Accessible Code can be scanned and read using the default camera app of most smartphones.
A built-in voice playback function makes it easy to hear the text read aloud.
Text is automatically translated to match the display language of the user’s device.
The text and audio can be edited or altered at any time, without changing the printed QR code.
What is Accessible Code?
By printing the code on a product’s packaging, information such as how to use that product, its ingredients, and its safety precautions can be made available to a wider range of consumers. Information in up to 15 languages can be combined in a single code, making the essential product information available to most consumers without the need for separate instructions or braille on the product’s packaging. ( JP Patent No. 6947960 )
Accessible Code has been designed so that people with visual impairments can easily read the code with their smartphones and have the information read aloud using the built-in text-to-speech function. This technology, including the physical specifications of the printed code and accompanying packaging, were developed based on data gathered from numerous experiments with volunteers.
This report documents several experiments to test how people with visual impairments can locate and read the printed QR code using a smartphone. These tests were supported by NEDO (the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of the Japanese Government), as well as various non-profit organizations.
Accessible Code needs to meet the following specifications:
A QR code(1) should be used as the 2-D barcode.
It should be 16 mm (±1 mm) square, with a 10+ mm square code and the logo beside, and concaved or brailled on all four corners.
One side of the code should be no longer than 29 cells.
To prevent confusion, avoid printing the Accessible Code on the same side of the packaging as the product’s normal barcode.
The location of the code on the printing surface (the packaging material) should be clearly indicated using one of the tactile markers described below:
A raised dot with a diameter of approximately 1 mm should be placed in each of the four corners of the code – specifications identical to the ISO standard for braille are preferable.
The area surrounding the code should be concave to indicate its location.
While there are many ways to indicate the location of the code in a tactile way, such as using a sticker or making the whole code convex, the two methods above have been chosen to avoid logistical issues and confusion with the tactile aspects of existing packaging designs.
Additionally, as the QR code is black and white, it is easy for people with low or color-impaired vision to recognize.
Strengths of Accessible Code
Accessible Code was created over the course of three years with extensive input from an organization that provides support for people with visual impairments, who ensured that the code’s design would address the needs of that group. For people with visual impairments, one of the biggest barriers in everyday life is the difficulty of accessing information about items such as food, drink, and medicine. (The following is a multiple-choice questionnaire that was administered to 100 individuals with visual impairments.)
I wish there was a code on this type of item (“I wish I could easily get information about…”)
Food items – 50 people
Food products’ expiration dates – 35 people
Beverages (alcohol, sugar content, etc.) – 22 people
Food place of origin and raw ingredients – 19 people
Medicinal information (prescriptions, etc.) – 17 people
Information about clothing (color, material, washing instructions) – 16 people
Soaps and detergents – 14 people
Postal items (home delivery, etc.) – 12 people
Instant-noodle preparation instructions – 12 people
Train or bus timetables – 9 people
Restaurant menus – 8 people
User manual for electronics/appliances – 7 people
Documents from municipal governments – 6 people
Music CDs – 5 people
Accessible Code uses a standard, open-source QR code. Therefore, consumers do not need to download a dedicated app. They can use whatever QR-code reader software they already have to scan the code and have the information read back to them.
It is difficult to put multilingual information or braille on product packaging, but Accessible Code takes up a relatively small space (a 16-mm square). That one code can deliver product information to consumers anywhere in the world, regardless of their visual impairment. Seniors who find it difficult to read small writing can easily get the information on their smartphone and magnify the writing or listen to it.
The contents of Accessible Code can be changed (without changing the code itself) if necessary, such as in the case of a natural disaster or product recall.
The multilingual speech function of Accessible Code uses the most advanced speech synthesis technology available for each pair of languages and is connected via a system. As a result, services are constantly evolving, and the technology never becomes obsolete.
The audio playback produced by Accessible Code is slightly faster than normal speech. This is because the average hearing speed of people with a visual impairment is a little faster than that of people with unimpaired vision.
Benefits of Use for Manufacturers
Manufacturers who use Accessible Code can use the app’s admin panel to show where in the world and in what language the product information is being accessed. That same data can be downloaded in CSV format. Until now, POS data only tracked the point of purchase at the store, but today it is more and more common for products sold domestically to be used overseas. By using Accessible Code, it is possible to get realistic data about one’s markets throughout the world. (Location data is obscured to protect user privacy, so only a range of several hundred meters is given.)
Implementing Accessible Code
Adding Accessible Code to your products generally requires a redesign of the product packaging. That redesign process can be carried out simultaneously with the creation of your Accessible Code content. If necessary, please contact us, and we will introduce an experienced printing company to assist in the redesign.
The entire start-to-finish process typically consists of these steps:
The process begins with a consultation about the type(s) and anticipated yearly sales volume of your product(s). We will walk you through the pricing options and provide estimates for the cost of producing Accessible Code.
Based on that consultation, we will provide a quote for the total cost of implementation.
Upon confirmation of the quote, we will send the contract.
Prior to creating the text and voice for your Accessible Code, we will provide you with an image of the code itself for use in redesigning the product packaging. At this stage, we will have you provide the content (e.g., product information, instructions for use, etc.) to be delivered through the code.
As the product packaging is being designed, we will render the content in the desired language(s) and create the text-to-speech data for each language.
Once a sample of the product packaging is available, we will have the code placement/packaging design tested by our partners at Kobe Light House (NPO).
Once the packaging has been finalized, we will have you confirm the translation and text-so-speech data as it appears on the Accessible Code screen.
From this point, the new packaging is ready for distribution.
Once your Accessible Code has been created, you will be able to login and view analytics of the access data (such as where and in which languages the Accessible Code is being used).
Examples of Implementation
Accessible Code was employed in Japan for the first time in 2020, on the packaging of several OTC drugs manufactured by the Shionogi Group of companies. It continues to expand.
(1) QR code is a registered trademark of Denso Wave.
Watch the video
As we further develop and improve Accessible Code, we work closely with our uses to understand their needs and requirements. We value their input greatly and our advisors are an integral part of our process, providing advice and guidance.
Arakawa Akihiro, Managing Director of Rabbit Ltd.
Born in 1966, in Kyoto, Arakawa, lost his sight at age 9 due to retinal detachment. Mr. Arakawa started walking with his first guide dog, Quartz, in 2008. Gumi became his second companion in 2017, and he is currently with Kara. From early in his career, Mr. Arakawa focused on the role that IT can play in bridging the information gap caused by visual impairment. He currently manages a consulting company that provides knowledge, experience, and technology for visually impaired people. Mr. Arakawa organizes Sight World, the largest exhibition in Japan about services for the visually impaired and is involved in the development of official smartphone user guides for visually impaired people. Mr. Arakawa is the executive director of the Japan Council of Social Welfare Facilities for the Blind.
Wada Kaori, Chair of Kobe Lighthouse
After graduating with a music degree and while working as a musician, Ms. Wada visited a treatment center for back pain. The treatment center was run by the former chair of Kobe Lighthouse, and they recommended Ms. Wada join the organization as well. She joined in 2008 and contributed to the launch of the Continuous Support B Center in 2012. Ms. Wada’s connection to the field of welfare was strengthened through contact with those who used the center, in 2008 she became a certified care worker. In March 2021 she graduated from the Faculty of Human Welfare at Chubu Gakuin University, then obtained a mental health and welfare national license. Ms. Wada is also a certified music therapist and provides music therapy for children in after school care.
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