Thursday, May 8, 2003

Grocer removes barriers

Kroger redefines shopping experience with its blind customers in mind

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Rob Hicks, who works at the North College Hill Kroger, assists Terry Strader of North College Hill as he shops at the store Wednesday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
NORTH COLLEGE HILL - Terry Strader likes to say he took the first blind taste test at the Kroger store here.

But he didn't sample peanut butter brands or sausage links when he walked into one of the Cincinnati-based grocery giant's newest stores, just after it opened in June.

Instead, Strader, 49, who has been blind since birth, tested the store's layout for how well it accommodates customers with visual impairments.

In his opinion, Kroger rolled out the red carpet.

"The best thing about the Kroger here is that the staff is more than willing to help you find things," he said Wednesday, while shopping for cat food and cookies with the help of a store employee trained in the Human Guide Technique. "I know how to get to the service desk, and once I get there, there's always somebody there to assist me."

Strader can thank his employer - Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, about 2 blocks south of Kroger at 7000 Hamilton Ave. - for the store's blind-friendly design.

Officials from Clovernook, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary today, worked closely with Kroger executives to ensure that architectural barriers would be removed and effective communication and guidance would be provided for the dozens of visually impaired people who shop at Kroger and use Clovernook's services.

The Kroger is another example of the impact that Clovernook has had on the neighborhood. Audible traffic signals and textured sidewalks have been installed at many intersections to help the visually impaired travel safely and independently throughout the community.

"What they (Kroger) have done here is a benefit to the whole community," Janet Burns, a Clovernook spokeswoman, said. "It not only benefits the 40 to 60 people that work for us and live in the community, but it also benefits the elderly and those who may have trouble getting around because of other disabilities."

Blind or visually impaired visitors to the Kroger store benefit from a variety of special design features and services.

The textured sidewalks near three entrances let the visually impaired know that they're crossing high-traffic areas as they approach the store.

The absence of vending machines, benches or newspaper stands near the entrances eliminates troublesome obstructions.

Once inside, visually impaired customers can request assistance from employees who have been trained to help them find their way around and even load groceries.

The store even provides weekly sales fliers at the customer service desk that have been printed in Braille at Clovernook.

"We worked closely with the staff at Clovernook to incorporate as many of their design recommendations as possible," Gary Rhodes, a Kroger spokesman, said. "These are things that anyone with sight probably wouldn't notice, but for someone who is blind, it makes a big difference."

Kroger efforts have been recognized with a national award from the American Foundation for the Blind and a local award from the Inclusion Network - a Greater Cincinnati nonprofit organization that promotes inclusion of people with disabilities.

Earlier this year, The American Foundation for the Blind presented Kroger with its annual Access Award, and the Inclusion Network named Kroger the winner of its 2003 Community Inclusion Award.


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