Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: #NationalSafetyMonth June

Labeling Our Medicines Accessibly

#NationalSafetyMonth June

June is #NationalSafetyMonth, so our Transition Tips focus on tools to help us keep control over our own health. Both preparation and access to information allow us to enjoy our summers and have confidence that each of us has the tools to monitor and take care of routine health needs.

In this third installment of #NationalSafetyMonth June, we delve into the “Why” and “How” of labeling medicine containers so that they are non-visually accessible.

Why Label Medicines?

Many medicines come in different shapes and sizes, particularly medicines we buy over the counter. While we can use the shape of the bottle to identify the medicine, this method won’t work with medicines in similar packaging. Additionally, when we are sick, we don’t feel our best, and we might not want to rely on identifying a medicine solely by the shape of its container.

Braille Labels

Braille labels can provide easy and ready access to the identity of a medicine container for braille readers. We can also feel free to use whatever shorthand braille we wish; these labels are for our use only, so we can choose a label that makes sense to us.

Getting the braille label

Options include using clear braillable labels and a Perkins Brailler to make braille labels. Just load the clear braille label paper into the brailler and braille away. Other options for using a brailler to make labels include other labels/stickers that are not clear or using braille paper, cardstock, or index cards for the label. Regardless of the method used, cut the label out and place (or tape) it on the medicine container. We could also use a slate and stylus instead of a brailler.

Additionally, there are several options for accessing a braille labeling device. They include:

Handheld braille label makers

Electronic braille label maker

Choosing the label text

For example, even though I buy generic pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol is the name brand), I label my large container “tylenol” and my travel-size container “ty.” I know what it means, and that’s all that really matters. I also use a marker to write a large “T” on the lid of the container for quick visual access.

Where to place the label?

I love that I get to choose where to place the braille label on the container. While the print label is usually wrapped horizontally around the mid-section of the bottle, this is not an easy way to read braille (at least not for me). So, instead, I place the braille label vertically on the side of the bottle, with the beginning of the label at the top of the bottle. This way, I can easily find and read the braille label without even picking up the bottle!

When medicine comes in boxes or plastic packs, I use the same principles in applying braille labels. Sometimes, I’ll put the medicine in a zippered plastic bag and affix a braille label to the bag (this works well for the small vials that contain albuterol for my nebulizer). We may choose whatever works best for each of us; there are no “rules.” After all, the labels are for us to use – not to look pretty for someone else.

Other Tactile Labels

There are many types of non-braille tactile systems we can use to label our medicines. We can:

  • Use tactile stickers with different shapes
  • Use tactile stickers with different textures
  • Use different numbers/placements of tactile stickers
  • Use rubber bands
  • Use a combination of these methods

The possibilities are limitless. However, an important key to using a non-braille tactile labeling system is to remember the system! We can make electronic documents and/or audio recordings to help us remember the system we used. This is particularly helpful for medicines we don’t use often (like ointments and creams for injuries).

Electronic Label Systems

With any of the following electronic labeling systems, we can easily use the system’s labels to record and re-record audio messages. Note that each system has its own proprietary labels, and these labels are not interchangeable.

After creating a recording on a label, just affix it to the desired object. Then, use the device to access the audio recording stored on that label. Each of the devices below is battery-powered, and each has a built-in speaker.

Reizen Talking Label Wand

This tool offers a built-in headphone jack in addition to the speakers in the wand. We could not find documentation regarding the maximum audio recording length per label, but the system can support up to 250 hours of playback.

PENfriend 3 Voice Labeling System from RNIB

PENfriend labels can record up to 60 minutes of audio. Thus, in addition to labeling medicine, we can use these labels to store music, audiobooks, etc. Like the Reizen Talking Label Wand, the PENfriend 3 pen can support up to 250 hours of playback.

In addition to the labels that come in the initial set, PENfriend 3 offers labels that are waterproof and laundry-safe. This really opens up the number of ways we can use these labels!

PENfriend even has three free software tools to allow us to manage our labels on a computer; we can even transfer data from an old pen to a new one or retrieve past recordings. Check out the PENfriend in action in these PENfriend videos.

Retailers offering the current PENfriend 3 Voice Labeling System include:

VOXCOM III 100 Voice Labeling System with 100 Cards

The VOXCOM III 100 Voice Labeling System allows us to record 10-second messages on cards. Note that these cards are relatively large, and they do not come with a way to stick them on a medicine bottle. One possible workaround is to put both the medicine bottle and its card in a zippered bag. However, this is a bit cumbersome.

Retailers offering the current VOXCOM III 100 Voice Labeling System include:

Sighted assistance

Of course, we can also use sighted assistance if we choose. That sighted assistance may be a friend or acquaintance in person or on a Zoom or Facetime call. Alternatively, we can use online visual assistance programs like AIRA and Be My Eyes; find out more in the “AIRA Access Points and Be My Eyes Apps” Bridges Blog post from April of this year.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Bridge’s Technical Assistance Center’s Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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