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Braille Information on Over The Counter Drug Labels

There are shampoo bottles, packaged cookies and even wine bottles with Braille print on them. It is possible to print Braille on labels. Why are we not finding more and more products with Braille? A French wine company printed their labels with Braille out of consideration for a blind member of the company. For whatever the reason that the Braille is on the product, many of us are surprised to find it. With technology today, there is no reason that Braille could not be more accessible to the blind consumer.

In 1998 a pharmaceutical company started embossing their product name in Braille on the product box. This was a great start. However, when surveyed, blind consumers have said that Braille directly on the product would be more useful and convenient than on the box that it is packaged in.

The greatest challenge for producing Braille labels would naturally be the over the counter drug labels. Health Canada requires that the manufacturers of over the counter drugs provide specific information on the label. The size of the small plastic bottles that contain cold, flu, or headache tablets determines the size of print on the label. Some of this print on the label can be as small as 4.6 points. By comparison, standard newsprint is usually 9 to 10 points in size and a Braille cell dimension from the top to the bottom of the cell is commonly 24 points in size.

Over the last four years, through surveys and discussions with blind groups and individuals there has been some interesting ideas for providing access to over the counter drug product information. One suggestion was to print a separate information leaflet in Braille and package it with the product. This suggestion is not practical. The amount of Braille required to translate the necessary product information would create a very large leaflet. The cost of such a leaflet and the costs to increase the size of the package to house this leaflet would be expensive. Another suggestion was that the pharmacy could keep on hand, product information in Braille to give to those who require it. This is also not a practical suggestion. The pharmacies are concerned that this would require a large storage space for Braille information in both English and in French.

To avoid storing sheets of Braille could each pharmacy print the product information in Braille for the blind consumer? Keep in mind that we are talking about over the counter drug products and not prescriptions. The caution information from the common pain reliever required two and half pages of grade one Braille to translate the printed text. Braille is the language of the blind: however not all blind learn grade two Braille. Many Braille readers who are not proficient with Braille or whose tactile sensitivity is diminished may experience difficulty reading this mass of Braille text. Would a Braille printer be available at every outlet that sells over the counter drugs?

There are scanners on the market that can identify the product for the consumer. This piece of technology could be great for those who have them. The obvious convenience for the blind consumer when it comes to identifying a product is to have Braille at the finger tips. Blind consumers have asked for basic information. "What is the product in my hand?"

In September of 1997 Universal Braille Dots Inc. submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in the United States a proposal for Braille and large print on over the counter drug labels. They had publicly asked consumers for their help to improve the labels. Since Universal Braille Dots Inc. has been working on Braille labels for the past seven years we were confident that we could provide some valuable suggestions. Without getting into the technical details, the proposal recommended that the label include a description of the product both in grade one Braille and in large print. This description would identify the product that the consumer has in their hands. In Braille and large print there would also be a toll-free number to allow the consumer access to the complete product information that is available in small print.

Since Braille requires a substantial amount of space, the amount of Braille information would be limited to a description of the product and a toll-free number. Wherever possible this Braille and large print information would be printed directly on the label or on a separate adhesive label packaged with the product and applied by the consumer. There are many ways to achieve this recommendation.

In Canada, we have been in touch with various manufacturers and associations to discuss our Braille label ideas. They are truly interested in the proposals that we have suggested for their products. Many were surprised to hear how blind consumers, living independently, cope with identifying every day products in their home. Naturally the manufacturers wanted to know the number of consumers that would benefit from this service. In Canada there are over one million vision-impaired consumers that would benefit from Braille and large print labels.

The number of consumers who require Braille can not compare to those who require large print. However, wherever there is large print on a label, Braille could also be accommodated. There are ways of printing Braille over standard print without effecting the legibility of the print.

The FDA is currently making changes to the American over the counter drug labels. They made some excellent improvements to the food labels with the now familiar nutrition information panel. At the 1997 NFB convention in New Orleans, I heard a statement from a nutritionist giving a speech to a group of people with diabetes. She said that it was a shame that the nutrition information panel listed carbohydrates and not complex carbohydrates. This information would have been very important for consumers with diabetes.

How did the FDA miss this important information for the food label? In the spring of 1998, I called the FDA to inquire about the number of submissions or requests for Braille on over the counter drug labels. My contact told me that he recalls very few, probably less than ten requested Braille. In total, there were over 1800 proposals sent to the FDA.