Thankk-You Thursday: Shopping assistants

Call me weird, but one of the things I look forward to when moving is getting to know the people at my local supermarket. From the bagger at the checkout line to the deli worker slicing up a pound of honey ham, all these people have such varied backstories. Some are high school aged helpers while others are married and in their fifties. Some work the store as a full-time gig while others put in a few hours here and there to make some extra bucks.

Whether we shop at the store in person or order our food through InstaCart, we rely on these folks to get our food off the shelves. Sometimes, they are the baggers in Walmart who have a moment while the customer flow has ebbed a bit or they may be the hands-on-deck stocking shelves most of the day. After all, unless your local supermarket has designated a person or two as being handicap assistants, most folks who shop for or with us are doing those things a job description calls “duties otherwise assigned by the manager.”

In our here-today gone-tomorrow world, turn-over at entry level jobs is very high in the food service industry. So, it’s rare that we get to know the same helper for years on end unless yours is the main store in town and does a great job retaining its staff through good pay raises, substantive benefits, and job security in the event of a prolonged sickness or pregnancy leave. Add to that, the pace at which many of these entry level workers go has quickened over the years and that has reduced their work to checking off boxes within a given amount of time before moving onto their next responsibility. It always amuses me, though, how some will volunteer to wait with me for paratransit to arrive so that they can take a break from the otherwise frantic pace they’ve been running all day. Sometimes, for the sake of conversation, I’ll accept the offer though I am certainly independent enough not to need their company at that point.

So, as we say “thank you” to those who help us shop, we also keep a strategy in mind for helping them work with us and our needs. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be patient. Most of the time, it will take several minutes for people at the customer service desk to locate someone who can help us shop.
  2. If you are totally blind, be ready to explain sighted guide. While many supermarkets require to include handicap assistance as part of training new employees, many of them forget how to do it unless they have a relative or several new customers at the same time who are blind.
  3. If you’re working from a list you’ve brailled or printed up, remember to specify which brands of food you want. By default, many workers will pick out the store brand or, if that’s not available, say they don’t have what we want. If you’re comparing           prices, make sure that your assistant knows you want them to read off several selections of what the store offers.
  4. Let small talk be small talk. Making light conversation with someone will helpak the ice a bit so that you and your helper aren’t feeling like you have to walk on egg shells while walking around the store together. It’s perfectly okay for whoever’s helping you to ask even the simplest questions about being blind. When you cordially clear up their misconceptions, they will be more ready to accommodate the next person who is blind that they meet.      

Of course, you can add to this list of tips for yourself with whatever helps you ways you can bridge the awareness gap. The more people serving in the public square see us assertively showing our capabilities, the more they will see us who are blind for who we are and appreciate the adaptations we make in everyday life.

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