Using Maps While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

Last summer, I did the most daring thing an Orientation and Mobility Specialist could do. I signed up to teach an elementary summer school class. For two sets of one week sessions, I was given a set of 8 brand-new-to-me students, aging from 7 to 8 years in age. The objective was to help them learn about their worlds in a fun, motivating, and impactful way. Kind of like O&M 101 camp.

On Day 1, we learned how to go grocery shopping. I had made 8 copies of light-weight maps, both tactile and high-contrast print versions.

We explored the departments of the grocery store, armed with maps, monoculars, our lists of items to buy. The students created their own menus ahead of time, carefully planning out the elements of the breakfast that they were going to cook over the course of the week at summer school.

Each student took turns identifying where the item would be in the store, soliciting assistance (from the teachers) to find the item, and then paying for the items.

Over the course of the next week, we prepared the breakfast menus that they had chosen and sat down together to eat our meal together family style.

Kassy holding a map of a grocery store and a card that says “will you please help me find"_______.


With the wide world of grocery delivery services opening up to us all around the world, I admit that sometimes making my students learn to grocery shop for themselves feels a bit archaic. Like when we were told that we needed to memorize math facts because we wouldn’t have a calculator with us at all times.

Never-the-less, grocery shopping the old school way (of actually going in to the store) offers our students valuable life-long lessons that they will be able to use in their adult lives.

Orientation and Mobility Skills that are Increased While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

  • Map reading skills

  • Mental Mapping

  • Orientation to a commercial environment.

  • Soliciting Assistance

  • Reinforce cardinal directions within a building

Expanded Core Curriculum Skills that are Increased While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

Self Determination:

  • Soliciting assistance to obtain a personal shopper.

  • Soliciting assistance to help locate an item.

  • Problem solving when the store personnel doesn’t understand your needs.

  • Creating a list.

  • Calling ahead of time to request a personal shopper.

Assistive technology:

  • Using a monocular to look for aisle numbers, sales, or large signs.

  • Using a mobile device to house your list.

  • Looking up the grocery items on the internet prior to grocery shopping.

Compensatory skills:

  • Budgeting.

  • Creating a list of your items.

  • Reading the list.

  • Reading words and numbers in the store.

  • Adding the money.

  • Can close concept gaps related to foods, packaging, sizing, volume, weight, length, etc.

Social Skills:

  • Soliciting assistance.

  • Greeting the people who work at the store.

  • Maintaining an alert, positive behavioral state.

Daily Living Skills:

  • Purchasing food to eat.

  • Planning a party.

  • Purchasing gifts for a loved one.

  • Expands concepts related to foods we eat.  


  • Can open the conversation regarding jobs at the grocery store.

  • Can open the conversation about farming, factory, marketing, and sales jobs.

  • Can open the conversation about the science behind the layout of the grocery store.

Recreation and Leisure:

  • If you are like me and love shopping for food without kids around, this can be a leisure activity.

  • Helps support leisure activities such as parties.

Using Maps While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

Every grocery store (in the United States) is laid out in a predictable manner. Perishable items are housed along the indoor perimeter of the store while non-perishable items are housed within the aisles and end-caps of the store.

In the United States, we typically see departments in the grocery store such as Dairy, Meat, Seafood, Produce, Deli, and Bakery. The Frozen sections can be either along the perimeter or the within the aisles of the store itself.

In European areas where there is a priority of fresh farmers markets, throw these rules right out the window. In Switzerland, I noticed that the grocery stores often had the same layout as the ones in the United States. In Paris, groceries were purchased mainly from outdoor markets. Baked goods were purchased in the boulgerie (bakery), and meats were purchased from the butcher shop. Non-perishable items could be purchased from a small grocery store that was about the size of a convenience store.

“Everything is bigger in Texas”. When it comes to grocery stores, this saying holds VERY true. Our grocery stores can be the size of a full city block, if not bigger. You can buy everything from produce, to baby diapers, to candles, to miniature grocery carts for your kids, to an entire BBQ set.

Teaching Map Skills to Students with Visual Impairments

Using maps is one of my favorite ways to enhance the learning of our students when teaching grocery shopping skills. It allows them to get a birds-eye view and helps cement more whole-to-part concept development that our students need so much.

Here is how I teach map skills to my students:

  1. Have the student look at or feel each part of the map as you introduce the map itself.

  2. Start at the doors. I teach the map in the direction that feels natural to shop the store in. For this H-E-B, It is more natural to turn to the right after entering the doors. Therefore, after starting at the doors, I introduce floral, deli, bakery, meat and seafood, (there is no official seafood department in this store), and dairy.

  3. We then follow the rest of the perimeter and introduce cold juices, paper goods, pharmacy, bulk items, and then customer service and the other set of doors.

  4. After exploring the perimeter, we then explore the inside of the store including the cashiers and aisles.

  5. Finally, I teach them the route from the door to the place they need to go in order to solicit assistance. If they aren’t going to be soliciting assistance most of the time, then we practice traveling throughout the store and get to know all of the items on each aisle.

    1. Big stores (like Walmart): Go to the Customer Service if possible. Ask a cashier or friendly stranger to help you get to the customer service if needed.

    2. Medium stores (like Publix or a small H-E-B): Go to Customer Service. Ask a cashier or friendly stranger to help you get to the customer service if needed.

    3. Small stores (like Dollar General or local grocery store): Ask a cashier to call someone for assistance.

How do you teach your students to use a map when shopping in a grocery store?