What is it like to go shopping when you cannot see?

One of the difficulties I live with now, is that I cannot go shopping by myself Not only can I not get anywhere without someone driving me there, I cannot do much shopping once I do arrive at a store. It would really be impossible for me to shop alone and get anything significant done while on my shopping trip.

In the grocery store, because of a slight bit of peripheral vision that I have, I can identify what department I am standing in. I know the deli from the produce department, or the candy area from the dairy area. So, in general, I know about where I am in the grocery store. What I do not know is exactly what items I am “looking” at while in that area. I have to pick up an apple and roll it around in my hand to know it is an apple. Once I am sure it is an apple, then I won’t know if it is a good apple or one with decay spots on it. I can feel if it is a bit softer than I would want it to be, but I won’t know if it is damaged or getting spoiled. And, certainly I will not know what type of apple I am holding.

At the dairy dept, I will have no clue as to what kind of milk I would be picking up, or if it is really orange juice, or eggnog that I have in my hand. While I will know I am probably looking at the cheese area in the dairy case, I will not know what type of cheese it is, or if it is something that is not cheese in that package. Instead of getting a container of butter, I might be holding a container of dip or salsa. And, to even consider what a price is, well, that simply can never happen. Price comparison shopping is something that is in the distant past, and something i will never be able to do again.

In the clothing store, I will know I am in the ladies sportswear department. What I will not know is what color the item is, what size it is, or how much it costs. I can feel that it might be shorts, or a blouse, or a sweater. But, the details that I need to have to know what to buy are absent. Without a person with me, I would not be able to shop for myself once I am in the store.

What I was trained to do is to go to the Customer Service area, announce that I am visually impaired (as if they would not know that when they wee my long white cane!) and ask for assistance. Of course, I would be only able to ask for one or two items as the store would frown on someone serving as my “personal shopper” for any extended amount of time. That means, I have to decide before I go in the store exactly what items I want to buy, and memorize my list so I am efficient. I must be able to say exactly what items I will need and ask them to help me get them. What I can buy in this way is very limited and totally dependent upon someone from the store helping me get them. Some of my blind friends have waited on someone at Customer Service to help them for half an hour or more. One friend had a two hour wait, patiently, on the bench by Customer Service where he was told to wait for someone to help him. You wait until someone is free and can give you a few moments of help. It can be very discouraging. But, you have no choice in the matter, so you wait.

Once I have my items I can go through the checkout myself, and out the door. I can count out the right amount of money, and I will discuss how that is done in my next post here. Once the shopping is finished, then, I need someone to pick me up and get me back home. For a person who traveled all over the world alone, prior to sight loss, this is quite an adjustment. A time or two, I have had a meltdown in the process. It can be frightening, as well as requiring much patience at every step of the way. Most of all, any trip outside my home required a lot of advance planning on my part.

You may wonder what things might look like to a person with sight loss. I found a photo on a link that can give you a little bit of an idea. For me, I see nothing clearly at all. I can detect light from darkness, and I can see contrasts, but everything is ghostlike in nature. I see just the outline of forms, so I know if I am standing near someone. I am thankful for this amount of sight that I have.

Many senior citizens are going through a gradual sight loss due to Macular Degeneration. Some of them will be completely blind in a matter of years. Others may maintain some vision, or have low vision. This site can give you some idea of what that is like. It is all VERY interesting!

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