Ways you can help us

In a shopping situation

Depending where the person may be shopping, there are several ways you can help (which may not be obvious to some, but may be very obvious to others). Through past experience I have encountered: "it's over there", "they're down in aisle 13", "please sign this" and other sighted instructions. I say sighted, because to a visually impaired person, these are not specific enough for me to be able to acquire the goods I went into the store to purchase! Also however, I acknowledge that if I don't make the shop staff aware of my visual impairment, ask them for help, or explain to them what help they can offer me, then I may not get what I went in there for.

Here are some customer service tips...

In a restaurant

Entering the restaurant

If you see a customer come in on their own (who may for example have a white cane, guide dog, or a visually impaired badge) and they are not sure where the counter is, (if it's their first time), you may be able to assist if you are able to give them some simple directions. These might be “the counter is in front of you”, or “to your left or right” and let's say “about 5 meters” in whatever direction you have given them. You may also be able to assist by asking “can I help you?”.

At the counter and ordering food

Once they are at the counter, (if they are by themselves) something as simple as saying “you have come to the Queeny Cafe” lets the person know if they are in the right place or not. If the customer has arrived at your shop by mistake, direct them to the correct place using specific directions to that location if possible. If the customer has intended to eat at the Queeny Cafe, the next question would be “What would you like to eat?”. Give them a rough description of what you have to eat, as in most cases that person cannot see what is on your menu let alone your prices. Asking them if they would like hot food, cold food, or sandwiches etc. will narrow it down very quickly. They usually have a good idea of what they want to eat. Letting the person also know of the price of each item they have selected, and a total, can help greatly.

Payment for purchases

Depending how the person pays (if say by EFTPOS), having a tactile keypad is great in most cases, especially the ones with the dot on the number 5. Ask your customer if they are familiar with the EFTPOS machine at your shop. Here, a quick description of the layout would be great. You might like to ask if you can put the person's hand onto the machine, or you could give it to them and say where the savings account button is (if required); or just a quick description of the EFTPOS machine in general. Eg. The ok button is on the bottom right. You need to remember that not all EFTPOS machines are designed the same way as far as layout goes. You could maybe, help the person to align their fingers on the 4, 5 and 6 keys, (they will usually use their 3 middle fingers for this)... so that they can enter their pin number by themselves. Remember also however, that some people are quite independent and do not like to be helped. They should be able to do the transaction once they know the layout of the machine. It always pays to ask the customer whether or not they require assistance, and if so what type of assistance is needed.

Directions to specific areas, or guiding the customer to a table

If there is a spare table in your shop, which in some cases people say “there is a spare table over there” as they point towards the table; to someone like us that means nothing. Where is over there? To a sighted person it is easy to see where “there” is, but to a visually impaired person, they cannot see where you are pointing.
So, that's why detailed directions are given.
Ask the visually impaired person to follow you (by saying I will get you to follow my voice as I take you to your table). Keep talking to the vision impaired customer from the shop counter to the vacant table so that they can follow your lead. This is of great help, rather than them trying to figure out which one is empty to use and where the seat is. You may also like to ask them if you can place their hand on the back of the seat so that they sit on the chair the correct way. Alternatively, the person may prefer simply to be led to the chair, and find their own way of seating themselves.

Announcing delivery of the meal to the table

When the food comes out and is put in front of a person, telling your customer that their meal is in front of them and using an analogue clock face to describe where the placement of their food items is, is great.
Eg. 12 o'clock is usually the furthest away from the person; 6 o'clock is usually closest to the visually impaired person; 3 o'clock is usually off to the right of the plate, and 9 o'clock is usually off to their left. Alerting them their meal is there, avoids surprising them.

Clock face directions

So, lets say in this situation you bring the food to them and you have put the plate on the table in front of them. You can then (if required) give them a description of what is on their plate. “Your chips are from 12 to 4 o'clock, your hamburger is from 4 to 8 o'clock and your salad is from 8 to 12 o'clock”. That would give the visually impaired person a better idea of
the layout of their food. Even telling them where the knives and forks, salt and their drink are is usually greatly appreciated. This assists them to locate items faster and minimises the risk of knocking items over.

Fonts and font size

In some cases, having the text size on the menus on the table enlarged to a size 12 or 14 can make a real difference to elderly people. Even using a clear type font like Arial can make it a lot easier for them to read. You may need to remember not everyone out in the community has good eyes to view your menu with, and some simple little steps can make a real difference for some customers.

Out and about

In some cases we may be looking for a shop, house or even an item in a shop. Just by
following some simple tips, you can make a huge difference.

Some examples are given below.

When looking for a specific shop

If the person is in the main street (where the shops are based), and stops to ask for directions to where he or she wants to go (wherever that may be) you can assist them by being very specific with directions (as discussed previously).

You could perhaps tell them that the coffee shop they are looking for is 5 shops down to the left and about 50m away (or if say across the road between the paper shop and the butcher) 50m to the north of the pedestrian crossing) giving them a rough idea of how far it is away from them in metres. It would give them a better idea of where they are location wise, to where the place is that want to go to. Sometimes, if you have a little spare time or are heading in that direction (and would like to) taking them to the shop is of great help.

When inside a shop looking for a specific item

If the visually impaired person has asked you for directions to a certain item in the shop, don't just say its in aisle 13. Ask them to follow your voice to that aisle and take them directly to the item. If they have a guide dog, ask the owner to command the dog to follow you. Tell them the price of the item, or even recommend similar products (to what they are looking for) as this will give them more choice. Some people may ask to feel the product to get a better of idea of what it looks like in their head, but not in all cases.

Imagine you are the customer

In most cases, the things mentioned above will help someone like me. Try shutting your eyes, or being blindfolded, and imagine being in those situations. I guess you would find it a lot harder to find what you are looking for without sight, no matter what the situation may be. What would you find helpful if you could not see?

At home

In the kitchen

Within the home the same directions can be given as well.
Eg. On an oven dial, (if the “off” is at the top) you could tell the person that “off is at 12 o'clock” and “180 degrees C is at 7 o'clock”. These temperature markings can also be marked with tactile bumps so they can feel it for themselves when you are not there.

In the dining room

On a kitchen table directions can be given for placement of items, food etc. It takes a little getting used to, but the same principle applies (as mentioned for directions in the restaurant) again enabling choice as well as giving a better description is what is nearby.
Eg. (If you are placing the cup on the table) “Your coffee cup is at 10 o'clock with the handle facing to your right”... (If you are handing the cup to a person you have served before) “I have your coffee cup in front of you and I am placing the handle in your right hand”... (If you are handing the cup to a person you have not served before) “I have your coffee cup in front of you; Where would you like it? Would you like me to place it in your hands? Which way do you prefer the handle – to your left or right?

In the lounge room

The remote is on the coffee table, in front of you, about 30cm to your left”.

Entering a house

Advise the person of any steps (how many), ramps, handrails or doors and which way those doors open. (Remember the handrails may be “to your left” or “to your right” and doors may open “toward you” or “away from you”. Handles may be “on the left” or “on the right at elbow height”). The same directions can be given inside the house to navigate it.

In summary, regardless of where a blind or vision impaired person may be, the best way to assist us is to ask if we need assistance;

and if so, be very descriptive in your directions.

If this advice is put into practice, it makes for excellent customer service!