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Kait Bessing, who is visually impaired, squints to make out how much this wedge of cheese costs, but without success. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden
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Henrik Götesson, who is blind, is told there are braille signs at this shopping mall in Stockholm, and he runs his fingers over this one, indicating a pharmacy, to check it out. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden

Shopping for the visually impaired brings special challenges

"It's much easier to keep by the walls"
4:49 min

Imagine going to buy groceries without being able to see. How would you find your favorite brand of bread or cheese? And how would you even know who to ask for help? Radio Sweden found out recently.

Henrik Götesson is a slight man with pale blue, opalescent eyes. He is totally blind, and on White Cane Safety Day, which takes place annually in the middle of October to raise awareness about issues that affect the visually impaired, he was trying to situate himself in the supermarket by listening out for the sound of the cash registers.

He was there to give sighted people a sense of what it's like to go shopping when one can't see and was there with several other people from the Stockholm branch of the Swedish Association for the Visually Impaired, who vary in their ability to see.

The supermarket is in a shopping mall, and the group had gone around assessing the shop signs.

The group passed by a pharmacy. To the right of the doorway is a little sign that spells out the name of the store in braille. Once someone told Henrik Götesson that it was there, he ran his fingers over it to study it, praising it, but saying it would be more useful if there were special staff at the mall who could let blind people know the signs are there, so they can orient themselves.

Kait Bessing, who is visually impaired but can see a little bit, also appreciated the intention of the little gray signs like the one her colleague discovered, but she noticed that it's not consistent which side of the store they're placed on. One was to the left of the entrance, another was to the right, and this might just seem like a minor detail, but it can create confusion, because a person could end up in the wrong store, she said.

Kait Bessing and Henrik Götesson said that shopping in smaller stores is usually not much of a problem, because there's often staff available to help them. But supermarkets are the hardest, because, they said they're often understaffed.

At the supermarket, while Götesson went off to find the cash registers, Kait Bessing oriented herself by the big signs on the walls that indicate what's there: cold cuts, or sandwich spreads, for example.

She was looking for bread, trying to find what she wants by looking at the shapes and colors. She brought her face a couple inches away to try to make out the price of one loaf, but she can't read it. Bessing managed to find what she needs and checks out, happily surprised that someone has bagged her groceries.

She said that what would help the shopping experience is to have more and better signs, a bell to ring for help, and to have the staff wear brighter-colored clothes, so it's easier to find them. 

Bessing wants "the staff to help us in the respective shops; to take us around the shop and help us find the things we want to buy."

Götesson said online grocery shopping can be a good alternative, but that it's expensive if you're just getting a couple basic items, like bread and milk. Bessing added that a lot of blind people are older and can't use the internet, and also, they say that just like "ordinary people", visually impaired people should get to choose how they do their shopping.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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