Blind Etiquette 101 for…Retail Businesses

Do you own a small retail business? Are you a manager or employee in a shop, grocery store or other retail outlet? Here are some basic suggestions to help you or your staff in responding to the needs of your customers who may be blind, or partially sighted. First, think about the physical space in you store. Make it a firm policy to keep floor space clear of boxes and other obstacles. If you have any say in design features, such as lighting and signs, consider inquiring about what can optimize your site. Local organizations for the Blind, may be able to provide you with suggestions of specific types of lighting and how to use them, as well as other ways to create contrast (strips on steps etc.) Signs on bathroom doors should be a combination of large print, tactile symbols and Braille. Building standards and codes vary from place to place, however there are all sorts of Accessibility guidelines and checklists available from many sources, which can help you make your store or business accessible to EVERYONE. It can be daunting, with measurements of counter height and doors for wheelchair accessibility, automatic door openers, ramps, TTY access, etc. but try and think of the overall picture: If someone in a wheelchair, or someone who is Blind or Deaf, were to visit your store, what barriers would they face? ‘People skills’ is usually the aspect of accessibility, which creates the biggest barrier for people with disabilities. For people who are Blind or have limited vision? Here’s what you need to know: Identify yourself as a store employee, before asking a blind or partially sighted customer if they want help. OFFER assistance first (No grabbing of the arm etc.). It could be that the person does not want or need help, so don’t take a refusal personally. If they do want assistance, ask what they require. They will tell you what they need, or how they want to be guided (take your left arm etc.) If you are giving directions, be SPECIFIC. For example, “The washroom door is ten meters away at ten o’clock”, and not “Over there”. If I had a buck for every time I was told something was in that mysterious place called, “over there”, I’d have enough to buy a small condo. If the person has a Guide dog with them? know the do’s and don’ts that pertain to them (no petting, no talking to the dog, no eye contact…) and abide by them.  Also be aware of Access laws that protect Guide dogs and their handlers and allow them entry into your business (this extends to other properly qualified service dogs). The dog does not know where to find Ladies lingerie, so the handler might want to take your left arm and go ‘sighted guide’, or have the dog “follow”. It’s up to the handler in the specific situation. In a grocery store, Blind people have some unique, preferred methods for shopping. Realize that they can not read labels, or aisle markings. Whoever is available to be a ‘shopper’ (clerk who is helping), should have a good knowledge of the store and where everything is located. My biggest frustration in grocery stores stem from ‘shoppers’ who can’t find anything, and take me and Opal through a 2 hour odyssey. That’s not fair to the dog. It’s also frustrating to have a ‘shopper’ who has little knowledge of what constitutes a ‘good buy’ in produce. I may have access to the online ‘flyer’, but I have no idea what is actually available in the way of produce in the store when I get there, how much it costs, or if it is any good. Packaging makes it impossible for me to smell or feel the trussed-up package of green beans or asparagus, so I am counting on the ‘shopper’ to tell me what’s available, how it looks and how much it costs…in a timely fashion. No two ways about it, the art of description requires some thought and practice on the part of store clerks. If the blind customer has a large number of items on the shopping list, the challenge is even greater. Many people who are blind, (with or without a guide dog) will take hold of the shopping cart while the ‘shopper’ pulls the cart from the front. That way, a five foot-wide berth is not required to accommodate the cart, customer, ‘shopper’ and Guide dog. A good ‘shopper’ will advise of tight spots and turns. They will think ahead to where things are located in the store, so that there is no need to wander back and forth in the store. I try to plan for a maximum shopping time of forty minutes, for Opal’s sake. People don’t realize that a grocery store trek is one of the most challenging parts of her job. Smells, food spilled over on the floor, people trying to pet her, and the stop-and -go of the whole adventure is most difficult. She prefers working; being able to “find the bakery counter” at my direction, in a local store (actively working) over a situation where she is in harness, yet not guiding me in the store (when we go for a large number of items that require the help of a ‘shopper’ to locate them). Paying for items? Cashiers should (for everyone) say aloud, “out of twenty” when handed a bill. They should put the change in the customers hand, and then give the receipt. If a signature is required for a credit card payment by a blind person, the easiest way to accomplish this, is for you to place the card directly beneath the ‘line’ where they must sign (as a straight edge guide). If your customer with vision loss is taking a cab from your store, try and have someone watch for the taxi, so that they actually know it has arrived (cabbies should know to get out of their car, or at least announce themselves, instead of pulling up in an area where other cars are coming and going when the person waiting can’t distinguish one car from another…but they don’t necessarily). I tend to avoid shops that are so packed with stuff that I can’t navigate. Special displays everywhere create an obstacle course for someone using a white cane. With a Guide dog, a person may be able to work around stuff, but still require adequate manouvering room. If the aisles are too narrow because of bins and displays, Opal can not take me through it, if the space is not there. One thing I emphasize with my blind friends; when someone does an exceptional or even adequate job of assisting you, fuss it up a bit, maybe even tell the manager. When service or access is not adequate, point out the shortcomings. I would love to see all businesses, big and small think about Acessibility issues. I don’t like to refer to my right to shop where I choose, as ACCOMMODATION, but rather, as EVERYDAY INCLUSION. Ask your local service organization for the Blind to give your employees a little ‘blind people relations’ skills talk. Check for pamphlets that they might have for distribution. Create a space where everyone feel welcome and people will come back to spend more money in your place of business. Remember, that they will probably tell other people about their experiences too (good or bad), and THAT has even broader implications.


3 responses to “Blind Etiquette 101 for…Retail Businesses

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  2. thats for sure, guy

  3. thank you, but it’s actually ‘gal’, not ‘guy’. Opal’s a gal too. so is Lucy (cat). I checked your blog…very Italian. bravisimo!

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