Grocery shopping is a very visual task, so people don’t often think about how it might be difficult for people with hearing loss. But in fact, even with the help of hearing aids, grocery stores can be difficult to navigate, or just overwhelming, as they often have much background noise from intercom announcements, people talking and even loud music. However, a recent announcement by a New York- and New Jersey-based supermarket chain, Fairway Market, has put the spotlight on grocery stores and how they can better accommodate people living with hearing loss.

The chain just announced that it has installed its first ever hearing loop – and the first in a grocery store in New York City – at the deli counter of the popular Fairway Market on Broadway Avenue. It’s likely that the group will install more in its markets soon. The Whole Foods markets in Florida cities Sarasota and Jacksonville made the news in 2011 when they each installed hearing loops at the registers in their stores. While these are positive changes for people living with hearing loss, hearing loops are not common in grocery stores in the U.S.

Another solution: Self-checkout lanes
Most new grocery and convenience stores in the U.S. have self-checkout lanes that have both visual and auditory cues that can be helpful if you are hard of hearing. However, as one woman with hearing loss posted on the Say What Club website in an article about grocery shopping with hearing loss, self-checkout lanes can be confusing and often provide unclear instructions:

“I quickly scan the last item. The screen changes and it shows a cartoon hand putting a slip of paper into a slot by the register. Hmmm…I stand there stumped for a minute,” writes Denise Portis.

Portis goes on to tell how her teenage daughter reluctantly explains that the machine is asking for coupons and then helps her through the checkout process. Even with the volume turned up on her hearing aids, the self-checkout register volume turned up and the visual cues on the screen, she still has a tough time interpreting the directions.

Also, many people prefer the social interaction that comes with talking with a clerk in the checkout line, but the aforementioned background noise can make that difficult even with hearing aids.

One imperfect solution is to go to the grocery store during off-hours – before or after the 5 p.m. rush.

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