringing thousands of people to stores across America after the Thanksgiving celebration. The federal government decided years ago people with disabilities should have a part in shopping all year round, including on these occasions. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act to address this and other concerns about discrimination against people with disabling conditions. The law is civil rights’ legislation with important ramifications for individuals with disabilities.

The law covers many areas of societal involvement in order to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Primarily, employers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals in hiring practices and other aspects of work. In addition, education and training programs are barred from engaging in discriminatory processes and activities. Next, public transportation and telecommunications networks must be accessible. Finally, retailers have to provide ways for people with disabilities to use their establishment. These are not the only significant sections of the law, but they are crucial for people with disabilities. Stores are responding in these ways:

  • Most online content can be accessed with minimum difficulties now for shopping.
  • Many modern stores have wheelchair ramps.
  • Many shops may use automatic doors for entrance and exit from the building.
  • Customer service personnel are better trained in general in assisting people with disabilities.
  • Some grocery chains and hardware outlets provide electronic shopping carts.

In conclusion, people with disabilities generally want to be a part of society and participate in activities like shopping. For people with disabilities, like others, a process has to occur in order to perform shopping successfully since this is an ongoing duty. They must bring items home, put them away, plan to shop again and conduct the activity when necessary. Also, usually stores and different vendors want to make as much profit as possible while contributing to their community. By increasing accessibility, both groups win in the end.

Sources Used

A Guide to Disability Rights Laws - ADA.gov. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from: https://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm.

Feel 'n Peel Stickers II - APH Shopping - American Printing House for The Blind. Retrieved November 25, 2017. from http://shop.aph.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_Feel%20%27n%20Peel%20Stickers_1057078P_10001_11051

the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from: http://www.bep.gov/uscurrencyreaderform.html

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Submit a Comment
  • Tim Truzy info4u profile imageAUTHOR

    Tim Truzy 

    21 months ago from U.S.A.

    My wife and I have dubbed you a shopping superhero, Ice Cold Princess. Even if you landed with the frozen chickens, chicken is not in your bio. Thankfully, many of us are in the club with you. Anyone who is trying to survive doing things the best they can deserves to be respected.

    Thank you all for your cheerful and thoughtful comments. See ya shopping!

  • Ice cold princess profile image

    Ice cold princess 

    21 months ago

    You'd probably love to see me on a shopping trip, I've been known to attempt to climb the shelving to get to the product that I want before now (not recommended, mind... I almost tipped them a couple of times!) and I almost joined a frozen chicken in the freezer. It can be so funny to see the ways that my efforts to manage have backfired on me over the years.

  • Tim Truzy info4u profile imageAUTHOR

    Tim Truzy 

    21 months ago from U.S.A.

    Excellent. I agree. Both my wife and I (I have vision loss and she uses a wheelchair) have trouble some days;. Most of the time though, if we call ahead and give the staff time to gather stuff, we receive excellent service.

    Here's something funny: I pointed out to one customer service person, "Hey, I would shop independently, of course, depending on which products you want accidentally knocked off your shelves."

    She laughed and until this day, she calls me Mr. Tim, the Shopping Terminator. We still share this laugh after five years.

    Thanks, Ice Cold Princess for your insightful comment. From reading your articles, I can tell you handle things with assertiveness and kindness as well.

    We can't change the world in a day, but maybe the world will change with us over time. Change is the only constant in life after all.

    (Watch those British winters, ICP.) God bless you and your family.

  • Ice cold princess profile image

    Ice cold princess 

    21 months ago

    Larger stores could help more by having more staff throughout the store to help. I'd rather not have to walk from the back to the front to ask for someone to reach me a t shirt or box of cornflakes down.

  • Tim Truzy info4u profile imageAUTHOR

    Tim Truzy 

    21 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thanks for your comments. Stores are beginning to change, but you hit it right on the mark when you said: "People are changing." One of my professors, an ex-marine and head of rehabilitation once told me: "If people live long enough, at some point, they will encounter a life altering disability." He included old age in that category because sometimes the elderly are treated with little regard.

    Being an advocate for yourself with the intelligence you displayed in your comments, I know you make the best of your world. Thanks for helping with the ongoing effort to educate with assertiveness and kindness.


  • wheelinallover profile image

    Dennis Thorgesen 

    21 months ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

    People are changing. Years ago shopping was a real pain. Literally, at the local supermarket people would purposely run into my hands when I was making myself move in the wheelchair. It happened every time I was in the store.

    Thank goodness that store is now 1,300 miles away. Where I was at the time it was the closest store and it was 7 miles from where I lived. The next nearest was 12 miles.

    My bank now lets me use one of the desks when I need to write something. When I go to pay the cable bill one of the staff open both doors so I can get in.

    I was told I am one of the lucky ones. Years ago I had my drivers license reinstated. As well, I no longer need special devices to drive, with the exception of glasses.

    My house is set up to where I know when I am low on something. Without glasses I am functionally blind.

    Unlike some I shop at a single store. This is because I have memorized the layout and can get what I want without asking for help. The customer service people have had staff move a few products I use most where they can be easily reached.

    This summer the city made great strides putting in curb cuts. Now I can go from my house downtown (in the wheelchair) and have access to most of the stores.

    Sadly it is simpler and safer to go downtown than to the convenience store which is two blocks away. The nearest stoplight to get across the major highway I would have to cross is a half a mile away. It is over a mile to get downtown. I live right next to a rails to trails which takes me to three blocks from the center of town.

    I stopped shopping on Black Friday in 2003. It was a daytime nightmare I never want to repeat. My knuckles looked like Swiss cheese after an hour. No one even cared that the floors were getting bloody.

    Now if I really want something advertised as a Black Friday special I call the store in advance, explain my situation, and they either honor the price or not. Mostly not.

  • Tim Truzy info4u profile imageAUTHOR

    Tim Truzy 

    21 months ago from U.S.A.

    I wrote this article after experiencing numerous people crowding the malls near me. I was pleasantly surprised to see people with disabilities among them, trying to find bargains and working with customer service people. This showed me how we don't just talk about it in America, we really value each other.


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