Case study “It shouldn’t be a luxury”: Marie Harrower on the Braille Campaign

As a blind person since birth, Marie has always been passionate about legalising braille labels on food. She became much more convinced 25 years ago when she found out about Co-op labelling their own brand products in braille. What a luxury so much easier to work with groceries when you can identify them.  Ever since,  it has puzzled Marie why other companies could not do the same.

Disability Equality Scotland had spoken to Marie about the importance of braille labelling, safety concerns, and why technology can’t replace braille.

What’s your experience with braille?

Braille is really the blind person’s print. I was blind since birth, and I went to the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh. So, I was educated in braille.

Braille is my go-to language. It’s a very simple method of reading and writing, and very useful and logical.

How would braille labelling make your shopping experience better?

Where labelling really comes into its own is when you arrive home with your shopping, you’ve got three or four products all in very similar boxes And you think – which one’s which? It’s not the shopping experience that would be a huge benefit,  It’s the storing and retrieving that would be an enormous help.

When there are no braille labels, I adopt a storage system. I have, for example, lotions and makeup in one bag, I store shampoo and shower gel in a separate bag or box and I write  labels  for some of the products. You can do some home labelling, but in the real world, it is time consuming.

Why is braille labelling important in 2024?

It’s so easy to pull out a tin or anything else when you go into your cupboard fridge or your freezer if you have a braille label that allows you to identify the product. There’s much more uniformity about packaging,  That wasn’t the case 30 years ago. It used to be easier because everything wasn’t wrapped in plastic or sealed   a carton. There’s almost no way to identify products today if they’re all packaged in the same way. If detailed information about the ingredients or cooking instruction is required, assistive technology is then useful and valuable.  

Sometimes, I put an  elastic band on a product so that I can identify and know that the product with the band on it is a shower gel, and the one without is a body lotion.  in 2024, I don’t think we should have to be doing that kind of thing. There are a couple of cosmetic companies that put braille on their products, that’s such a luxury,  but it shouldn’t be a luxury it should be normal  practice.

Can’t technology do everything that  braille does?

Braille provides very quick easy identification, scanning with the use of technology provides detailed information. What I don’t think people should have to do is scan every item to identify the product.

Firstly, you may not have scanning equipment, secondly, some people may find scanning difficult. there are people that don’t have or want smartphones. There is a piece of equipment called a “Penfriend Audio Labellers”: it allows you to digitally write the information on the label – like a scanning device. While it’s helpful tech, it requires you to record the information then stick the label onto the product, it is a good method of identifying products, but it does require some visually help to check you have the label on the correct product.  It’s perhaps not as practical for food because the changeover of food products is rapid.

What are your hopes for this campaign?

I believe it’s important that people grasp this very simple concept and need that people living with sight loss can independently identify packaged food,  We are not asking for a complete change to packaging, all we’re looking for is a simple safe method of identification of a food product.

Many people I’ve spoken to about the campaign will say ‘It’s a no brainer,  There should be a braille label on products.’

We are having to go round in circles to achieve something that should be standard and common sense. We’re only asking that braille should be included in the production process.

It’s difficult to relate to our challenges, that is perfectly understandable, Many people have never really thought about it. We need to increase awareness and understanding to achieve our goal,  That would be my hope.

For more information about the campaign, including details on how to support the Scottish Parliament petition, visit: https://inclusivecommunication.scot/braille-campaign