Earlier this week I appeared on BBC North West Tonight as part of a news piece highlighting an exciting development to help make shopping more accessible to the blind and visually impaired. I was approached during October to see if I would be interested in helping to promote a collaboration between Kellogg’s and St Vincent’s School for the Blind in Liverpool. They have been working together to design accessible packaging that blind and partially sighted people can easily locate when doing their grocery shopping. I was asked if I would be happy to be filmed demonstrating how it worked.
Currently a trial of the accessible packaging has only been rolled out on Coco Pops and can only be found in select co-op stores, fortunately one of which is in Timperley, not too far from me. The actual packaging now has braille on it, as well as large print writing. Co-op is already one of the leading grocery stores for accessiblility for those with a visual impairment as they already do produce their own brand products with braille on. I wish more grocery stores did this. However this is not the most exciting part of the trial. The packaging also contains a QR code which is compatible with an app called NaviLens.
I had not heard of NaviLens until I was approached by the broadcast company involved in promoting the piece in partnership with Kellogg’s, RNIB and St Vincent’s School for the Blind. It is an app developed to access your smart phone‘s camera and scan your local area for QR codes. QR codes are bar codes that link to specific information. When the app detects a QR code, it will provide directions for you to locate where exactly the QR code is positioned, as well as loading up the specific information on your phone screen. It is already widely used by the visually impaired community in Europe, in particular on the underground system in Barcelona.
It is an incredibly exciting and intelligent piece of tech. When the app is open and scanning, it emits a clicking sound which gets louder and more frequent the closer you get to the QR code. It can detect QR codes from up to 30 metres away, depending on the size. Obviously, the bigger the code, the further away it can detect it from. Most importantly the phone camera does not need to be pointing directly at the QR code for it to detect it, so when out shopping, I can be walking down an aisle with my phone in my hand and no matter where the box is positioned on the shelf, it will still detect it and then through a mixture of listening to the sound cues and the directions spoken to me on my phone, I can then track it down.
Once I have tracked down the product I can then swipe the QR code with my phone which will then load up all the information printed on the packaging for me to read. This includes all the nutritional information, any preparation instructions and anything else that might be written on the box. Although the packaging is also labeled in braille, it is impossible to fit all the printed information on the box, as well as what it is, as braille takes up far more space than print writing. It is a clever way of being able to access everything I might need quickly and efficiently.
Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done before the system can be rolled out across all products and brands, but hopefully this is an exciting step forward in making grocery shopping more accessible. Currently, if I need to go in to a shop to buy anything, I have to ask a shop assistant for help. Personally I try to avoid this as much as possible and do all my shopping online, but sometimes you do just need to pick a few things up. I found it utterly liberating being able to walk round a grocery store on my own and locate what I needed to find. It is definitely something sighted people take for granted. I really hope the trial is successful and we start to see more of these QR codes popping up around us, to help blind and visually impaired people access the world around us more independently.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions or comments then please do get in touch.
Take care and stay safe.