12 top tips for shopping for a visually impaired person

At a time when visually impaired people may need more assistance than usual with their shopping, Simon, our Senior Rehabilitation Officer (who has low vision himself) thought he would add his thoughts and ended up with these top tips for shopping for a person with sight loss.
All of these tips are things he would suggest, and as a visually impaired person would really appreciate himself; we hope you find them useful.


An important point to note at the start is that everyone will have their own ideas about what would help them, so it would be useful to share these with the person who is shopping for you (or if you are the one doing the shopping, ask the individual if they have ideas that work for them).

The one biggest tip I’ll give is to try and maintain routine; buy the same things, cook the same things, and eat the same things if you can. Now is not the time to start experimenting!

So, I’m going to write this as if you’re shopping for someone. Have a look at these tips, they may help you; they would work for me.

Image shows a male member of staff smiling at the camera. He is wearing a dark checked shirt.

Tip 1

Get the person to make a shopping list, or ring them and make it with them together.

Think long term – what will last? Maybe discuss adding a few long-life supplies that you know they like and will last.

Sometimes it’s good to have quick to do meals, for that day when you’re trying to decide and can’t (I call it dancing in front of the fridge on a Friday night – you should have done the first thing you thought of, you would have eaten by now!)

Tip 2

Try and find out what food they can prepare independently. 

They may sometimes have help in normal circumstances, but we don’t always realise what help we have.  I always have to ask “Is this bread mouldy?” (it’s just a thing I worry about!)

Similarly, some people will only use a hob if someone else is there to check it is safe.  I would certainly alter my shop if I was alone.

Tip 3

Try and stick to regular brands and products that they normally use.

They will be familiar with cooking and preparing these foods – familiarity and routine are key.

I know what the cooking times are for certain things as I do them on a regular basis.  I call them my ‘fall-back’ meals, when I’m on my own and let loose in the kitchen…

Tip 4

Check health and dietary requirement, in case you have to substitute items.

Got to check this one, it’s so important. There is no point isolating if you end up with a problem because you’ve eaten the wrong stuff.

Tip 5

Check what they can manage to cook or prepare in case you have to make substitutions to the shopping list.

Do they use a microwave or oven? There are certain products where it makes very little difference if you change the brand – soup is soup and beans are beans, so people will know how to reheat (neither is it dangerous if you under heat).

However, if you got me chicken thighs with bones instead of fillets, I’d be scuppered.  I struggle with bones and fat, just can’t see it to work it out.

Tip 6

Ask how they sort their shopping, for example should you categorise bags (main meals, desserts, snacks and so on)?

I have a system for putting it away – if I don’t put it away, I don’t know we’ve got it.  I like all the tins in one bag, but keep the dog food separate, tied up in a bag.

I use my magnifier and phone to identify products.  Time consuming, but rewarding.  Some people will have to work through a bag, so you may want to keep an idea of what is in each bag and let them know by phone.

Tip 7

Work out how you’re going to label some of it.

Work out with the individual how you are going to label items, and what you have available to use at your disposal, such as elastic bands, string, or sellotape. You could even stick a white sticker on with bold black writing if it helps.

You can use string to tie on things, and keep the toiletries separate and tied in a bag. You’re trying to make things feel different so they can be more easily distinguished.

If you’ve not already seen any of the online videos in Our Knowledge Village, now may be a good time to give some of them a watch:

Easy to trick to distinguish shampoo from conditioner for people living with sight loss – watch the video.

Organising your cupboards with sight loss – watch the video.

Tip 8

If they have a labelling device take it with you and label the food.

Clean it thoroughly before putting it in the bag to return with the shopping. You may have to learn how to use the gear, we all use it with no sight. So have a look at YouTube and you’ll work it out – give this one a watch here.

Tip 9

Keep a note of cooking instructions.

You can give instructions over the phone if you have a basic labelling system to identify the product. Take a picture with your phone.

You’ll be surprised at how much food is to be cooked at Gas Mark 6 for 20 minutes (I think that’s the only setting that Captain Birdseye had on his cooker!)

At least if you’ve a copy on your phone you will be able to go back and check, so take your picture as you put it in your trolley.

Tip 10

Leave the bags where the person can find them.

You can ring them and help guide them via the phone if possible.  Wait at a distance while they get the shopping in.

Put the bags to one side, as no point risking the individual tripping over them. It is also helpful to put them in some form of order (remember tip 6 about how people would like the shopping packed).

Tip 11

You could describe the shopping through a closed window via a phone or they may even use FaceTime (or similar).

You may be able to help them with a delivery that has had substitutions. Some of the food parcels will have random things in, possibly larger amounts. You may end up stood on the pavement shouting, but don’t worry everyone will understand!

Tip 12

Remember you should observe all the government guidelines on distance, hand washing and sanitising of equipment and surfaces.

This goes without saying, but try and keep it as safe as you can. It certainly filled me with confidence when the Tesco delivery man had his gloves on, stood back and did it all by the book.

Final point to note....

Government advice is that volunteers or those helping with shopping should not enter the person’s home.

This is to reduce the risk of infection. If there is no other option, and the individual requests that you enter their home to unpack the shopping, and you are happy to do so, ask them to open the door themselves and move into another room while you are in the home.

Please wipe down any surfaces you touch with antibacterial wipes before leaving.

Image shows an elderly lady wearing glasses and smiling. She is wearing a spotty scarf.

Please share this post within your network so that our top tips can reach as many people as possible, and the vulnerable individuals across our communities can get the support that they need at this challenging time.

We have produced a couple of items that you can download and share for free – a postcard and a simple graphic:

Download the top tips for helping a visually impaired person with their shopping postcard – here

Download the top tips for helping a visually impaired person with their shopping simple graphic – Image shows an elderly lady smiling with the text 'top tips for shopping for a visually impaired person.'

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