The last time I went shopping at a popular clothing retailer for college students, I tripped over multiple store displays and knocked over an entire rack of clothing. I have low vision and use a blindness cane, but that didn’t stop the store associates from thinking I was intentionally causing mayhem or that I shouldn’t be allowed in public. I haven’t been inside that store in over a year because the layout was so confusing.
Thankfully, more stores have been embracing universal design and working to make their layouts more accessible for vision impairment. This makes me incredibly happy, because as many as 1 in 7 people worldwide have some type of disability, and it’s important that businesses invest in their growing customer base. Today, I will be sharing seven elements of accessible store layouts for vision impairment, inclusive of blindness and low vision.
Wide walkways for mobility aids
I use a blindness cane full-time when I am traveling around campus and in the community. Having wide walkways that can support mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, or walkers ensures that people can safely walk between aisles without knocking anything over.
Make sure the walkways are clear of merchandise or signs that could pose a fall hazard as well. For example, a very popular store in the US is known for having disorganized merchandise that falls on the floor. When I went there with some friends my freshman year of college, I ended up slipping on merchandise and falling down. So embarrassing!
It’s also important that the store entrance/exit is accessible for mobility aids. Can someone easily find the entrance and exit to the store? Are there mats or steps that mobility aids could get stuck in? Are there any signs in front of the door that someone could run into? Knowing the answers to these questions is important for understanding how accessible a store is for the blind and vision impaired.
Large print price tags with simple designs
I can read most large print without any assistive technology. However, there are times where I need to use assistive technology on my phone or tablet to double-check what the price of an item is. Many stores that I shop at have started using large print price tags for items since customers didn’t want to take out their reading glasses. I hope that more stores start doing that in the future.
One of the things that can impact the readability of a price tag is the design. Price tags with lots of graphics, swirls, or neon colors make it difficult to see what the price is. In addition, some apps may get confused over what numbers are on the tag if there’s a lot of graphics in the background. When possible, keep the design of tags simple, with important information in large print.
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- Colored Paper and the Readability of Text
- Fast Facts About Accessible Packaging
Fitting rooms with doors
When I was researching this post, one of my friends mentioned that they preferred fitting rooms with doors instead of long curtains. Many fast-fashion stores have started using long curtains with a clasp to open and close fitting rooms. These can be frustrating for people with blindness and vision impairments, because they can be difficult to close and move around in. Often times, there’s no place to put a blindness cane either, so the cane is more likely to fall down. Having a fitting room with a locking door is preferable to one with a locking curtain.
Fluorescent lighting hurts my eyes and affects my color perception. I prefer to shop at stand-alone stores as opposed to the mall because there tends to be more natural lighting. Luckily, there are stores that have been leaning towards using warmer-toned lights that show color more accurately. I’m glad that many stores have been investing in more natural lighting that doesn’t hurt people’s eyes so much.
Speaking of lighting, make sure there is adequate light inside the store. I remember my friend took me to a popular teen store that was so dark, I kept running into items and thought about asking for a flashlight!
Items organized by size
When it comes to how clothes are organized on a rack, I prefer to have items organized by item type and size. I recognize that it is difficult to keep everything organized all the time, but it makes a huge difference when I am trying to find an item.
To determine what size an item is, I’ll often put my hands around the arm holes and use that as my guideline. I also check the price tag as needed. If I am shopping alone, I will confirm at check-out that items are the correct size before I purchase them.
Wifi for using assistive technology
Having access to in-store wifi helps me when I am using assistive technology. Some examples of how I use assistive technology when shopping include checking a price tag, checking the size and care instructions of an item, or scanning the barcode to read important product labels. Using assistive technology helps me increase my independence and lets me store information for later use.
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Be My Eyes App Review
Card readers with auditory feedback
In the US, most stores now have a chip reader for debit/credit cards. Customers insert their card into the reader and then follow a series of on-screen prompts, most of which are displayed in very small print. Often times, I will ask the store associate to confirm what is on the screen so that I can input information as needed.
Some card readers have started incorporating auditory feedback such as beeps or verbal prompts. This way, users can know whether they need to enter their PIN, approve a transaction, write their signature, or remove the card from the reader. Having auditory feedback also helps with showing error messages or other useful information.
I wish that all stores had each of these seven elements of accessible store layouts, as it would greatly benefit people with blindness and low vision. As the number of people identified with vision loss continues to grow, I hope that more stores will invest in accessibility and universal design to ensure that every customer is able to have equal access to their business.