Do You See What I See? The shopping experiences of people with visual impairment

Main Article Content

Sandra Tullio-Pow
Hong Yu
Megan Strickfaden



 This article reports on the shopping experiences of people with visual impairment (n = 7) and offers an alternative way to understand their needs. Our study adopted taskscape theory and multiple-method ethnographic perspectives to obtain viewpoints of shoppers with visual impairment and examined shopping activities through two lenses (wayfinding and signage) to determine criteria for improved design. We used taskscape theory to gain insights into how this population perceives signage as well as a participatory, human ecological, systems approach to identify the complexity of wayfinding among people with visual impairment. We used observation, notetaking, photography, and interviews to gain insights into personal and social factors affecting participants’ experiences when navigating in shopping malls. Our data-driven results include a characterization of seven activities—pre-shopping, traveling to the mall, mall navigation, in-store navigation, merchandise evaluation, checkout, and post-shopping—within the shopping taskscape of shoppers with visual impairments that help assess user needs regarding signage and wayfinding. The shopping taskscape provides a systems approach to advance ideas around designing complex environments for able-bodied people and those with disability. 

Article Details



Accessible Canada Act, S.C. 2019, c. 10. (2019).

Agar, M. (2010). On the ethnographic part of the mix: A multi-genre tale of the field. Organizational Research Methods, 13(2), 286-303.

Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (1990).

Bagnoli, A. (2004). Researching identities with multi-method autobiographies. Sociological Research Online, 9(2), 1–15.

Baker, S. M. (2006). Consumer normalcy: Understanding the value of shopping through narratives of consumers with visual impairments. Journal of Retailing, 82(1), 37-50.

Baker, S. M. Stephens, D. L., & Hill, R. P. (2001). Marketplace experiences of consumers with visual impairments: Beyond the Americans With Disabilities Act. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 20(2), 215-224.

Baker, S. M. Stephens, D. L., & Hill, R. P. (2002). How can retailers enhance accessibility: Giving consumers with visual impairments a voice in the marketplace. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 9(4), 227-239.

Bashiti, R. & Rahim, A. A. (2016). Physical barriers faced by people with disabilities (PwDs) in shopping malls. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 222, 414–422.

Bradley, R., Hopkins, T., & Bailey, J. M. (2000). A study of the influence of visual impairment on the purchase of clothing. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 18(2), 79-81.

Clarke, A. (2016). Design anthropology: Object cultures in transition. Bloomsbury.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Sage.

Devlieger, P. & Strickfaden, M. (2012). Reversing the (im)material sense of a non-place: The impact of blindness on the Brussels metro. Space and Culture, 15(3), 224-238.

Dogu, U. & Erkip, F. (2000). Spatial factors affecting wayfinding and orientation: A case study in a shopping mall. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 731-755.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2001). Making social science matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again. Cambridge University Press.

Gunn, W., Otto, T., & Smith, R. C. (2013). Design anthropology: Theory and practice. Bloomsbury.

Horowitz, A. (2013). On looking: Eleven walks with expert eyes. Scribner.

Imrie, R. (2000). Responding to the design needs of disabled people. Journal of Urban Design, 5(2), 199-219.

Ingold, T. (1993). The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology, 25(2), 152-174.

Kirsh, D. (1996). Adapting the environment instead of oneself. Adaptive Behavior, 4(3-4), 415-452.

Kusenbach, M. (2003). Street phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool. Ethnography, 4(3), 455-485.

MacDonald, N. M., Majumder, R. K., & Bua-Iam, P. (1994). Apparel acquisition for consumers with disabilities: Purchasing practices and barriers to shopping. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 12(2), 38-45.

Martin, B, & Hanington, B. (2012). Universal methods of design. Rockport.

Maus, M., Belza, B., Chi, N. C., Hunter, R., Mullen, S., & Satariano, W. A. (2016). Wayfinding technologies for older adults with visual impairments: Ideas for future direction. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 110(6), 477-480.

Miller, D. (2010). Stuff. Polity Press.

Miller, D., Jackson, P., Thrift, N., Hollbrook, B., & Rowlands, M. (1998). Shopping, place and identity. Routledge.

Nagi, S. Z. (1991). Disability concepts revisited: Implications for prevention. In : A. M. Pope & A. R. Tarlov (Eds.), Disability in America: Toward a national agenda for prevention (pp. 309-327). The National Academies Press.

Norman, D. A. (2013). The design of everyday things. Basic Books.

Saerberg, S. (2010). “Just go straight ahead”: How blind and sighted pedestrians negotiate space. Senses & Society, 5(3), 364-381.

Strickfaden, M. & Devlieger, P. (2011a). Empathy through accumulating techné: Designing an accessible metro. The Design Journal, 14(2), 207-229.

Strickfaden, M. & Devlieger, P. (2011b). The Brussels metro: Accessibility through co-creation. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 105(10), 638-647.

Tullio-Pow, S. (2016). Mapping the clothing taskscape: Apparel needs in rehabilitation therapy [Doctoral dissertation, University of Alberta]. Education & Research Archive.

Tullio-Pow, S. & Strickfaden, M. (2020). Clothing taskscape as an approach towards assessment of user needs. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. Advance online publication.

Vannini, P. (2011). The techne of making a ferry: A non-representational approach to passengers’ gathering taskscapes. Journal of Transport Geography, 19(5), 1031-1036.

World Health Organization. (2015). WHO global disability action plan 2014–2021: Better health for all people with disability.

Yu, H., Tullio-Pow, S., & Akhtar, A. (2015). Retail design and the visually impaired: A needs assessment. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 24, 121-129.

Yuan, C. W., Hanrahan, B. V., Lee, S., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2019). Constructing a holistic view of shopping with people with visual impairment: A participatory design approach. Universal Access in the Information Society, 18, 127-140.