Shopping as a low vision person comes with its difficulties. I’ve had this access need all of my life and it’s allowed me to adapt and take things in my stride. However, there are still some challenges I cannot successfully navigate. The recent coronavirus pandemic that has had people flocking to the supermarkets to shop in bulk is a prominent example of that.
Despite the supermarkets pleas, and assurances from the New Zealand government that there are more than enough supplies available, people haven’t complied with our leaders’ common message, ‘shop as normal’. As a result, people with access needs continue to miss out on buying the basic necessities.
These challenges do not relate exclusively to myself and others with blind and low vision. Sadly, I’ve seen several elderly customers struggle with the same barriers. As New Zealand drew towards COVID-19 self-isolation lockdown, shopping in the supermarket became a competitive sport to see who could fill up their trolleys, making people with access needs casualties of panic buying. In other parts of the country, Wellington residents with access needs are turning to the Wellington City Mission for help, as reported by the media.
In the last fortnight and a half, the two main barriers I’ve faced are …
Overcrowding: This is as much a problem for everyone else as it is for me. My barrier is when I have to check a price of an item, I use the digital magnifier on my smartphone to see the price tag. Unfortunately with the amount of slow foot traffic and trolleys blocking the aisles, it’s been impossible to get to what’s available.
Travelling: Often customers have taken more than they’ve needed leading to the disappointment of empty shelves. If someone has missed out, they have the luxury of trying another supermarket or returning another time when the shelves are restocked. My reality is that I have to plan ahead before travelling (regardless of distance) which is done sparingly.
Thankfully, since the government announced that essential services like supermarkets will stay opened during NZ’s lockdown, I really hope that Kiwis will heed the message from our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has urged us all to ‘be kind and support one another.’
Although our communities can’t connect physically, we can still use this time to show compassion and tend to the immediate needs of others. Our elderly, who are the most vulnerable and isolated will still need assistance with supplies. Perhaps the next time you head off to the supermarket, you could add their shopping to your list, and the same can be done for those who cannot travel.
Furthermore, this is a tremendous opportunity for our communities to come together now that we’re not all time poor. To an extent, it feels as if the clock has been turned back 40 years when there wasn’t the hysteria of what was inside a shopping mall to distract us; when supermarkets and shops closed early and were not opened on Sunday’s – a time when community bonds were much stronger. Come together in this time of adversity. Check in on each other through online communication and traditional forms while being mindful of the physical restrictions. We are in a time of uncertainty but together we can work on finding solutions through building connections.
"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about."
– Margaret Wheatley.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.