The Struggle is Real – Grocery Shopping while Disabled

By  Lucia Rios, Guest Blogger

full grocery store aisle with extra display in the middleThe first time I was left on my own to shop, my wheelchair accidentally hit a large Rubbermaid display.  It came crashing down and anyone within earshot probably heard.  I had two thoughts in that moment – Rubbermaid makes a lot of noise and did anyone notice it was me?!

  • Heads turned
  • Mouths opened
  • Eyes shifted in my direction

Yup, I was caught. So how did I gracefully exit an awkward situation?  I merely said “oops” and sped off the other way in search of my companion who was also my ride home.

I wish I could say my shopping experiences have turned out better since I was a teenager, but it depends on what I’m buying and the venue.  As I became independent and lived on my own, the biggest shopping struggle was for groceries.

  • Carts
  • High shelves
  • Narrow aisles
  • Heavy items
  • Parking
  • Snow
  • Rain

You get the gist.

All of these created frustrations as a person who uses a wheelchair for independence.  I’m a problem solver and so I started finding different ways to navigate a process that most individuals don’t have to think twice about.

Shopping Bags

Before the age of reusable bags shoppers relied on paper and plastic.  I used my own bag reluctantly – I didn’t want to be mistaken as a shoplifter!  But it was a reminder that my shopping experience was different.  While using a bag had its perks it still had its limits.  For example, people used grocery carts which are able to hold over multiple items.  You’ve got front storage, deep and large back storage, and space under the cart.  That’s A LOT of space!  My simple bag could hold between 10 to 12 items maximum, and that also dependent on what I purchased.  I was going to the grocery store multiple days a week just to buy the basic necessities for a meal, toiletry items, and household supplies.

Able-Bodied Assistance

Sometimes my schedule didn’t allow me to make multiple trips to the grocery store.  To be quite honest it was a hassle being at the mercy of how much my reusable bag could hold.  So during weeks that I needed to stock up on food and household supplies, I’d ask my immediate family to help.  It was great being able to get everything I needed in one trip, and having an extra set of hands to put away groceries was even better.  Yet feelings of frustration rose as unsolicited comments about my purchase choices were given.  I am an adult and feeling the need to defend a purchase of name brand pop versus the much cheaper store brand version was only adding frustration to the grocery shopping saga.

Curbside Pickup

With the advancement of technology, demand of customers, and busy lifestyles an option slowly worked it’s way to the forefront for some grocery chains – curbside pickup.  My sister told me about it and she began using it regularly at Target.  The trend soon followed at a few grocery stores in my city.  I was hesitant to use this because it required more planning on my part – I do better on the fly – and I would still struggle bringing the groceries in from my car.

Shipt Happened

And then it happened … Home Delivery!  Shipt was being offered through Meijer.  It’s a shopping delivery service that you can access via online or through an app on your smartphone.  It’s not geared toward people with disabilities as AT, but as I started utilizing the service I realized that it WAS exactly the AT I had long needed.  It’s easy to use and yes it takes some preparation, but because of its portability (online and phone), I could shop for groceries by preparing my list a.k.a. “cart” as needed. I shopped before I went to bed when I realized I would be out of toilet paper by the end of the week.  I shopped during my lunch hour when I had a craving for some fruit.  When I was finished shopping, I selected a time, confirmed the details, and voila my order was picked up by a deliverer.

The time arrived and my grocery delivery arrived at my door with a friendly person asking if she could help carry them inside to my kitchen.  I accepted the offer and as she left I thanked her.  As I put the groceries away I was smiling – grocery shopping has never been so easy!  That was my first of many experiences using Shipt as AT.

Pros and Cons

screenshot of Shipt grocery cart

I have left the grocery shopping to Shipt delivery for the past three months.  For me it’s an accommodation that works out wonderfully for my lifestyle.  Instead of the frustration and anxiety that occurred with grocery shopping, I’m able to utilize an invention that anyone can access and maintain independence.

 

However, as I started to use the service – I mean it’s great – I also encountered some unanticipated costs.

  • First of all the delivery is not a free.  It’s a service that’s provided and the cost is $99 for the year or $14 a month.  I didn’t sign up for the yearly subscription right away.  For two months I paid the monthly fee.
  • There is a $35 minimum to get free delivery.  If your order is small then $7 is added to your order.
  • Cost of product is a bit higher using Shipt than in the store.  On their website it states “ For example, a loaf of Wonderbread costs $2.29 in the store and $2.59 to have it delivered to your door using Shipt.” I didn’t realize at first I would slightly pay more for each product.  I’m able to budget this added cost, but someone on more of a fixed income may not be able to.
  • Items you want are not always available.  This has happened to me a few times, but I was able to substitute it for another product.
  • Delivery time is not always available when you want it.  Since it’s grown in popularity there are so many individuals using this service.  You may have to get your order delivered in an off time or set up a time the day before.  I don’t mind having my deliveries at odd hours.  I’ve had groceries delivered at 9 p.m. before.

I’ve found the pros far outweigh the cons in my world.  I absolutely love the convenience of having my groceries from Meijer delivered through Shipt.  The Shipt deliverers I’ve encountered have such kind and communicative individuals.  They have gone above and beyond to help put groceries in my kitchen, or text me when a product I wanted was not available.  Using a delivery service as AT has expanded my independence.  It’s also a great way to talk about AT with other individuals who are using the service.

What has been your experience with grocery shopping while disabled?

Author: Kathryn Wyeth

Kathryn Wyeth started working at MDRC in the summer of 1994. She's worked with the Michigan Assistive Technology Program since the fall of 1997 and is currently the AT Team Leader.

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