A New Job
When the local grocery chain interviewed me for employment, I disclosed my vision impairment. “I’m legally blind and use a white cane.” They seemed to accept that matter-of-factly. They did hire me! First off, they asked which department I wanted to work in. “The bakery,” I said without hesitation.” Their decision to place me in my first—and really, only choice—delighted me.
All those wonderful aromas … fresh breads, bagels, cakes, pies, doughnuts, sweet rolls… the list of blissful fragrances increased daily. At the end of every shift, I systematically picked out a parcel of bread to purchase. At home, I slathered jams on slice after slice and sampled them between sips of hot tea. Prompted by the Asiago cheese bagels, I planned to work my way alphabetically through the bakery bonanza.
That was the best part. But what about the actual work? It soon became apparent my sight issues might affect my performance in this bustling, fast-paced department.
The bakery had a narrow section with two shiny ovens, multi-purpose tables, carts, and specialized equipment. I could tell there would be no room to navigate with my white cane — and it was not encouraged. Add the supervisor, two bakers, a couple of cake decorators, me, and — one lost cookie to the mix. Once, several boxes blocked the exit aisle. Without my cane, I found myself disoriented. In fact, I routinely had difficulty locating the supervisor’s desk to check my work schedule. My supervisor had too many other responsibilities to problem-solve these issues with me.
On the Heels of the Mini-Italian
For someone with low vision, slicing bread sounded dicey. But with the safety elements in place, this task went smoothly. Slicing and bagging 50 to 60 loaves daily made me feel like a pro — except for those unpredictable mini loaves of Italian bread! The tiny heels tended to get stuck in the blade, which caused the machine to vibrate. My job was to keep the slices in line and my fingers out of the blade line. As the machine shook, so did I!
Assorted Dessert Line-Up
Packaging the desserts posed another problem. Keeping the different see-through containers straight typically ended in disaster. When tasked with this duty, the conversation often continued: “No, Amy, those raspberry Danish go in a #14, not a #16. Remember, only four pastries to a box.” A short time later… “Wait. Stop! Those containers are inside out. You’ll have to re-pack them.” I didn’t dare ask if I should toss out the used containers. I guess that was understood.
The “Investigator’s” Task
As a clerk, I also had to “go out on the floor” at the beginning of every shift to determine which bakery goods needed replenishment. My first priority was the bread shelf immediately outside the bakery. Each type of bread had a specific spot. But not all had labels. Those that did came in tiny print, or so it seemed. Deciphering each type of bread required a magnifier.
I s-l-o-w-l-y made my way out of the bakery and carried a yellow legal pad and a 20/20 pen to see my notes better. Then, I assessed the gaps. Someone with normal vision and familiar with the types of bread could complete this task rapidly. My limited sight made it tedious and time-consuming.
I squared my shoulders before I did this task. Whenever I could, I carried out two or three loaves of bread at a time instead of wheeling out the cumbersome tray. It took longer, but I felt more comfortable. However, in restocking the cakes, pies, and sweet rolls, I had no other recourse but to use the tall or wide trays. This caused me a considerable amount of anxiety. Although I now had space to use my white cane, I could not navigate a laden, multi-shelved tray, and my mobility tool. Fears of tipping the tray over and toppling tiers of cakes or pies assailed me. The low-set array of tables where we placed the pies and cakes also distressed me. Since I have no peripheral vision, I could easily imagine stumbling over the tables while trying to steer the tall tray and sidestepping customers. I managed this task so slowly, eventually, others took it over — much to my relief.
Sealing My Fate with Sesame
But the mistake that booted me out of the bakery beat all my botched efforts. I packed a loaf of toasted sesame seed wheat bread in a regular wheat slip-on bag. A fellow employee found it on the rack and ratted me out. Hands flew into the air. “Sesame is an allergen, Amy, and must be properly labeled. This loose labeling can be life-threatening and the end to our livelihood!”
Toward the end of my shift, my supervisor said, “Follow me,” in a sugary voice. After her earlier blow-up, I did not trust the confection in her tone. The swinging in her hips warned me I was on a gingerbread trail — that could end in my demise. No time to return to my locker and retrieve my white cane, so I followed as best I could. We stopped at the front of the store. She motioned me to enter a nondescript room — a far cry from the candy-coated house of fairy tales.
Snipping the Apron Strings
“Hi, I’m Fiona from the Front End,” she said, radiating an earthy warmth.
My supervisor leaned against the wall, her smile gone, her arms crossed. She ticked off a litany of low vision lacking, ending with the seized sesame blunder. “You are not suited for our bakery.” With those words, she and I snipped the ties of my imaginary apron strings.
The Flame of Hope
“You look so defeated,” Fiona observed. “The store is not firing you. You are just being reassigned. Finding a better fit.”
“What makes you think I’ll do any better as a cashier?” I asked through my tears. I was a Bakery Bungler. How could I ever succeed as a cashier? I envisioned myself crashing as a cashier.
Fiona continued. “As a cashier, you’re in one place. You can use your magnifier to see the register screen. We have no problem with you using your white cane around the store to come and go on your breaks. Try it. You might love it. Who knows?”
I took a deep breath. The same flame that burnt the bread bakes it, right? And that bread is firm and plump. How do I know without trying?
A tiny flickering flame of hope lit inside me. “Ok. When do I start?”
“Tomorrow,” my supervisor said firmly.
I didn’t even make it through to the pepperoni rolls or pumpkin pie! The savory and the sweet … Then I thought of my sensory overload earlier that day. They must have had a meeting about me since I was not included. The sweet feeling turned noticeably sour.
Coming to my Senses
Wasn’t it time to come to my senses instead of relying on them? Sure, the arena of sublime aromas tempted — but perhaps that was only the frosting on top. Hidden in the center was a huge dollop of self-pride. Ego.
And it didn’t taste good anymore. Time to embrace the challenges of cashiering.
Solving Problems in the Bakery as an Employee Who Is Visually Impaired