How can I help you? – An accessible shopping experience please!

Photo: wheelchair-accessible shopping cart; ©


Wide aisles, a lot of room between the shelves, non-slip flooring and easy-to-read price tags – this is especially important for senior citizens and persons with disabilities when they shop. But in the real world, things are often very different: shopping carts that are hard to maneuver, narrow checkout aisles or undersized dressing rooms are all too common.


Reason enough to take a look at "accessible retail". After all, stores and merchandise should be accessible to everyone. Yet oftentimes things already fail because we limit our thinking to people in wheelchairs when we are asked to consider "accessibility". That’s why we need to ask the question: what requirements do retailers need to meet to accommodate persons with different types of disabilities?

The dream of accessible shopping

Let’s go on a walk through an imaginary accessible supermarket. Let’s simply call it "Accessi". The "accessible" experience already starts in the parking lot. Accessible parking spaces are close to the entrance and are well-marked. Traffic laws apply to the entire premises. That means parking violators will be towed at the owner’s expense.

Aside from wheelchair-accessible shopping carts, carts with a built-in magnifying glass are available in close proximity to the parking lot. The latest trend is "self-propelled shopping carts": a shopping cart with a built-in camera recognizes the customer’s face and automatically follows him/her through the store. This is especially handy for wheelchair-users who are now able to fully concentrate on navigating their wheelchairs.

At this year's retail trade fair EuroCIS in Germany visitors already had the chance to have a look at the self-propelled shopping cart; ©
Obviously, the entrance area already had an accessible design in mind during the planning phase or was retrofitted afterward. The keywords here are "ramp" or "grade level entry". The entrance area of Accessi features an information desk that is accessible without any detours or barriers. Here, customers are able to borrow a rolling walker with a shopping basket or an electric mobility scooter. The "shopping rollator" (More about rollz flex you will find here.) not only provides a large shopping bag but the opportunity to convert the walker into a seat with just a few manual adjustments. This great solution makes an extended shopping trip possible, especially for people with walking impairments and older persons.

Both resources, as well as a personal shopper, can be reserved beforehand for a shopping trip at Accessi’s accessible website. The personal shopper supports and gives recommendations during the entire shopping trip, reads out price tags and helps with the product selection. He/she assists the customer free of charge, including boxing the purchased items at the checkout counter.
Photo: woman of small stature using a scale at her seize; ©

This is how it should be: Scales installed at different heights allow people of small stature to independently weigh their goods; ©

Turning shopping into an experience

A person who hands the customer products is only needed when the merchandise is difficult to reach. At Accessi, popular products are on display and easy to access on the shelves. Scales are also easy to access and installed so persons of short stature are able to operate them without any problems. Each department has a service phone in case specific items are still not easily accessible. This way, customers can quickly and simply ask for help if there are no other customers or a personal shopper nearby.

Persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and pregnant women receive preferential treatment at the deli meat and cheese counters. This prevents long waiting times that might potentially be physically exhausting. The counters feature maneuvering clearance in part, so wheelchair users are also able to get a close-up look at the fresh produce.

In addition, every department of Accessi has barcode scanners that come with big and high contrast fonts, a voice function or explanations in sign language. This way, every customer is able to find out how much a product really costs or which ingredients it contains. Conventional price tags also feature a simple design that’s large and high contrast. Ideally, the tags also include Braille so that blind people are able to read the prices.

Trip hazards and barriers – no, thank you!

Trip hazards in the form of advertising mediums, displays, tables or wastebaskets are completely eliminated at Accessi or set up so they don’t become obstacles. The market also features adequate maneuvering space for wheelchair users or baby strollers to turn around. 

Maps of the store’s layout are displayed everywhere and contain large and high contrast print for people to conveniently find their way around. Persons with visual impairments can find orientation guides on the floor coverings at Accessi as well. Colored strips indicate the route through the market to the checkouts and the exit.

Naturally, the accessible supermarket also has accessible restrooms or benches in separate areas that are well marked. With special consideration for customers with autism, the market eliminates loud background music and bright lights and avoids strong smells whenever possible.

Photo: pallets in the aisles, set down carelessly by employees; © beta-web GmbH/Lormis

Not like this! Even if goods are filled up for a short time employees should make sure that gears are still accessible; © beta-web GmbH/Lormis

Training, training, training

Accessi makes employee training on working with customers with disabilities its top priority. It has a team meeting once a month to exchange experiences and to reveal and analyze sources of mistakes. Associates also regularly frequent training courses that are organized and designed by and in collaboration with disability organizations.

And speaking of employees! Once all items are finally in the shopping cart or in the bag on the walker, it’s time to check out. The checkout area is also fully accessible and adequately sized at a minimum width of 100 centimeters. If needed, the service staff also assists in boxing up the merchandise, takes the products to the car and stows them in the trunk for people.

And here is how things are in the real world …

Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses! Back to reality, we, unfortunately, discover that there is no supermarket that is complete accessible. If nothing else, there are pallets in the aisles, set down carelessly by employees. The lack of awareness in regards to people with disabilities or senior citizens is often the reason why accessibility only takes a backseat in the industry.

Having said that, some retailers and even large retail chains are already on the right track. Since 2010, the German Retail Federation ("Handelsverband Deutschland") awards the "Generation-Friendly Shopping" quality seal under the auspices of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. At the end of 2015, almost 10,000 retail companies  (Here you will find a list) were labeled as generation-friendly.  

But despite of all that: Dear retailers. Please take off your blinders and finally provide a positive retail shopping experience for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Take their needs seriously because that’s when they will be more inclined to come back to you.

Foto: Melanie Günther; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Fromman

Melanie Günther
(translated by Elena O'Meara)