The packaging and processing machinery industry is witnessing a significant shift towards inclusivity and accessibility. Today’s AIPIA World Congress discussion between Sarah Masters of Unilever, Mark Hewitt of Connected Experience Consulting (CEC), Marc Powell of the Royal National Institutes of the Blind, and Caspar Thykier of Zappar, highlighted the ongoing efforts to make product information more accessible to the visually impaired community through the use of QR code technology.
|Read more on the Persil project, published earlier this year in Packaging World.
The dialogue opened with a stark portrayal of the challenges faced by visually impaired consumers in accessing product information. The scenario described a woman—a fully sighted woman—entering a store filled with products intentionally bereft of branding or messaging, and struggling to identify products due to the lack of accessible information. This dramatization underscored to sighted people the reality for millions worldwide who cannot see the information necessary to use products safely and efficiently.
Masters from Unilever emphasized the scale of the issue, noting that "there are 39 million people around the world that are blind and many, many more, hundreds of millions, that are partially sighted." This reveals the dual importance of addressing this challenge, not only as a moral imperative but also recognizing the commercial potential of catering to a market with significant spending power.
Unilever and its partners have been developing: making packaging more accessible through the use of the humble QR code. The enhanced QR code, developed in collaboration with Zappar, features a distinctive pattern around its edges, enabling it to be detected and scanned more easily by visually impaired users.
Thykier explained the technical aspects of the solution, stating that the "D3 pattern around the corner of the code" allows for detection at greater distances and guides users into the optimal scanning position. The approach is designed to deliver structured information in an accessible format, ensuring that visually impaired consumers can receive the same product details as sighted individuals.
Marc Powell, Head of Accessibility and Innovation at RNIB, shared personal insights into the daily obstacles faced by those with visual impairments. Powell, who has been registered blind since he was young, described the difficulties of navigating stores and accessing product information. He stressed the importance of technology in transforming the lives of visually impaired individuals, allowing them to participate more fully in everyday activities.
The initiative has already seen positive feedback from the visually impaired community, with one individual expressing that the technology would enable them to cook for the first time. This sentiment was echoed by another speaker from Unilever, who pointed out that the technology allows people to treat medical conditions privately and with dignity.
To ensure the widespread adoption of this technology, Unilever has taken a proactive approach, sharing its findings and encouraging other companies to follow suit. The company has rolled out the enhanced QR codes across 18 brands and millions of items, with plans to expand further in 2024. The initiative has also garnered attention from other industry players, including spirits giant Diageo, which itself is beginning to recognize the value of making their packaging more accessible.
Hewitt from CEC added details on the challenges of scaling such initiatives within large organizations. He emphasized the need for a clear business opportunity, simplicity in execution, and the ability to inspire and guide teams across different functions. The representative also highlighted the importance of innovation, suggesting that the technology could have broader applications beyond the visually impaired community, much like how audio books have become popular among sighted individuals.
The panel of stakeholders called on the industry to take action, not just for the sake of innovation but because it is the right thing to do. They urged those involved in packaging and processing to consider the impact of their work on the visually impaired community and to take simple steps to make a significant difference.
The discussion concluded with a reminder that accessibility should not be an afterthought but an integral part of the packaging design and packaging operations processes. As the industry continues to advance, it is clear that accessibility will remain a key focus, ensuring that all consumers, regardless of their abilities, can access the information they need to use products safely and independently. PW