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?

Point Louder!

hand with finger pointing rightWhile facilitating a training session with a group, I was told to “point louder”, a humorous way to let me my pointing was not effective communication, since some members of the group were blind.

Audio description is the auditory narration of visual representations such as television programs, films and live performances. During gaps in dialogue, it describes visual elements such as scenes, settings, actions and costumes. Audio description is also called “video description” and “descriptive narration”. It is particularly beneficial to people who are blind and vision impaired and can help people with other print, learning and physical disabilities.

Here’s an example of a video with audio description on YouTube: The Hunger Games with audio description Katniss hunting, from Media Access Australia.

symbol for audio description "AD"

Ideally, audio description would be a separate audio track, which can be accessed by assistive devices and/or toggled on or off as needed.  On YouTube now, you can turn on and off closed captions, but you can’t turn audio description on and off. If you want to provide an accessible video on YouTube, you’d have to produce two versions, one with audio description and one without.

Finding described television shows has become much easier. As part of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, several of the most popular television networks have made certain prime-time and children’s programs accessible to viewers with vision loss by adding audio description.

A number of on-line streaming video services, like Amazon and Netflix now offer audio description. A good way to learn about these and new services as they become available is through updates from the The Audio Description Project: An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind.

Audio description is a bit of an art. I’ve attempted it. It can be difficult to determine what descriptions will be adequate for understanding, yet still flow nicely in the gaps in dialogue in a video.

In video and in person, it’s important to remember to point louder in order to achieve effective communication!

Resources

What’s Cooking?

Logo Disability Network Capital AreaBy Guest Blogger: Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area

When it comes to cooking, I have often shied away from trying many things. I have a gas stove and this can present some challenges with low vision, another reason is that I like being able to follow a recipe. It was not until I began pairing the All Recipes skill from my Echo with other types of AT, that I began thinking more and more was possible. Even though the skill has been changed and does not offer quite as much in the way of hands-free step-by-step verbal instruction, it is still very useful when you need quick, easy access to recipes, the ingredients, and the cooking instructions.

A rice cooker with inner pan and lidI find now, I am using the skill more so for the list of ingredients. Why you might ask? I have recently been introduced to using a rice cooker, yes, I said rice cooker, for a creative and simple way to make a variety of dishes. So far, I have made a turkey meat loaf, scrambled eggs, and taco meat in my rice cooker! The rice cooker has provided a way to cook smaller, healthier options with the touch of one button! I am loving it! I also have had the chance to use my talking digital cooking thermometer to ensure the proper temperature of the meat. It has been a game changer in the kitchen!

three sets of bump dotsOther types of useful AT for low vision I have used in the kitchen include; the double-sided spatula and bump dots for my microwave. I have also purchased a Keurig for an easier way to enjoy my cup of coffee in the morning. The K-Cups are pre-measured and there is no longer a concern of pouring the hot liquid from the pot into a cup!

If you are interested in trying out some of these items, visit the Assistive Technology tab on the Disability Network Capital Area website to set up a demonstration of low vision and a variety of other devices!

Want to Walk and Roll? Prepare for a Search

“You are in a competitive bid area” we were told as we looked for a vendor who would accept Medicare for a family member who needs a walker. (The Medicare competitive bid program began a six-month phase-in period across the country, including rural areas, on January 1, 2016.) We found the one vendor in the area, however, they don’t have the type of walker the doctor prescribed (a 4-wheel – “Rollator” walker). They might be getting some in, but when was not clear.

Unfortunately, vendors have left this rural area. There’s no one, we were told, who sells or repairs motorized scooters, for example, within 100 miles. We suspect competitive bidding influenced this lack of local resources. (See this advocacy article from the American Association for Home Care.)

blue walker in a kitchen with a seat and larger wheelsSo one option was to check on loan closets in the area. We also checked the ATXchange.org, and within a day or two a nice looking Hugo Rollator Walker was posted, however, it’s too far away to be practical.  The family member really wants to try to get a new walker anyway, as they are concerned about wear and tear on a used device.  Strike three on the search!

The next call was to the local Disability Network, the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, to talk with Carolyn Boyle.  She was able to provide the name of a technician at a vendor along with the person’s phone number and email address. Unfortunately, they are over 100 miles away, but we probably need to follow-up with this lead and make the trip.

While searching, I also found some helpful resources about how to fit a walker.

Until we can do more research and maybe schedule a trip, we installed a railing in the hallway from the bedroom to the bathroom, which will help during the night and in the morning, before muscles warm-up and become a bit more flexible. I’m working on at least a temporary solution, if the family member will agree and a device can be found at the local loan closet.

Are you in a rural area? Have you looked for durable medical equipment in the past couple years? Thanks for sharing your experience!

There’s an App for That!

a ball covered in app icons

Looking for ideas for apps for that new tablet or phone? There are so many apps and so little time. Where do you start? Here are some ideas, though certainly not everything that could help. I hope it will get you started at least.

What is you are trying to do?

Begin with the end in mind.  For example:

  • Are you looking for a way to communicate? If so what? To whom?
  • Do you want to remember something? Do you need a reminder only in certain locations? Do you need pictures or photos or will text be enough?

How do You Your Access Your Device?

Do you need audio such as Voiceover or TalkBack options? Do you use switches? Would a stylus help? You’ll need to find apps that work with the way you use your tablet or other device.

Built-in Access Features

First, ask if you are using the built-in access features of your device. These are there, free and can really be helpful!

Some ideas for alternative access:Extension stylus on finger from ShapeDad

How Much Can You Spend?

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter, but we all have limits. Either you have some funding or need to find some. Check MAPT’s AT Funding Strategy for ideas on funding more expensive apps. Also look for apps that let you try them before plunging in. Make sure you know if an app requires in- app purchases to be fully functional or if it requires yearly subscriptions.

Where Can I Research Apps?

Person's hands on an iPadDirectories

I am sure there are many other considerations, directories, adaptions and tips. I hope this helps you in your search! We would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Creative Adaptations Spark Innovation

person with cell held to face with thought bubble of a lightbulbNecessity is the mother of invention” an English-language proverb, is certainly true when it comes to technological innovation. People who have disabilities are often the spark as they have the necessity or need to be able to do something and this has led to innovative solutions. Many of these innovative solutions have become technology that everyone now takes for granted.

Historical Tech

The history of technological innovation is full of examples of innovation which started with an adaptation for someone with a disability. Here are just a few examples:

  • Alexander holding device to his earDo you use a telephone? The old landline phones became commonplace a long time ago. Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in an attempt to better communicate with his wife who was hard of hearing?
  • Do you listen to audiobooks? Thomas Edison saw his invention of the phonograph as a way to open the printed world to the blind by recording book readings.

Some More Recent Tech

Does your car talk to you? “Your door is ajar?” for example. I was looking up a device that had been in the AT inventory for many years. The device was designed to be used by people who were blind by a company called Parrot. After a lot of searching, I found out this company was now making parts for the automotive industry.

At an AT National meeting almost 10 years ago, I was sitting talking with a colleague keyboard on phone with trail from w to K following someones fingerfrom the Alaska AT program after most of the group had left for the day. A man came up and introduced himself. He was really excited to show us an invention he had worked on: “Swipe”. He pulled out his phone and showed us how fast he could enter text on the keyboard. The company’s background was in working on argumentative communication for people who have disabilities.  He talked about the time and effort they’d spent trying to interest mainstream companies in his product and was so excited he had a productive meeting. Within the next couple years, I got an Android based phone which included Swipe!

There are so many examples! For more read this article “How tech for the disabled is going mainstream.

“Companies could look at designing for accessibility as a sales opportunity. Most features that are accessible for the disabled have great value to everybody,” says Donald A. Norman, a former Apple vice-president for advanced technology who heads a joint business and engineering program at Northwestern University.

Sometimes when we talk about Assistive Technology (AT), people think AT is “special” and just for people who have disabilities, and has nothing to do with them.  I’ve always said that for someone without a disability, technology may make things easier or faster, but for someone with a disability it can make things possible and in many cases everyone has benefited!

What technology do you use or know of that was originally invented for someone with a disability?

Ditto – A Bluetooth Vibrating Cell Phone Signaler and Alarm Clip

Guest Blogger: Liz Kobylak, Hearing Technology Resource Specialist

The box with Ditto device "wear it anywhere Never needs charging"

The exhibit hall at the 2016 national convention of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention was filled with interesting displays of products that can benefit people who have hearing loss. One nifty de-vice that caught my eye was the “ditto”, a battery operated Bluetooth vibrating cell phone signaler, from a company named “Simple Matters”. The easy-on-the-wallet price ($40) made it a hit. Ditto is designed to vibrate when one receives an important cell call, text or e-mail message… it is clipped to clothing or carried in a pocket. Ditto can also be used as a timer or wake up alarm.
The Ditto box comes with the following:

    • Ditto
    • Wristband
    • Clip
    • Battery (CR1632)

After inserting the battery and attaching the clip, the Ditto is paired via Bluetooth with your cellphone (iOS or Android) using the free Ditto app… and you are ready to go. The default settings are: 1 vibration for an email, 2 vibrations for a text, and 3 vibrations for a phone call. The app allows the user to customize settings as desired/needed: to select favorite contacts and only be alerted to those incoming messages or to be alerted to a calendar event. The vibrations can be changed or turned off via the app. The Ditto can also be used as a timer or alert to third party apps such as Facebook.

As a person with severe to profound hearing loss, I often do not hear the alerts my Android phone emits. This happens frequently when the phone is inside my purse or I am in a noisy environment. Not that I want to be alerted to every single incoming message, but it is nice to stop checking the phone dozens of times for an ex-pected important message from specific people. I like that the signal is unobtrusive to those around me. Additionally, when travelling, I have been hauling around my beloved bedside alarm clock with the bed shaking feature. However, I have recently noticed that many hotels are streamlining the appearance of their guest rooms with fewer available outlets near the bedside. The “charging station” is usually not close enough for me to use my special clock. The wristband that comes with the Ditto allows for gentle vibration on the wrist. It is not exactly fashion forward but gets the job done.

The manufacturer states that the Ditto can be programmed as a tether device to help those people who tend to leave their phones behind in restaurants, etc. The battery will last 3-6 months, depending on the amount of use and the app promises to alert me when battery life is running low, which I find reassuring. The device is also waterproof and can be worn while swimming or showering. The Ditto comes with a 12 month warranty.
This is a simple device that is very easy to use. To see how the Ditto works for yourself, visit the Simple Matters website.