Everywhere I turned last week, that is in the virtual world, I was bombarded from all angles by articles or videos talking about or showcasing Coca-Cola’s usage of Braille on their cans and bottles. It was almost impossible to avoid the trending articles and beggared the question: is it inclusive design or a cheap advertising gimmick.
The Coca-Cola initiative generated talking points within the community of people who happen to be blind or visually impaired.
A frame taken from the Coca-Cola ad with the gentleman in the foreground feeling the Braille characters on the can spelling out his name.
Coca-Cola video sparked conversation and dialogue
It initiated conversations and dialogue across social media. Blogs were written about it. This article is part and parcel of all that activity.
Without it, this article, other blog posts and discussions would probably not be happening with the same intensity.
That is not to say these conversations don’t happen regularly. That would be ingenious to insinuate that.
These conversations happen regularly. The Coca-Cola initiative, if I may call it that, made this particular topic trend on social media.
The Coca-Cola adverts popped up in numerous groups I frequent and filtered into my Facebook feed. The excitement from within the the communities I interact with was palpable. It was infectious.
Addressing access issues
I can appreciate their excitement. A fundamental need was addressed, in the short term. That is the question of access. We all face it at one point in time or in different guises.
Another frame from the same advert. The man feels the Braille characters on the can of Coca-Cola.
It may not have been Coca-Cola’s primary goal to address the question of access. However, whether or not it was, they touched on it.
Did it really address the question of inclusivity and access? That is another, or “the”, question.
Share a Coke Campaign
Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was launched in 2011. It was initiated across 80 countries worldwide.
However, this phase fizzled out but it was recently reignited when Coca-Cola realised it had missed out a section of the population.
They personalised their cans using Braille, enabling people who happen to be blind to read their names on the cans.
The screenshots above and below are from the video. The woman and boy run their fingers over the embossed Braille on the cans to read their names for the very first time.
Coca-Cola collaborated with a Mexican ad agency, Anonimo, to create special editions of their cans for people who couldn’t see their names printed on the cans. Hence, the need for Braille.
They changed the names on the cans and shared the new versions with a not-for-profit, Fundacion ProCiegos: they assist adults who happen to be blind or visually impaired to find their way into the workforce.
The Braille cans with Spanish names were presented at the Comité Internacional ProCiegos I.A.P. in Mexico City.
They used a vending machine with Braille characters to dispense personalised cans to the users of the centre, providing hundreds of students with the opportunity to read their name on a can of Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola Video and reactions
The reactions from the video, as you can see below, are touching and overwhelming.
More can be done, however, not only by Coca-Cola but by more companies to make their products more accessible to users who happen to be blind or visually impaired.
Considering the profits multinationals make annually, it wouldn’t cost them much to add Braille to their packaging to allow users who have problems reading small print to read labels by themselves so they know what they are buying, allowing them to make informed purchases.
Pharmaceuticals and Braille Packaging
It is not impossible. The pharmaceutical industry is miles ahead in this respect. By law, their packaging needs to have Braille on it as illustrated below on the pack of Paracetamol.
From the 30th of October 2010, all medicines now in the UK and EU display the name and the strength of the medicine embossed in Braille on the packaging or on a label affixed to the package. This is to comply with a European Directive passed in 2004.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People [RNIB] conducted a survey of about 165 adult Braille users around the UK with regards to the implementation of the European Directive passed in 2004 for Braille on pharmaceutical products. They reported that:
- The Braille on packaging made a positive impact on users.
- Over 95% of the participants used the Braille on the packaging.
- Over 40% of Braille readers confirmed that the quality of the Braille on the product had improved than in two years.
- 4% believed it was worse.
The use of Braille on packaging helps people who can read it to locate products they need independently.
This addresses the question about access touched on above.
This initiative by Coca-Cola could extend beyond the realms of gimmickry and short term campaigns to create viral videos to improve their advertising or marketing campaigns or accrue social capital.
It could be a permanent fixture to their packaging: it will benefit users who happen to be blind or visually impaired.
It could be rolled out across the world empowering non-sighted users to locate their products independently.
Other companies providing Braille on their products
It is possible. There are companies who are already providing Braille on their labels to cater for customers who can read Braille as illustrated in the pictures below.
There are already some products on the market that have Braille characters embossed on their labels to make them more accessible to consumers who happen to be print disabled. It empowers them to make informed decisions about the products they are purchasing without the need for a sighted person to read out what the contents of the products are.
As illustrated above, Braille in the packaging can extend beyond gimmickry and address the aesthetics of the packaging as well which also improves their visual appeal to sighted users as well. This illustrates innovative packaging and a company that cares for its consumers.
It’s great to include people and demonstrate it as Coca-Cola have. It is good to find a way to include access.
Coca-Cola and other companies are able to produce automatic Braille which illustrates that there are facilities to make it possible to produce products with Braille.
Irony about Coca-Cola’s inaccessible video
Considering Coca-Cola’s best intentions, their video is not accessible. Why? They did not make the visuals auditory yet the video is about a community without vision.
If you haven’t got any vision, then you need auditory access. The community of blind people in that Coca-Cola video cannot access it.
It seems like they and other people who are blind or visually impaired were not the intended audience for this video.
It is a disappointment if you consider the quality of what they are doing because the video is a good idea.
However, it looks like they were catering for the visual world; they did not include the sight impaired community, yet this video was about the non-visual community.
The video above is difficult to access for people with visual impairments but are not blind.
However, the intention by Coca-Cola is great; the video is not very accessible although it could be. It is inaccessible because they did not use people that can’t see to monitor what they were doing.
Accessibility in books is central to the most popular children’s books we publish. It is a key issue in the design of our books. It is something we try to address in everything we do, including working with non-sighted users.
This is why our books are made in a dual format as illustrated in the interior pages of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? below.
They include giant print  point which makes it accessible to a wide variety of groups and not only people who have visual impairments.
They have Braille to cater for readers who happen to be blind and are Braille readers or learning it. Other blind people or visually impaired readers use electronic devices to access books.
Accommodating macular conditions and sight impairments
The pictures in our books are adapted from the originals and made more accessible for people with macular conditions or other sight impairments which renders the normal pictures inaccessible.
Elvira using the magic wand in her hands to conjure up the magic that transforms an image and enhances it to make it more visible to someone who happens to be visually impaired and would have problems accessing the image in a normal book.
People with dyslexia can access the books produced by Access2books. This includes disabled too.
About Access2book’s book design
People with general eye conditions can read large print or use Braille. The book design helps people who want to read but who have different sight impairments.
The books are also popular with children who find it difficult to read normal print. The giant characters and plenty of white space make the books easier to read.
A young girl at the Imagine Festival at the Southbank Centre reads an accessible copy of Norman the Slug With the Silly Shell published by Access2books. Her grandmother is leaning over her shoulder and listening to her picking through the giant print on the page set out from the white space.
The book design makes it usable by as many people as possible. It is unlikely anyone would read anything bigger than 75 point print on paper. It is too difficult.
People with general eye conditions will either be able to read large print or use Braille. The book design helps people who want to read who have got sight impairments of different kinds.
Our books are designed to be as accessible to as many people as possible within the whole community.
People who have problems with their neck and eyes can read 75 point comfortably without moving their neck and eyes.
People who are learning disabled are supported by white space, good clear print; it can be 18 or 20 point but they can read 75, and pictures that support the text in some way.
Access2books’ accessible formats contain as much of the easy read criteria as we can to include disabled people and other groups. The criteria is clear white space, clear printing, contrasting and clarity.
The interior page of The Very Hungry Caterpillar featuring the text in 75 point print with Braille below and just above the footer. The formatting illustrates the easy read criteria: that is clear white space, clear printing, contrasting and clarity.
People with dyslexia also benefit from clarity, white space and they can use glasses to put colour over the picture. Dyslexia comes in many forms. But if you like a cream background, you use glasses to add that colour or whatever colour works for your condition.
People who are deaf or blind will be able to read with either their sight or Braille.
People with mental health issues can be confused and stressed by their environment and that includes their literature.
Our books are plain; that enables them to read text without loads going on: it doesn’t affect their stress levels and anxiety.
The interior page of the book Things I Like illustrating the enhanced picture of the monkey with Braille descriptions just above the footer and below his feet. The de-cluttered image against a white background makes it more accessible because of the clear white space, the contrast and clarity which adhere to the easy read criteria.
People with mental health issues are enabled by our format to share and read books.
Loads of communities benefit from our design. And the reason the Braille is there is simply because it caters for people who can’t read normal text and need it to access books.
Making products accessible
There are plenty of things Coca-Cola can and could do to make their products accessible which doesn’t only include Braille.
Using giant print to highlight one or two keywords on labels or packaging is another way to address issues surrounding accessibility. Voice activated vending machines is another. There are so many untapped opportunities.
Benefits of addressing access issues
If Coca-Cola used Braille on their products, like other companies already do, it would give them a lot of publicity. It would make them look like a good diverse community organisation.
Their video is one of the best things they have done for their company. They have a reputation for creating great ads that work well. They are also memorable.
The impact of their viral video was really positive; they could have made it better by making it more inclusive by including the non-visual community.
They could have been seen as market leaders when it comes to inclusion if they asked the non-visual community and other disabled people to find out what would help them to identify their products and implement those changes.
It is a missed opportunity. This missed opportunity might not cost them business. They will probably make loads of money from the back of this Braille initiative.
Personally, the initiative is a bit too gimmicky. It is about them creating great marketing and advertising material and probably social capital. It is clever advertising and nothing more.
Creating viral videos is the next big thing in putting products out there without making it too obvious that is what you are doing.
Other companies that include Braille in their packaging don’t go about creating publicity hype. They simply do the right thing by being inclusive.
Therefore, the Coca-Cola initiative is just another cheap advertising gimmick and not inclusive design.