It’s possible to buy almost anything on the internet. Shopping online when you are blind or partially sighted can be a powerful tool for independence. It does, however, require patience and perseverance. The more familiar you are with your access technology the more straightforward it becomes.
If you do come into major difficulties online shopping, most websites and apps have phone numbers that you can call if you need further support. Sometimes these numbers can be difficult to find within the structure of the app or website. Searching the web for numbers can assist. If you have an address and company name you can still make the most of 195 free directory enquiries (you will need to register first).
If you have never been on the internet or need advice how to get started, call RNIB on 0303 123 9999 and ask for the Technology for Life team. Across London other sources of support can be found locally. At London Vision we will do our best to connect you to local support. Get in touch on: email@example.com
Most modern devices, phones tablets or computers come with built in accessibility features. They will talk to you and tell you what you are interacting with or typing. This feature is generically known as a screen reader. On Microsoft computers it is called narrator, on Apple products voice over, and on Android it can be known as voice assistant or talk back. Non-Virtual Desktop Access, more commonly known as NVDA, is another free screen reader for computers. Others such as JAWs come at a cost. The VitalTech website can provide you with more information on screen readers.
On a computer you can utilise keyboard shortcuts to navigate, for example, you can switch between headings on a Word document. On a phone or tablet you would use gestures; these are a series of flicks or swipes with one or more fingers. Using the rota features or android equivalent can allow you to move from heading to heading, line to line, word to word when using a screen reader on a phone or tablet.
The devices mentioned above can all magnify text. You need to turn this feature on in your device settings. Pinch to zoom will enlarge certain aspects of what you wish to see but for full magnification capability you need to use the accessibility features. The magnifier on a computer can be controlled by keystrokes. On a smartphone it is a series of gestures which increase or decrease magnification or allow you to move around the screen. You can use a combination of magnification and speech simultaneously.
If you are new to the accessibility features, then try the onboard tutorials which are usually found within the accessibility settings. Try your smart speaker if you are looking for a keystroke or short cut combination (Google smart speakers work best).
If you have an Apple product visit the AppleVis website where you will find tutorials and information on accessibility features. For support or issues with Microsoft products call the Microsoft disability support team 0800 026 0584. The Microsoft technicians may be able to remotely access your computer in order to help you. You can also contact the Microsoft team and disability support offered via the specialist section on the Be My Eyes app. This is a free service.
Apps and websites
In simplistic terms, an application or app is designed for one purpose. For example, the Sainsbury’s app is designed for shopping at Sainsbury’s supermarket. Apps can be downloaded via the internet or app store associated with your device. Generally, apps tend to be less cluttered than websites with greater functionality. There is nothing to stop you switching between app and associated website.
Creating an account
Once your app has been downloaded, you will need to create an account. Usually this involves typing in elements of your personal details and then your email or mobile number may be used to identify your account. You may find that verification codes are sent either to your phone or email in order to complete the account set up. Once your account details have been recognised, with certain apps it’s possible to allow touch or face recognition to sign you in or to confirm payment. Visit settings on your phone to set up face or finger recognition. This facility is not available on all models.
Here’s a brief bullet point guide to staying safe but please take a look at the web link below which contains detailed advice on staying safe when internet shopping:
- If something looks too good to be true it probably is.
- Don’t click on links within messages or e-mails unless you are certain they are legitimate.
- Type the website address into your browser.
- Research the company you are looking to use and check whether other customers have had payment issues or problems with customer service.
- Be suspicious if you are being asked for lots of personal data for a one-off payment.
- Use strong passwords, at least 10 characters created from random memorable words, numbers, and symbols. Where possible use different passwords for different services.
- Use two factor authentication where appropriate. This means you’ll be sent a code (usually to your mobile phone, but could be to an email address) to enter to complete your activity.
- It’s best to use a credit card when shopping online as this gives you protections outlined in the link below. The link also outlines the protections offered by debit cards. PayPal is also a secure method of payment .
Visit this website for more detailed information on shopping securely. You can also check out the Beating the Scammers page for more tips on staying safe online.
You will need to make a note of your bank and card details either to set up accounts or to make payments. Sites will often ask for the long number on the front of your bank/credit card, the expiry date, and last three digits of your security code found on the reverse of the card (usually in the signature box). To make a note of these details, you can:
- Obtain a more visible bank card with high contrast feature. Ask your bank if this is possible.
- Record your details as a voice note.
- Create a penfriend label.
- Make a Braille note.
- Make a large felt pen note.
As long as your bank details are secure you can store them in an accessible manner of your choosing.
All the major banks have online banking facilities. Broadly these facilities are accessible to blind and partially sighted people using screen readers or magnification. New features and updates can occur meaning there is a lag in accessibility. If this happens you should contact your bank. Each bank offers slightly different services so it is worth contacting your bank to explore the possible adaptations or services they can make to you as a blind or partially sighted person. Telephone baking remains an option.
Currently two supermarkets, Morrison’s and the Co-op provide the opportunity to vulnerable customers to shop via the telephone. Some local convenience stores also provided this facility throughout the period of the pandemic. This needs to be organised locally. Services such as Deliveroo and Uber eats can also be used to collect small shops.
As mentioned above each supermarket has its own app. Once you have set up an account you are good to shop. Check there is no time limit on your shopping experience. Iceland, for example, gives you one hour in which to complete your shopping. You can save your shop and return. Most people book their delivery slot prior to commencing shopping. Different apps display delivery slots in different ways, many use grids like a calendar, others do give you the option to switch to a simple text list which may be simpler to navigate.
Supermarkets apps are arranged in a similar fashion to a physical supermarket: green grocery aisle, butcher’s aisle, pet food and so forth. You have the facility to search for products. There’s also usually a section on bargains which allows you to check out what’s on offer. If you become a regular shopper, you have the opportunity to return to your last shop which gives you’re the ability to repeat previous orders or to tweak your order to suit. You can also choose whether you’d like the store picker to substitute similar items for items not available. You can work with your delivery driver to send back any unwanted substitutions. You can also return damaged goods via your driver.
When shopping, carefully check the sizes and weights of products. There are plenty of stories about people who buy one stick of broccoli or a couple of potatoes.
During our group discus sion, concerns were raised about the shelf life of products being purchased. Ocado, at the time of writing is the only company which adds use by dates to receipts. It might be useful to complete a dummy practise shop to familiarise yourself with the layout of the online store and the navigational gestures or keystrokes required to move around and explore. Try the supermarket website to establish whether that works better for you. A couple Managing Sight Loss session attendees mentioned that it is better to shop on the app and pay on the website. It’s a personal choice and you need to spend a little time to working out what is best for you.
Each supermarket delivers to you in a slightly different way. Iceland uses plastic bags, which you carry in and unpack at your leisure; others use large plastic crates which you carry into your home, unpack, and return to the driver.
Using smart speakers
Smart speakers are the name given to voice operated speakers. There are three main options: Google, Amazon Alexa, and Siri. Smart speakers have many functions: they’ll tell you the time, make lists, and provide you with information. During the online shopping session, we learnt that supermarket skills can be linked to Amazon Alexa. At the time of writing it is possible to shop for groceries from Ocado, Amazon Fresh and Sainsburys. The first step is to link your account details with the Alexa app. Once this is done you simply ask Alexa to open the Sainsbury’s skill. You then must give clear logical commands. It will take practise and patience at first.
Smart speakers can be a quick and easy way to buy single items. If you have an audible account, you can purchase books directly from Alexa – it’s worth listening to a sample first to ensure Alexa and Audible have identified the correct book as many books have very similar titles.
Most clothing retailers have apps which can be downloaded, which, like supermarket apps, tend to be more accessible. It’s worth checking the retailers’ size guides as sizes of garments will vary from store to store. Each item of clothing should be accompanied by a description including colours and size, you should also find a care guide.
Before you commit to shopping, investigate the returns policy. Check whether payment is required to return the item. Read other customers’ reviews. Open all packaging carefully in case of the need to return the item. Returns labels may be included within the packaging or need to be printed either by you or the Post Office. You may have to collect or drop your parcel from a designated hub, these are usually located in a small local shop. It’s now possible for your postman or postwoman to collect parcels, however, this needs to be booked online.
When you shop you may have an option to identify where parcels can be left when you are not at home. Check labels before opening as the parcel may not be intended for you. Magnification apps or a magnifier may allow you to access text. Seeing AI, Envision or Google Lookout will read labels aloud to you.
Other sources of support
RNIB Helpline 0303 123 9999 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Accessible shopping at Amazon: this American Federation for the Blind page contains useful information on accessible Amazon services, however, some of the information may not be relevant to the UK.
Want more resources? Go back to the Managing Sight Loss course resources page.
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