Hearing loss & shopping

Heading to the shops when you have a hearing loss can be a stressful experience. There are usually lots of people, background noise and distractions resulting in the whole experience to feel overwhelming.

To help, we have compiled information with hints and tips to help improve your shopping experience and remove the fear from this activity.

Lipreading numbers

If you rely on lipreading, numbers are particularly tricky to lipread, for example ‘fifteen’ looks like ‘fifty’.

In a small shop you may like to estimate how much you think the total will be by rounding everything under 50p down to the nearest £, and everything over 50p up to the nearest £. So £1.49p becomes £1.00 and £1.51p becomes £2.00.

This enables you to find it easier to lipread the amount the shop assistant says and to have your money ready.

However, there are other ways you can help improve your understanding of numbers:

  • Look at the figures on the till as your items are scanned, so you are able to distinguish how much you are required to pay
  • Ask the shop assistant to write down the total or their question if you are struggling to lipread or hear
  • Ask a closed question e.g. ‘Did you say £5?’
  • Use your hands to help you – e.g. ‘Did you say £5?’ and hold up five fingers as you ask. People copy body language. The assistant will probably reply by using their hands as well e.g. ‘No, I said £4’ and they hold up four fingers as they speak.
  • Use the hearing loop system, if there is one (look for the loop sign). If there is one and it isn’t working, alert the customer service desk so they can have it repaired.

If haven’t yet learned how to lipread, find a Lipreading and managing hearing loss class. All ATLA (Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults) qualified teachers will include all the above ideas, and many more, in their classes.

Using ‘closed’ questions

To help with your understanding of numbers at the checkout, thinking about the type of question you ask if you haven’t heard what the cashier has said.

An open question is one to which the answer could be more than one thing. For example, if you ask, ‘Did you say £5 or £4?’ the response could be either ‘£4′ or £5’ which both look the same on the lips. If you then ask, ‘What did you say?’ the speaker may well repeat what they have already said – which you have just been unable to hear or lipread.

A closed question is one where the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, if you ask, ‘Did you say £4?’ the speaker will answer either ‘Yes, I said £4’ or ‘No, I said £5.’ If accompanied by a shake or nod of the head, the answer is even more helpful.

Quiet Hours

A number of the UK’s major supermarkets also offer ‘Quiet Hours’ which are designed to offer a calmer shopping experiences for those who are elderly, have a disability or have younger children.

They are usually offered outside of peak shopping times, but this doesn’t guarantee there will be less people in the store, but generally factors such as lighting, music and intercom announcements are toned down.

Here are a few of UK retailers that offer Quiet Hours:

  • ASDA run their quieter experience with reduced noise levels from 2-3pm, Monday-Thursdays.
  • Tesco offer Quiet Hours in larger stores from 9am-10am on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Morrisons have two Quiet Hours per week – Saturdays from 9am-10am, and Sundays from 10am-11am.

Please check with your preferred supermarket to see if they offer Quiet Hours and their times, as these may vary.

Helpful tools

There are some different tools available that can help make the shopping experience a little easier.

If you struggle to hear what the cashier or shop assistant is trying to say, you may consider asking them to write it down. A handy ewriter is an environmentally friendly way to share your message.

Pin badges or a wristband can be a subtle cue to helping alert others to your communication needs. There are different wording options, depending on your personal preference, that can tell others about your hearing loss, lipreading needs, etc.

More visual options include communication cards, stickers or a range of tools that offer different options depending on the situation.

Other useful shopping tips

  • Pay by card – this give you the chance to read the total before you tap or type in your number.
  • In the supermarket look for a till with a hearing loop – ask the staff member if it’s working and if not – complain. If it is working you may still have difficulty as you may have had to move along as you do your packing and therefore move out of range of the loop. But if you’ve already asked the cashier if the loop is working, they should be more aware.
  • In the supermarket use the self check out so you can control the situation.
  • Consider using a sunflower lanyard which enables people with non-visible disabilities to access the support they need. It acts a prompt for someone to choose to let people around them know that they may need a helping hand, understanding, or simply more time.

Webpage updated: November 2022

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