Blind people who do their shopping at Target stores are about to have an easier time at the checkout counter.

Target announced Friday that it is adding tactile keypads to its checkout terminals at all of its California stores by December, and at its stores nationwide by the end of 2010.

The tactile keypads will allow shoppers who have visual impairments or difficulty reading the information on a touch screen to privately and independently enter their personal identification number, allowing them to protect their financial privacy, according to a Target press release.

Even people with perfect eyesight can have difficulty getting the flat screens to work properly when swiping a credit card or signing their name.

The changes are definitely needed, and will help the blind or visually impaired shop, said Jeff Thom, president of the California Council of the Blind, which worked with Target to have the keypads improved.

California law requires all stores to have the Braille-like keypads by next year, Thom told me in a telephone interview, and many stores in the state have already installed them -- Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid and Trader Joes, with Target joining them soon.

The California Council of the Blind has also worked with businesses on other improvements, such as talking ATM machines, and Web sites that allow text and graphics to be converted into speech. Customer service is also important at stores, where an employee can help a blind shopper by walking through the store with them, Thom said.

"Most of us shop independently and do what we need to do," he said.

Thom estimated that 5% of the national population is blind or has poor vision, with half of them being elderly. About a fifth of that 5% have low or no vision, so the new keypads will help hundreds of thousands of people in California alone.






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