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Labelling Prescriptions For The Visually Challenged

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Author Elizabeth Coates has been legally blind since her early 30's and works as a computer programmer in Toronto. In this article, she considers label directions on prescribed medications for the visually impaired. She wishes to thank Donna Mahon, B.Sc.Phrn., Andrew Ng, B-Sc.Phm., Dr. S. Rene, Judith Thornton, B.Sc.phm., and Eileen Yeates, R.N. who served as consultants on her article. The recommendations have been presented at the Chapter meeting in Toronto and will be published in an upcoming issue of The Canadian Blind Monitor

As a person who is visually challenged, life experiences frequently throw little curves into my daily routine that require me to readjust and re-examine my coping strategies. One incident that occurred has highlighted an area where I feel that pharmacists may be able to help those in my situation cope with one of these challenges.

Recently, while travelling, I had to go through customs at the airport. I was carrying two prescriptions that, as a visually challenged individual, I had placed in specific locations within my luggage for identification purposes. In the process of searching my bags, the Customs officers moved the prescriptions and they ended up reversed. Fortunately, when I reached my destination, I was able to get someone to read the labels and sort out the drugs. However this experience gave me cause to ponder what could happen in the case where a visually challenged person cannot get someone to read the label, cannot tell the difference between medications by feel, or has so many medications that she cannot remember which drug is which.

The National Federation of the Blind Advocates for Equality (NFB: AE) is an organisation formed approximately four years ago with head office in Kelowna, BC It currently has about 200 members with chapters in several provinces, including Ontario. The Federation formed a committee of visually impaired members (the NFB: AE Committee on Prescriptions and Braille) to look into the issue of label directions on prescribed medications for the visually impaired. As a result of this research. three solutions were proposed to satisfy the different sight levels of the legally blind (0% to 10%) and Braille proficient.

For those who have a fair amount of residual vision, placing the pills in a larger container and printing the label in the largest font possible on the computer is a simple solution at no cost to the pharmacy.

For those who desire Braille labelled prescriptions (by law the prescription label must contain the pharmacy name, telephone number, patient's name, directions, drug name, and physician's name), the Committee concluded, after much consultation with pharmacists, that only the directions and drug name need to be on the container in Braille. It based this decision on the needs of the patient and the fact that Braille takes more space on the prescription. A Braille Dymotape maker is available from the store at The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, telephone: (416) 480-7446, for approximately $75. Using clear Dymotape the pharmacist would Braille the necessary information. The pharmacist would not need to learn Braille as the labeller contains print. Directions in Braille would, in most cases, require more space than normally available. As a result. it would be necessary for visually challenged individuals using this system to have a card, which has yet to be produced, with the Latin derivatives and their English equivalents printed in Braille for reference. The clear plastic Dymotape could then be placed over the printed label so that all required information would be available for the sighted and visually challenged user of the prescribed medication.

For those individuals who do not know Braille and/or suffer from neuropathy, container lids with large raised numbers could be developed that would indicate the frequency with which the drug should be taken. The cost of this method needs to be explored with the manufacturer of prescription containers.

Visually challenged patrons of any pharmacy who require the level of assistance these recommendations address are probably very few in number but their needs are definite and easily met. The Committee on Prescriptions and Braille would welcome any suggestions that might facilitate proper identification and use of prescribed medication by the visually challenged.


As a sign maker involved in creating braille signs for public buildings I'm interested in developing new solutions and technology to increase independance in these places.

I need to enlist the help of people who can give me insight into the challenges of navigating and the skills that are used in familiar places to navigate in hopes of adapting techniques to new places.

I wonder if anyone can help me get in touch with Ms. Coates as her situation and skills might be of great help in this project.

Thank you for your consideration,
Greg Bairstow.