Weekly Poll – Braille Labelling
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 25 April 2022, we asked a question about braille labelling on retail products.
Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.
Question 1. Do you think food package labels are available in formats that meet your accessibility requirements?
- Yes 56% (36 respondents)
- No 44% (28 respondents)
Question 2. Do you support our campaign so that all retail goods such as food packaging should feature braille labelling?
- Yes 95% (60 respondents)
- No 5% (3 respondents)
We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
At Disability Equality Scotland, we have partnered with Sight Scotland and Oban Access Panel to call for action from government and retailers to promote more availability of braille labelling on retail goods. Currently braille labelling is only required for medicines, leaving braille users at a disadvantage to sighted shoppers in identifying other goods they wish to purchase and use.
Responsibility for labelling legislation is moving to the Scottish and UK Governments, having previously been a matter for EU laws where the requirement for braille labelling was introduced. Last year, we co-signed a letter with Sight Scotland to the Scottish Government calling for new legislation which builds on this progress and makes braille labelling a requirement for a much broader range of retail goods.
An overwhelming 95% (60 respondents) supported the campaign. Respondents recognised the importance of braille labelling which can help visually impaired people to make more informed and independent food choices. Such information could include best before and use by dates, as well as storage, allergen, and nutritional information.
“I am not blind or partially sighted but fully support your campaign. A lot of people have food allergies and having braille labelling could prevent somebody becoming seriously ill, in addition to the independence people would gain from having such labelling.”
“Money, medications and even bleach has braille markings. I feel that food stuffs are just as important given that there are allergies that need to be addressed.”
“As a sighted person I take for granted the need for braille, until you have the issue pointed out to you. How does a blind person know when food becomes out of date?”
“My grandmother was visually impaired, and it was very difficult for her to identify food. She had to open it once it was in her house to feel it to guess what it was. Therefore, braille would be very useful on food packaging.”
“I have just checked a number of different food products in my cupboard and fridge/freezer and did not find braille on anything, so clearly there is a need to address this. How can braille users shop if they do not actually know what is in the tin or package?”
“Braille labels will go a long way to help those who understand braille to organise their shopping and keep an inventory of what they need.”
“I fully support the proposal to include braille on food packaging so that people with visual impairments can remain independent in doing their shopping. Currently they require a partner or friend to accompany them which is not always easy to arrange.”
“I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrating it is for a blind or partially sighted individual when it comes to current food labelling. We talk so much and hear so much about creating this inclusive society when in practice, what we see can often be the exact opposite. I firmly believe that all product labels need to have braille in order to be truly accessible.”
Retailers and Manufacturers
Respondents reflected on the responsibility of retailers and manufacturers to ensure that visually impaired people are not excluded from identifying the goods they wish to purchase and use. One respondent stated that supermarket retailer Co-op applies braille labels to some of their own-brand food and non-food product packaging. Despite this, there are very few examples of other retailers that have taken similar action.
“I cannot understand why, if the Co-op supermarket can braille all their own products can others do the same and that should also be extended to all branded products.”
“I do not think it will add an undue burden onto manufacturers to include some braille on the packaging. Even if it were, I believe that accessibility must come first, and money is rarely a justified excuse to avoid implementing accessibility measures.”
A portion of respondents suggested that retailers and the wider public must be better educated on the importance of braille as a vital accessibility format for visually impaired people.
“Perhaps there should be a wider understanding of braille, I was given ‘discovery’ classes in braille and sign language at school. Going back to a wider understanding of disabled persons and their issues can only be a good thing. Braille, Moon, Makaton, BSL, Manual and basic understanding and problem solving should be available to learn, so that people can become more responsible, understanding and well-rounded individuals.”
“I think because people realise that there are various aids for people with sight loss, they think that braille is outdated and not really used anymore which is not the case.”
Assistive technologies were highlighted by some respondents as another method that can support visually impaired people with identifying products in shops. In 2020, Kellog’s partnered with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Co-op supermarket to trial technology that allows a smartphone to detect an on-pack code from up to three metres distance when a visually impaired shopper points their device in the direction of the cereal box. This then alerts the phone, and the shopper can choose to have the ingredients, allergen and recycling information read aloud to them.
“I fully support that labelling should be fully accessible – however the outcome will be the cost of these changes are on the already pressed customers who are already suffering. Is this where technology might ease the weight of costs to some extent?”
“Braille or some form of tactile markings (e.g. raised letters) would be ideal for food products. Alternatively, with modern IT Equipment having easily identifiable stick-on QR codes, these could be scanned and read by Apps on iPhone Etc.”
“Mandating an accessible government-maintained database containing product information, ingredients, cooking instructions and so on could be used along with freely available applications to not only allow blind and partially sighted people to shop but to use ingredients easily.”
Respondents believed that in addition to braille, there are other factors that can be taken into consideration with regards to the design of packaging which would make retail goods more accessible to a wider audience. This includes using a large, clear font, and ensuring there is sufficient colour contrast between the text and background. It is also beneficial to write in Plain English that is concise and avoids jargon.
“I don’t require braille personally. I feel all disabilities should be taken into account on all food packaging. Being a sighted person, I still struggle with labelling, words being too small, inappropriate colour variations making reading instructions hard especially under fluorescent lighting. I have had to use the torch on my phone to help read labels.”
“While I’m not legally blind my vision is minus 20-20, and I find a lot of food packages difficult to read. Playing hunt the date is not fun, and most of the time it’s so tiny and smudged it’s near impossible to read. I realise that this poll is about braille, but I feel it’s important to mention that those of us with low vision would also benefit from better packaging.”
“I am short sighted and now have the poor close-up vision that comes with being in my 50s. My issues are slight, but I cannot read ingredients with my glasses on as even then the labelling is too small. I can only read labels if I photograph them and magnify them. I am prediabetic and control my blood sugar with diet so reading ingredients is essential.”
“Large print labelling is very much needed for ingredients, allergy advice, etc.”
“We need larger fonts. Less vague information e.g., specific ingredients, not just ‘flavourings’. Pesticide levels (separately for each chemical and total for all pesticides).”
“Although important, I do not think that braille is the whole solution to the issue – labelling needs to consider much, much more. Labelling isn’t just about giving people choice in what to buy if done correctly it can empower people to expand their culinary experiences and independence. Although I agree strongly with making it accessible for blind and partially sighted people, it is now possible for Scotland to take a lead on labelling and consider all disabilities. I’m not partially sighted myself, but I do struggle reading ingredients listed on products. I carry a Fresnel lens in my wallet to allow me to read small items – having requirements such as high contrast for ingredients as well would be useful for me and I’m hoping for people with sight issues. My cognitive issues make it difficult for me to process information – food packaging is incredibly busy and assault on the senses. Although I don’t have problems choosing regular products it makes it difficult when finding new products. I’m not as restricted as a blind/partially sighted person but it does restrict me.”
The majority of respondents (95%) are supportive of the campaign led by Disability Equality Scotland and Sight Scotland to make braille labelling a requirement for a much broader range of retail goods. There was recognition that this would allow braille users to make an informed and independent choice to identify items they wish to purchase and use. It was noted that retailers and manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure retail packaging is accessible to as many people as possible. As such, respondents stated that in addition to braille, retailers must also consider the size of text, colour contrast and avoid jargon.