Handle the Goods: Shopping with Sight Loss event success

Around 40 blind and partially sighted people attended London Sight Loss Councils’ ‘Handle the Goods: Shopping with sight loss’ event last week to explore accessible shopping.

The event, held at St Matthew’s Church in Westminster on 23 February 2024, aimed to share how retail can be an accessible and rewarding experience for blind and partially sighted (BPS) shoppers.

Nikki Hughes and Leanne Best, South East and South West London Sight Loss Council (SLC) volunteers, opened the event. They highlighted some of the work London SLCs’ have done to #MakeRetailAccessible for BPS people across the capital. This includes producing a poster to promote mindful shopping amongst sighted shoppers, and multiple vision awareness sessions to shopping centre staff.

We were delighted to welcome guest speakers from NaviLens, Procter and Gamble, and Battersea Power Station. They shared some of the things their organisations do to enhance the experience of BPS shoppers. This includes store assistance, code reading apps, and tactile product identification.

Leanna Best, SE London SLC member, and Nikki Hughes, SW London SLC member, sat talking and laughing with someone off camera. In the background, guest speakers can be seen sitting at a table.

Leanne and Nikki, pictured laughing with someone, off camera, at the start of the event

The challenges

Attendees discussed three key challenges:

  • how to navigate shopping centres
  • reading product information on packaging
  • how to distinguish between different products.

Our first guest speaker was Jean-Paul Hewlett, Head of Guest Services at Battersea Power Station shopping centre.

He began by explaining what support BPS shoppers can expect when they arrive at the shopping centre. He also advised that shoppers are invited to phone or email ahead of their visit to arrange sighted guidance around the centre. Staff who facilitate this have all received vision awareness training.

He also spoke about the WelcoMe app. This app is designed for disabled people, allowing them to notify a venue in advance of how they wish to be supported.

We then heard from Oran McAllister, Client Engagement Officer at NaviLens. He introduced NaviLens’ code-reading app which enables smartphones to read aloud information held on product packaging. The app allows shoppers to locate goods on the shelf and continue accessing the data when they are back home in the kitchen.

We also heard from Paul Gallagher, Global Accessibility Leader at Proctor and Gamble (P&G). He talked about their use of NaviLens on their products, as well as a tactile marking system they have developed for their products.

Paul Gallagher, Global Accessibility Leader at Proctor and Gamble and Oran McAlistair, Client Engagement Officer at NaviLens, pictured looking forwards, smiling. They are seated.

Paul Gallagher, P&G, sat next to Oran McAlistair, NaviLens. They are both smiling at someone off camera.

Handle the goods

Following this presentation, participants were able to inspect a selection of products bearing the unique tactile symbols. For example, on P&G products, one vertical line denotes body wash, two lines is hand wash, four lines for shampoo and circles for conditioner. In addition, a laundry detergent is indicated by a circle inside a square above 4 lines. These are currently on some Olay, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Ariel, Fairy, Daz, and Bold products.

Finally, the audience learned more about the help available with shopping via smartphone apps. Vicky Blencowe, South West London SLC member, gave a demonstration of several apps – including Seeing AI and Be My AI. Both apps have functionality which makes product packaging readable to BPS shoppers – whether in store or at home after purchase.

Feedback from the day

Leanne, South East London SLC member, said:

“It was really nice to see how everybody engaged with the products, asking questions, and generally getting involved in the day. It was great fun to help organise, and to participate, in this event.”

Nikki, South West London SLC member, said:

“Our ‘Handle the goods’ event went exceptionally well, with lots of positive feedback from guests. I believe the event made a positive and insightful impact on those who attended, as well as our guest speakers. We had great feedback on their presentations about products and services.

“All in all, I would say it was an overwhelming success.”

Vicky Blencowe, South West London SLC member added:

“It was a pleasure to share some applications that can assist with shopping to a very engaged audience. Short videos demonstrating the potential of these apps were useful, especially those which embrace new artificial intelligence features. These can help the user find out additional information about products.

“I truly hope our event inspires some of the people who joined us to try out this wonderful technology which is opening up the world to us.”

Lucy Williams, Senior Engagement Manager for South England, closed the event by saying:

“We were thrilled to welcome so many blind and partially sighted people to our event. Retail has been a focus for our Sight Loss Councils in London since it was raised as an important issue by BPS Londoners during Listening Month 2022.

“The event gave us the opportunity to share what we have done over the last year with organisations to improve accessibility of the retail sector. It was great to showcase various apps and services that can aid BPS people to demonstrate they can shop independently – and with enjoyment!”

SLC member, Steve Reed, pictured holding his smart phone, and talking to a delegate who is looking up at him. On the table in front of them are three products which have the NaviLens code on them.

Steve, South East London SLC member, talking to an attendee during the event

Guest speaker feedback

Jean-Paull Hewlett, Head of Guest Services at Battersea Power Station shopping centre, said:

“Accessibility is a topic for everyone, not just disabled people or senior management. We are investing in our teams at all levels through training and awareness campaigns. We want to be leaders in the accessibility sphere.

“We thoroughly enjoyed London Sight Loss Councils’ event and took away an abundance of useful ideas and feedback.”

Oran McAlistair, Client Engagement Manager at NaviLens, said:

“The work that Sight Loss Councils do is vitally important to the accessibility movement. It directly addresses the requirements of everyone who is blind or partially sighted.

“It was such an honour to take part in London Sight Loss Councils’ retail event and have the unique opportunity to listen to the needs and wants of everyone in the room. It was great to demonstrate how NaviLens works and how we are working hard to achieve these common goals.

“Working alongside the Sight Loss Councils’ is a privilege and we look forward to being part of your ongoing mission to make the shopping experience much more accessible.”

Paul, Global Accessibility Leader at Proctor and Gamble, added:

“P&G provides branded products of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers.

“Accessibility is so important to everything we do, and we’re committed to ensuring all our consumers can enjoy our products.

“From our accessible websites to our tactile markings, we’re continuing to improve every day. I was delighted to share some of our innovation with the members of London Sight Loss Councils in Westminster.”

Image looks across the room of delegates, most of whom have their hand raised, during the retail session. In the background an overhead projector screen reads Paul Gallagher, Global Accessibility Leader, Procter and Gamble.

Attendees during the event, several with their hands raise in the air

Delegate feedback

“My favourite part of the event was touching the tactile markings on the products and trying out the various different apps.”

“The event was very useful and well organised thanks.”

“It was really good, really useful, and I’ve got a lot of homework to do now when I get home. I’ve got lots of things to talk about with my friends and things to test out”

“I really enjoyed the event, it was excellent, and I learnt loads and loads. Thank you to all the Sight Loss Councils’ team. Please keep me on the mailing list, and hopefully there will be other events coming up soon.”

“I enjoyed finding out more about NaviLens and how it can assist me.”

SE London SLC member, Steve Reed, pictured holding London SLCs' 'Mindful Shopper' poster which they designed as part of their retail work. He is standing against a cream wall, wearing a white Sight Loss Councils hoodie.

Steve, South East London SLC member, holding their ‘Mindful Shopper’ poster

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Publication date: 05 March 2024

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