Grocery Stores: Expensive? Yes. Universally Designed? No.

Screen shot from

Is there (and should there) be a way to make all products accessible to everyone? (Screen shot from

The grocery stores near my home are many things — expensive, crowded, loud — but one thing they are not is: accessible to people with fractured hips from stupidly running a half marathon. They are even less accessible to people with permanent handicaps and disabilities.

The past few weeks have seen me in a series of humbling and humiliating situations. I trained for months for a half marathon and then when I finally ran it, I apparently fractured my hip. While I was able to finish, my sweet boyfriend and dear mother had to help a crying Laura, one of the last of the pack, to the finish line. Since then, I have had to hobble around on crutches, and scoot around my office at work on my rolling chair; my family has had to bring me water, serve me food, take my dirty laundry from the bathroom to the washing machine, and do other mundane activities that I hitherto had done subconsciously. These have been humbling experiences. They have been good experiences, though, because I have been forced to recognize the ease and comfort that I live in and the ease and comfort that so many other people do not.

Last Sunday evening, I partook in my regular Sunday evening ritual — a visit to the grocery store for fruit, nuts, and gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free coffee creamer. Problem: crutches. At home, I can carry my bath towel from the linen closet to the shower in my mouth like a dog (humiliating), but my teeth would fall out if I tried to carry a peck of apples in my mouth through the grocery store. The precious Pink Lady apples would fall out, too, and bruise. I’m not sure which of those two things I care more about falling out.

At any rate, I had to request to use an automatic, battery-powered cart. I thought it would be the perfect solution for me, and they always looked like so much fun! Well, they are not. The cart that I used was jerky, really low to the ground, and difficult to navigate around corners. It is the lowness to the ground that is really the problem. Sitting in the cart, one cannot reach to top shelves or into many refrigerators or freezers. For me, because I can get up and stand, I was able to reach my top-shelf Kombucha. For others, this is not an option. And so I began to think about all the ways that our modern grocery stores do not meet universal design criteria.

Universal design is concept that works to ensure that learning, architecture, transportation, television, etc. are accessible to all people — those with disabilities and those without. Grocery stores, or at least the grocery stores I frequent, may have dropped curbs that enable wheelchair-bound and non-wheelchair-bound people to reach the store itself, but their high shelves and deep refrigerators make accessibility in shopping very difficult for a given population.

I don’t know that there is any “takeaway” (so to speak) in this article. I am not an architect or design specialist; I don’t have any concrete solution to this thing that I have discovered is a problem. I wish I could think of a way for grocery stores to change their design so that all products were accessible to everyone, but I am up against an entire marketing system that has carefully crafted the physical placement of its products in order to sell more of them. Arguing that “eye-level” means wildly different things to different people does not matter to a system that cares only about the bottom line. I have, though, been made aware that there is another side of this story, another perspective that I had never before thought of, and my own perspective has changed.


lc-e1358128566135Laura Creel (@Little_Utopia) is the managing editor of Little Utopia.

Previously from Laura Creel:
“Angry Birds” Movie Leads the Promotional Campaign with the Tagline: “So Many Birds Have to Die”
♦ Celebrity Hair-Cutting News: #WhyJenWhy
♦ An Interview with Documentarian Jeanette Garcia on Video Games, Storytelling, and Her Upcoming Film “World 1-1″
 Little Utopia’s Epic NBA Season Preview Extravaganza: Part 2
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Kanye West’s Bizarre Jimmy Kimmel Interview


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