By Anne McComiskey

supermarket from the perspective of an overwhelmed shopper - the aisles are a blur

Many parents have said that some of the most difficult moments of parenting a child who is blind or visually impaired happen at the supermarket. Frequently, parents who have grabbed their baby to run to the store for a few necessities come home with more than milk. The curious and all too often unthinking comments made in the supermarket check-out line and the hushed queries of children in the produce department can send parents home with a bag full of bruised feelings and sad thoughts.

We all have to go shopping, and we have to deal with all the other details of daily life. This dealing with the details of daily life requires that parents of children who are blind or visually impaired deal with random questions, stares, and often rudeness.

Experienced parents have provided some tips and advice for newer parents who suddenly find themselves in this tricky and often hurtful situation.

Tips and Advice for Newer Parents of Visually Impaired Children

  • You could leave your baby at home. Good option when you’re in a rush, when a babysitter is available, or when you need alone time. But your child needs the experience of shopping in the supermarket as much as the family needs the food.
  • You could ignore curious shoppers, but this option will not increase the public’s understanding about children who see differently.
  • You could approach the situation as a teacher. State the facts simply and positively. It may be helpful to remember that people are asking questions because they don’t understand what they see. They are ignoring or looking away because they have not been told which of their reactions can be the most supportive and helpful, and they hush their children’s innocent questions with embarrassed stammering and blistering looks because they don’t know what is an appropriate response.

Usually, people are not trying to be rude or hurtful. Here are a few tips offered by experienced parents and teachers:

  1. Remember that you do not have to be engaged. You can choose to ignore the person or to say that you really cannot talk.

  2. Keep your sense of humor. It will keep you sane! “Really! You think there’s something wrong with her eyes?!”

  3. You do not have to tell the truth! Imagine that! You can tell strangers anything you want. “Yes, she is asleep.” “Oh, it’s probably gas.” “He’s 4 months old.”

  4. You can pretend that you just don’t understand the question.

  5. You can limit the conversation by ending it. Saying something like, “I appreciate that you’re interested, but I’m memorizing my verses while I stand in this line” might work.

On those days when you are up to being a “teacher,” here are some suggestions:

  1. Think out the simple “story” about your child’s visual situation. Write it down and practice it so that you can repeat it comfortably. (This story is important for your child to hear as well because she will also need to be able to tell the “story” as she gets older.)

  2. Whenever possible, refer to your child using his first name, which will help people focus on the idea that you are talking about a child and not about a disability that has a human attached.

  3. Finish the brief explanation with a fact about what your baby likes to do or can do. For example, “Timmy has a visual condition that makes his eyes wiggle, and he doesn’t see some things well. He loves to sing ‘When You’re Happy and You Know It’ and has just started finger painting. Thank you for asking.”

  4. If people ask more probing questions, suggest that they visit to learn more. Let FamilyConnect wear the teacher’s hat when you’re too tired to.

Remember that your communication puts you in control and that it is never okay for someone to treat you rudely or to handle you or your child without your permission.

Whatever you do and however your supermarket experiences go, remember that you’ll always get another chance to do it again!