Proper Labeling Can Be a Lifesaver for the Visually Impaired

March 2, 2017

Pills spilling out from a prescription pill bottle that has been tipped on its side.

With all the chemicals and substances present in a typical household, accidental exposures and ingestions can happen to anyone – but the risk of injury to those with a visual impairment is heightened. Medicines and household cleaners, if improperly labeled, can cause major problems for anyone, but just imagine how much easier it is to make an error if you’re having trouble even making out the container – much less what it actually says.

Vision loss is closely associated with aging, and aging is associated with an increase in medications. The chance that a person with visual impairment is going to require multiple medications is also increased. It’s important that they’re taking the right medications, at the right dosage, at the right times.

But medicine can be confusing, even to those with full sight. Throw in a visual impairment and you may have a bigger issue.

Technology exists to help this very problem, as Tammy Worth of Pharmacy Today explains.

“One possibility is offering Braille or large-print labels on medication containers. Electronic equipment is also available. Digital recorders attached to a container provide a voice recording of the label information when a patient presses a button. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags on containers announce the information on the container when the device is placed above it. Computer or other electronic devices can be used if a pharmacist encodes the drug container label for the patient,” she writes.

But often times this technology is not readily accessible. The good news is that there are some easy and inexpensive ways to help someone with a visual impairment keep track of their meds. Tactile labeling can help. If a patient knows that a certain medication has two raised bumps, or two bands around the bottle, it makes it easier. For those with less severe visual impairment, color coding the medicine bottles with high-contrast tape can help. Worth also suggests placing medicines in alphabetical order and always returning them to the proper spot on the shelf or drawer.

Of course, pill organizers can also be of assistance, as long as they have larger lettering and/or are color coordinated.

Medications are the only chemicals that a person with vision loss may come into contact with during a normal day. If they are doing any cleaning, they may have to use any number of products from bleach to ammonia to other high-concentrates.

Cleaning supplies tend to come in containers that all look and feel the same. This means that the chances of a mix-up are more than fair. In order to prevent this, it is suggested that dangerous chemicals be placed in their own, more distinct containers. Following the rules for proper labeling in general, we know that visually impaired people respond well to brighter colors and contrast – a bright green container with large, contrasting lettering for bleach and a bright red container for another chemical and so on.

And even if there’s not a lot of cleaning going on, chemical containers can mimic less toxic products like dish soap and laundry detergent. It’s best to simply repackage and/or relabel potentially harmful materials and ALWAYS store them separately.

Another solid tip for dealing with cleaning chemicals is to always spray the rag/cloth first, and if possible even buy supplies that are pre-soaked in cleaner. It can be hard to tell which way that spray nozzle is facing – especially when your vision is lacking.

In order to minimize potentials hazards from chemicals and medication, organization and proper labeling is key. If your vision loss is severe, audio technology may be necessary to help you differentiate between medicines. However, for many with a visual impairment, some color and textural contrast can work wonders.

Jackie Waters