Tips and Tricks: Grocery Shopping as a Person Who Is Blind

Groceries in a metal shopping basket. Shelves in a grocery store are visible in the background.
“groceries in transit” by qmnonic. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For many people, grocery shopping can be time consuming and yet another one of the many errands we have to do in our busy lives. As a person who is blind, I have found grocery shopping to be one of my favourite errands to run. My family members may think I am nuts to enjoy such a task. As a single-parent, I was responsible for doing all of the grocery shopping, cooking, and house keeping. As my vision loss progressed, I experienced new challenges with navigating the store, identifying prices, and finding goods. I found ways to shop that have worked for me that help to make my shopping experience more convenient and less time consuming. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought about a whole new set of challenges for me when it comes to grocery shopping. However, I have learned how to adjust to the new layout of my local Save-On-Foods that has social distancing measures in place. Pandemic or not, there are ways to shop that are viable to use.

There are various ways for a person who is blind to grocery shop. Each person has their own preference and ways to shop for groceries. I personally have a few different ways I have found to be helpful. One method I have found to be very useful in regards to grocery shopping is planning and organizing my grocery list. I organize my grocery list according to the layout of the store and/or by section: such as dairy, meat, produce, bakery, frozen foods etc. Planning a grocery list in this fashion has helped me to save time when I shop at the store.

As a single-parent I often grocery shopped independently. When my son was young, I found it easier to shop while my son was at preschool or with his grandparents. Not every parent has this opportunity to shop during these times. However, I did my best to take advantage of these times to get errands done. I found it easier to have the time I needed to complete these tasks. When my son was with me, I would then have quality time to focus on him and his needs. As my son became a pre-teen, he would often tag along with me on trips to the grocery store. I discovered that he was interested in helping me with finding items and sales on goods in the store. I was very appreciative of his help.

If our trip to the grocery store was only for a few items, we were able to carry our groceries home. At times I would take a backpack with me to carry my goods, this enabled me to have my hands free when working my guide dog. Someone also had gifted me a small grocery cart that I could pull behind me. This tool was very helpful to transport heavier items home as I could easily pull the cart behind me if I was taking transit and/or when walking home from the store.

When shopping independently, it has been very important for me to learn the layout of the store. Some people who are blind ask for assistance from the store to have a clerk assist them while shopping. This can be very helpful with completing shopping and safely navigating the store. Since 2007, I have had a small field of central vision left. I have managed with the low vision I have to get around the store safely. It is challenging at times to locate items I am looking for. I tend to shop at one or two grocery stores I have familiarized myself with. I often ask store clerks for assistance for finding certain items I cannot seem to find on my own. In some stores like Walmart that are very busy, I have found it easier to leave my guide dog at home and use my white cane. I have also discovered that I prefer to shop during times that seem to be less busy such as first thing in the morning or in the evening after the dinner hour.

When shopping with my guide dog, I have a couple of tricks that I have learned. I can remember grocery shopping for the first time with my very first guide dog. Shopping with my guide dog was a transition for me. Prior to having a guide, I would navigate the store with a white cane. Fairly new to vision loss, I found ways to juggle using my white cane while trying to push a grocery cart. However, navigating a store with a guide dog and a grocery cart is not only tricky, but it can be also a safety hazard. My guide dog had difficulty guiding me as I tried to use a shopping cart. I also accidentally backed up the cart over my dog’s paw, and he certainly told me about it with a yelp! I quickly learned that navigating a store with a guide dog and a shopping cart was not going to work for me. I then tried to carry a grocery basket in my right hand while using my left hand to work my guide dog. Carrying a basket definitely kept my guide dog and I safe. When buying a few items this was definitely a viable way to shop. As my son got older, he would often push the grocery cart for me when we had a large grocery shop.

When purchasing a large number of groceries I often take a taxi home. I will walk to the grocery store, do my shopping, and then call a cab. My local grocery stores are a quick cab ride away and only cost me a few dollars. I have found this to be a viable option when shopping. I can pick out goods myself and transport them home easily.

Over the past few years many grocery vendors have introduced shopping baskets with wheels on them that you can pull behind you. I think the invention of this style of grocery basket is brilliant! When shopping independently, I always find myself a grocery basket on wheels; it makes my shopping experience much easier.

Many people nowadays choose to do their grocery shopping online. Online shopping is a fast and convenient way to shop. I know that many of my friends who are blind shop online. I think this can be a great way to save time and not have to worry about navigating a grocery store and the challenges that go along with that. I also think that for many individuals, sighted or blind, shopping online during the pandemic has been very beneficial to keeping themselves healthy and safe. I have yet to try online shopping as a person who is blind. I live in a very central location in the Greater Victoria area, with four different grocery stores that are within walking distance to me. However, I do miss shopping at the Canadian Superstore. The closest Superstore to my home is a far distance. I love to learn new skills, and ways of doing things. In regards to grocery shopping, a new goal for myself is to navigate online shopping to place an order with Superstore and have my groceries delivered.

Shopping during the pandemic has its challenges, particularly for me as a person with vision loss. To reduce the number of trips to the grocery store, my family and I shop together for a large grocery shop once every two weeks. In the interim, I will go to the grocery store independently to pick up a few items that we need. On these trips to the store, I go to the same Save-On-Foods. I have familiarized myself with the layout of the store and the social distancing stickers on the floor. These markers are not tactile and have been certainly not accessible for those who are blind to navigate. After many times shopping at the same store over the past year, I have memorized the layout of the store, so that I can safely shop, and wait in line at the check out. Like many people, I long for the days when life will go back to normal. I await the day when I can freely shop without having to worry about social distancing and keeping myself two metres from others! In the meantime, I will shop for groceries at my local Save-On-Foods and learn how to shop online. Who knows? Maybe I will love online shopping. I am open to trying new things, and I will check out the Superstore online.

I am not sure why I enjoy grocery shopping so much. I think I often shopped when I was alone. Over the past few years I have family who can shop with me. However, I still enjoy shopping on my own. Perhaps it is because it is alone time for me, and also shopping independently has also empowered me to do many other things on my own. Being confident, and independent as a person who is blind is empowering, and I value being able to accomplish things freely on my own.

Grocery shopping both online and offline are great ways to get the food we all need. Blind and Deafblind students at the Bowen Island Recreation, Training and Meeting Centre will get to learn about the different options for grocery shopping available to them and find the ones that work best for them as part of the cooking and home management class. Home management is just one of the many subjects this ground-breaking centre will teach to its students. As always, you can help us reach our goal of opening the centre by sharing our blog posts, spreading word of the project on social media, or making a donation. No matter how you help, we appreciate your involvement. Thank you!