Episodes
Female supermarket cashier scanning groceries while wearing a face mask and gloves.
The Be My Eyes Podcast, Apr 13, 2021, How do Blind People Shop for Groceries?

How do Blind People Shop for Groceries?

Some of our favorite podcast guests share their tips and tricks for shopping blind at the grocery store.

Episode Transcript

Heidi Joshi:

You really need to try to take up space more. You deserve to go into a store and ask for help just like I would.

Will Butler:

You're listening to The Be My Eyes Podcast. I'm Will Butler and this week we're talking about navigating the grocery store. Getting the food you need from the supermarket can seem like a bit of a daunting task if you're blind and you haven't done it a bunch of times before, but we turn to some of our favorite Be My Eyes Podcast guests and asked them, "How do you get the food that you need?"

Will Butler:

First, a few fun announcements from Be My Eyes, the first of which is we have all new partners on Specialized Help. That's the Specialized Section of the Be My Eyes app. If you're a blind or low-vision user, you can just click the Specialized Help on your home screen and head over to the categories list. Of particular note this week, Verizon, that's right, your favorite wireless company in the United States, is providing accessibility support three days a week, two hours a day. They'd like to do more, but you need to give them a call. Go into the Technical category on Specialized help and look for the Verizon profile, but it's not just tech support.

Will Butler:

That's right, we've announced our first partner in careers. That means if you're in search of a job, you're in luck because the folks at Jobs For Humanity, that's the Lebanon-based nonprofit organization, have partnered up with companies around the world to offer amazing jobs. That's more than a thousand of them now open to people who are blind or have low vision. They've made a commitment to interviewing the top candidates and the folks at Jobs For Humanity are answering Be My Eyes calls to help you find the one that's right for you.

Will Butler:

The last Specialized Help partner you should know about is the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK, who is launching their home COVID testing support on Be My Eyes. That means anyone in the UK can get video support with home COVID testing. Check it out on the Be My Eyes app.

Will Butler:

In our final announcement this week, we're giving everyone who listens to The Be My Eyes Podcast a chance to win an OrCam. That's the super lightweight, super portable, AI text-to-speech reader that can read basically anything with the click of a button or voice command. To hear a little bit more about the OrCam and how it works, we've brought in the amazing blind race car driver Dan Parker.

Will Butler:

Are you the world's fastest blind man yet?

Dan Parker:

Not yet, but I am the fastest blind man in America so far. I've been 153.8 miles per hour in my Corvette.

Will Butler:

Wow, that's incredible. Now, that's just a record that you set last year?

Dan Parker:

Yeah, last February at Spaceport in New Mexico, I ran the car with no human assistant. I solely relied on a custom guidance system built by a friend of mine, Patrick Johnston at Boeing Phantom Works. It gives me audio feedback so I know how to correct my steering.

Will Butler:

I wanted to ask you, you've been doing all of these amazing things like drive a car at 150 mile per hour, but for people like you and me who are blind, there are struggles that are a little less obvious, and typically it's the day-to-day stuff, right?

Dan Parker:

Oh yes. With today's technology, it's just amazing what's available to us. I can't imagine being blind 25, 50, or even a hundred years ago.

Will Butler:

How did you hear about the OrCam?

Dan Parker:

Social media. I immediately was just totally intrigued about it. Came home, studied a little bit about it, and then reached out to my VR counselor to see if I could get in one to help me on the job.

Will Butler:

What were your thoughts the first time you tried it?

Dan Parker:

The bicycle shop I was working in at the time also had a café attached to it, so we just sat down and the first thing he gave me was the menu and just being able to sit down and read the menu independently and how clear and concise it was, it was amazing.

Will Butler:

What do think is the biggest thing that you use it for that you couldn't do before?

Dan Parker:

The two biggest things I do is, A, I read all of my instructions for my racing parts. They typically don't come in braille or any other digital format.

Will Butler:

They're not [crosstalk 00:03:57] expecting blind people to be reading those.

Dan Parker:

Exactly, so instructions for my racing parts to some of the racing history books that I have that's still not available in the digital format. I have some from overseas. We'll sit down in my recliner in the evening and read independently. It brings back my prior part of my life where I enjoyed the history so much of racing.

Will Butler:

Here's a fun question. Where do you keep it?

Dan Parker:

In my bedside table because, A, I always take care of it and so when it's plugged up, charged, and it's right there beside the bed, so if I need it I can just put it on. The portability side of it was just amazing, not have to worry about focusing everything just right. It worked so well and it's great. The portability side of it is just amazing to me.

Will Butler:

Dan, thank you so much and I think people are going to be really excited to hear that they have a chance to win one of these things.

Dan Parker:

Oh, whoever wins one is going to be amazed.

Will Butler:

How do you win? Pretty simple. Just go to bemyeyes.com/orcam, O-R-C-A-M, enter your information in the form, and you will be entered. Only one entry per person. You have to live in the United States to be able to get one of these, but you can find out more information about all of this stuff over at their website, orcam.com, or at their Facebook page.

Will Butler:

Now, our episode in a new series I'm calling Breaking Blind. We're taking at the little things in life. These are, after all, sometimes the things that really matter in our daily lives, so we've decided to start with the supermarket. I went back to a couple of our recent podcast guest and asked them the very simple question of, how do they go about buying food when they can't see what's in the grocery store? Listen in and let us know if any of these strategies are helpful to you or someone you know.

Bryan Bashin:

The thing about grocery stores is they always have people and they always have customer service and as a cane user, as a dog user, your identifiable as a blind person. You're not some kind of strange person, so it's a matter these days, you go to ask for customer service. "I need to buy some stuff. Is there somebody who can just walk with me and help me get it?" You're a customer. You're about to spend money. It helps if you have a list. It makes things more efficient, but then you just walk with the clerk or whoever's going to do it.

Bryan Bashin:

You can carry your basket. Sometimes they're in front of the basket, you're in the rear, and you just walk through. You keep a patter of, "Oh yes, I do want some apples, but I don't like green apples. What looks good?" It's interactive and you're interacting in a way with a professional there who will know more than you do about the store, so it's just a way to get close enough to get that assistance. It is an unremarkable act for somebody who's done it a bunch, and for somebody who hasn't yet shopped as a blind person, it seems daunting.

Heidi Joshi:

If I'm on my own, which I think is what you're asking, I do a lot of grocery delivery in my life right now because I am somebody that just doesn't want to... I don't want to brave the grocery store with the pandemic right now, so I use like Instacart or one of the grocery delivery services. Instacart right now is what I'm using because it seems to be the most accessible for me, although they have changed something recently that I don't really love.

Will Butler:

Do you have someone help you?

Heidi Joshi:

No. No, I do that by myself, the Instacart, but there's something about like approving your choices that they've changed recently, so then I might have to get someone to tell me what the screen says in that regard-

Will Butler:

Okay.

Heidi Joshi:

... but for the most part, I can do that one by myself really easily.

Will Butler:

Okay, so try Instacart. Those are good, and the whole point of this is to be as honest with people as possible, right?

Heidi Joshi:

Totally.

Will Butler:

Not sugar coat like, "Oh yes, I do this all independently," right [crosstalk 00:08:18]-

Heidi Joshi:

No, no, no. No, no, no, and I think that's the thing about most, like 90% of my hacks for life are like half accessible and half not.

Will Butler:

Right, right, totally.

Heidi Joshi:

You just do what you can.

Will Butler:

Let's say you've got to go to the grocery store for six things for dinner and you don't have choice and you walk in there. Which store do you go to, first of all?

Heidi Joshi:

I really like Trader Joe's in general because I think they're just really... they have such a service mindset that I don't have to wander around too long by myself. Really, as a blind person, wandering around looking lost, it makes sighted people really uncomfortable, so often it's a great motivator to get help, like people don't want to-

Will Butler:

How do you look lost?

Heidi Joshi:

I walk up and down the aisle, the same aisle.

Will Butler:

Back and forth until someone-

Heidi Joshi:

Yeah. Sometimes it's like, "Oh," or it'll make patrons uncomfortable and they'll be like, "Do you need help?" Often I'll ask, "Hey, can you tell me where the service desk is?" Or something like that, especially if it's a store that I've never been to. I will say my husband is sighted, so oftentimes if there's a new place, he's like the stealth guy. He'll go in, and even before I would do a job interview, if I was going to a place I've never been to before, he would like go and eyeball it for me, and then he would-

Will Butler:

Oh.

Heidi Joshi:

... come out and give me the lay of the land and say, "Okay-

Will Butler:

Oh.

Heidi Joshi:

... "so you have to go-

Will Butler:

Oh, that's so cool.

Heidi Joshi:

... "when you go in this building, the counter... You have to go up a set of stairs, walk about five feet straight ahead and the counter will be right in front of you," or whatever, so that when I did it myself I could like make it look like I've done it every day.

Will Butler:

You send a sentinel.

Heidi Joshi:

Yeah. Totally cheating, but it works really [crosstalk 00:10:17]-

Will Butler:

No, that's brilliant.

Heidi Joshi:

... he's like stealth guy. He will do that in other situations, too. He'll go into the grocery store and look around and then he'll give me the lay of the land. If it's a place that I really need to look like I know what the heck I'm doing for whatever reason, he will often ahead of time give me the orientation of it-

Will Butler:

Oh my gosh, so-

Heidi Joshi:

... verbally.

Will Butler:

... let's say there's a new Trader Joe's and for whatever reason he can't be there with you, but he knows the-

Heidi Joshi:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

... store, he can say, "Okay, you're looking for a bottle of wine, so you're going to go in there and the wine is all the way at the very back on the right."

Heidi Joshi:

Totally.

Will Butler:

You can just like walk in there and don't have to walk up and down an aisle-

Heidi Joshi:

Oh yeah-

Will Butler:

... over and over again.

Heidi Joshi:

Totally. It's fun for me to do that, to just be-

Will Butler:

Wow.

Heidi Joshi:

... like, "Oh yeah," yeah.

Will Butler:

It kind of makes you feel like a psychic or like you have a superpower or something.

Heidi Joshi:

Right, right. Whatever works, right?

Will Butler:

I love that [crosstalk 00:11:20]. What else at the grocery store? What are the strategies?

Heidi Joshi:

Let's see. I... but oftentimes I will have to go to like a service desk or something if I've never been there or he's not with me. I'll have to ask for a person to help me. If I'm new to an area and I go to Trader Joe's with him like the first time, then sometimes I'll ask to talk to the manager and I might say, "Hey, you know what? This is a store that I think I'm going to frequent in the future. What's the best way to get assistance here?" I'll sort of prework it so that when I come back I kind of have a lay of the land as to what works for this store because sometimes, yes, I think we should be able to go to the groceries whenever the heck we want, but let's be honest-

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Heidi Joshi:

... like, you know, at 5:00 on Friday afternoon at Trader Joe's might not be the best time to go, so we might need to say, "Are there times that are busier than others that I should try to avoid so that I might have a better chance of getting some assistance?"

Will Butler:

This is prework, though. I like that, like we-

Heidi Joshi:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

... pressure ourselves to do things the exact way that sighted people do. Whereas, you walk in and you just figure it all out like all at once.

Heidi Joshi:

No, I'm all about like prework, making it easier for myself.

Will Butler:

Do you ever feel ashamed when you ask someone at the service desk for help?

Heidi Joshi:

All of the time. Remember when I said I don't want to inconvenience people? I remember when my husband and I were first dating and he would say things to be me like, "You really need to try to take up space more. You deserve to go in a store and ask for help just like I would. That's what they're there for." Of course, I'm like, "Oh, I don't know," but at some point you just have to be... I think that's one of the things about being blind that is hard is that we have to be more comfortable talking to people than other people. We can't just blend in.

Will Butler:

You and your husband sound like a good team.

Heidi Joshi:

We are a good time. Yeah, for sure. For sure, and I have two kids. My oldest daughter's 13 and she's kind of gotten used to that prework stuff with me, too. She'll... I don't even have to ask her because she's a kid. I'm like, "You get to be 13, you're not born to be my eyes," but it does happen just by living with me, and so sometimes she'll be like, "Mom, remember when I walking by the Starbucks the other day and it looked like they had moved the bench that you like to sit on." You know what I mean? Or something like that.

Will Butler:

Yeah, wow.

Heidi Joshi:

She's just started to become more aware of the things that I do in the world, and so she'll be like, "Oh, okay. Well, I don't think we should go to Starbucks today because it looks really busy." She's just gotten really [crosstalk 00:14:19] used to being like that check-in person, whether I want her to or not. She just-

Will Butler:

The stealth.

Heidi Joshi:

... does it naturally.

Will Butler:

The young stealth.

Heidi Joshi:

Yeah, she's Stealth Junior.

Will Butler:

She learned from her Dad, right?

Heidi Joshi:

Totally, but you know what the flip side of that is, is she is learning from a really young age how to ask for help and how to reach out and how to be in the world in a very different way.

Will Butler:

All right. Blind parenting at its best.

Heidi Joshi:

Exactly, and it's-

Will Butler:

That's very cool.

Heidi Joshi:

... I think that's a plus. I think she has really learned how to seek assistance and how to ask for what she needs.

Sheri Wells-Jensen:

Okay, so for one thing, I am a really big fan of those you order on line and then go get it or have it delivered things. That way, I can scroll around and do my searching on my phone, find exactly what I want. I do all of the think work and somebody else does the look work, so there's that. Avoid the grocery store, that's my advice, but okay, so if you're not going to do that, I used to go and get a person from the store to help me. I would go to the service desk and ask for someone. I did that when I had little kids with me because I found that managing a cart and a little kid while trying to find things was just... there's just too many variables going on there at the same time. Back when I had little kids with me, I would do that.

Sheri Wells-Jensen:

Now what I do is something more strategic, so I organize my list kind of by the shelves. I look up the store online, find out kind of what order the aisles are going to be in. I put my list in order as best I can. Again, you can't always count on this because like the Cheerios are not always going to be the third box from the end of aisle six, so it's more of a hunt than a gather. What I like to do, then, is I get myself close and then I decide sort of what makes sense. If I'm pretty sure I've got it, I might just use Seeing AI or one of those other apps to get the bar code off a box and verify that I'm right if for some crazy reason I think I'm right.

Sheri Wells-Jensen:

The other choices, if there's lots of people around, I'll often just ask someone and I'll have that person do like one thing for me and then say, "Thank you," and then move on. If it doesn't seem like the thing to do, then I'll get a Be My Eyes call going because that way I can scan around with the phone, the person. I like that better in some ways because the person, I don't have to ask for help. I just call and the person has already agreed to help me and they're all poised. They already a blind person is on the phone. They're not going to freak out.

Sheri Wells-Jensen:

Sometimes when I'm feeling like I really just don't want to deal with people's attitudes and people's whatever they're going to do and I just want it to be fast and easy, that's my go-to because I know the person will be agreeable. I know they'll be trying to help and I know that they know what to expect. I'll get the Be My Eyes person to do, oh, I don't know, three to five things just like maybe we'll go down one aisle together or something like that. I want to be mindful of their time. Again, it's a bunch of strategic, small interventions as I go along. The advantage, of course, of going to the grocery store myself is that I have identified each object as I pick it up. I don't usually label them there because that would take too much time, but I know what everything is.

Sheri Wells-Jensen:

Then, I often sort of "help" and call with the bagging so that I know kind of what things are going to be together in what bag, and so when I put things on the... I don't use the automatic checker-outer thing. I get with a person so that I can sort of strategically order things as I put them on the conveyor belt. I don't usually let people help me do that because I want to know where they are and what's going first so I have some sense of what's getting grouped together by the bagger.

Will Butler:

That was Bryan Bashin, Heidi Joshi, and Sheri Wells-Jensen, and they should really charge for gems like those. If you've got burning questions that you would like us to answer on The Be My Eyes Podcast, send us an email to podcast@bemyeyes.com.