I live with a chronic illness and an allergy to a common inactive ingredient for pills, so I frequently use assistive technology for medication labels to ensure that I am taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs correctly, as well as checking ingredients of medication to ensure I am not allergic to them. There are several different options for reading medication labels with low vision, ranging from low tech/no-tech items that don’t require any additional technology to smartphone applications, and today I will be sharing the most popular options for using assistive technology for medication labels, aimed at blind and low vision users.
Bump dots or tactile stickers are raised adhesive plastic dots that come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They can be affixed to many different types of surfaces, though I like to add them to the lids of pill bottles when I have two or more bottles that look visually similar. A pack of 80 bump dots can be purchased on Amazon for about $15, making them a low-cost option for adding tactile labels.
- Amazon.com: Mixed Bump Dots, Mixed Sizes and Colors – 80 Count : Health & Household
- How To Create Tactile Images With Everyday Objects
Braille stickers or labels typically contain information about the patient’s name (for prescriptions), medication name, and dosing instructions. Scriptability is a popular service provider for braille prescription medication labels and is available at several pharmacies- there is a provider locator on their website where customers can search for participating pharmacies in their area, and the labels will be added to their medication bottles free of charge. Since I am not a braille user, I don’t have any personal experience using this technology for myself.
For over-the-counter medications, braille stickers and labels can be purchased online and affixed to medication bottles by the user.
- Scriptability participating pharmacies
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Request large print prescription medication labels
While Braille labels may be difficult to locate, every pharmacy I have used has offered large print prescription medication labels and handouts for anyone who requests them. Labels and printed information typically use a minimum of size 18 point font and list the patient’s name, medication name, and dosing instructions. Labels can be further enlarged with magnifying glasses or other visual assistance applications.
RFID labels use text-to-speech technology to provide information about medications for users who are blind or that have low vision. A label is affixed to the bottle that the user scans with a device such as a smartphone, scanning pen, or specialized medication tool, and the information for the medication is read out loud by the device. RFID labels can be requested at many national pharmacy chains, or users can purchase their own RFID labels online and manually add medication information.
Voice labeling systems
Some users may prefer natural sounding voices over synthesized text-to-speech voices, or may require specialty instructions for medication. Voice labeling systems utilize RFID labels and use a pen shaped portable scanner to have labels read out loud. There are a few different voice labeling systems available on the market, though the one I have the most experience with is the PenFriend, which also supports the transfer of MP3 files and costs around $150 USD.
- MaxiAids | PenFriend 3 Voice Labeling System
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ScripTalk is the leading provider of RFID prescription medication labels and provides users with two different options for reading prescription medication labels. One is the ScripTalk mobile app, which can be downloaded onto a smartphone for scanning labels, and the other is the ScripTalk Station, which is a device about the size of a smoke detector that allows users to place their medication bottles on top of the device to have information read out loud. ScripTalk is available at many national pharmacy chains and hospitals free of charge, and is also available through the Veteran’s Health Administration/VA hospitals.
Visual interpreter applications
Visual interpreter mobile applications such as Aira, Be My Eyes, Seeing AI, Google Lens, and Google Lookout can read text for prescription and over-the-counter medication labels out loud, either by using optical character recognition tools or having a person read the information out loud. Users can use a text recognition tool or scan barcodes of bottles to get product information.
While Be My Eyes is a great option for reading over-the-counter medication labels, I personally do not feel comfortable using it for prescription medication bottles that often contain identifying information such as my name, address, and other sensitive location information, because Be My Eyes uses volunteer interpreters that are not required to follow privacy laws. If I need information about a prescription label, I will use an app that has the ability to recognize text like Google Lens instead.
Microsoft Seeing AI for Haleon products
Microsoft’s Seeing AI application has enhanced support for accessing over-the-counter medication labels for Haleon branded products, which includes popular products such as Voltaren, Advil, Centrum, Tums, and many more. Users can scan barcodes of products in the Seeing AI app and receive enhanced dosing instructions and other information read out loud or displayed in large print.
Other options for using assistive technology for medication labels
- Accessible Pharmacy Services for the Blind provides several options for mail order prescription medication- learn more on their website accessiblepharmacy.com
- Another option for identifying medication bottles is to purchase color-coded caps or easy-open caps that can be attached to pill bottles. Please note that easy-open caps are not considered childproof since they can be easily opened, and they should be kept out of reach of children
- Braille and large print pill organizers can help patients organize medication for the day or week
- Another option for reading medication information, including ingredients lists, is to search the National Drug Code (NDC) value on the DailyMed database that is maintained by the Food and Drug Administration. This can be accessed at DailyMed (nih.gov)
- Users should avoid removing medication from its original packaging or container, per guidance from the Food and Drug Administration