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 popular clothing store in the US with the initials ON 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, and never stepped foot in that store ever again.
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 people with vision loss.
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- a design choice I really appreciate!
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.
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 like H&M use long curtains with a clasp to open and close fitting rooms. These can be frustrating for people with vision loss, because the rooms 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 when my friend took me to a popular teen store that starts with an H, I had a lot of trouble navigating the space because it was so dark, and actually considered 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 means that I don’t have to use cell phone data for assistive technology apps on my phone. Some examples of ways I use assistive technology while shopping include:
- Scanning barcodes
- Checking product listings online so I can more easily read care instructions
- Using visual assistance apps to get a description of a product
- Enlarging text or having text read out loud
While I do not personally use these, another helpful assistive technology tool for clothes shopping is a color reader, which can identify the color of a given item. This is really helpful for people who have colorblindness or other color deficiencies!
- Visual Assistance Apps: Post Round Up
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
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. I either use my phone to magnify what is on the screen or ask the associate what is being written.
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.
Summary of accessible store layouts for low vision
- Wide walkways for mobility aids that are free of clutter
- Large print price tags with simple designs
- Fitting rooms with doors
- Natural/adequate lighting
- Items organized by size
- Wifi for assistive technology
- Card readers with auditory feedback