World Braille Day! Why Braille Labels Should be Commonplace

In packaging and labelling, the focus is often on functionality and the appearance of the product. However, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 45 million people who are either fully blind or visually impaired – meaning millions of people will experience products through touch, not through sight. While some countries have mandated braille on medical packaging, it is mainly left to consumer goods manufacturers to decide how to cater to the visually impaired, if at all. Packaging with tactile elements, whether braille or tactile symbols, can cater to a new audience and expand marketability.

‘Only a handful of beauty brands have invested in packaging that’s accessible for the visually impaired,’ according to Vogue Business. One brand that invested early on is L’Occitane. As Vogue Business detailed, the founder of L’Occitane noticed a blind customer in a store feeling the bottles in an attempt to get familiar with the product in the 1990s. As a result, the company started incorporating braille into its packaging in 1997. While the majority of the brand’s products now feature braille, its progress has not come without struggles: around 30 percent of the brand’s products still do not feature braille due to technical constraints. According to Vogue Business, ‘The brand has found it particularly challenging to include such lettering on smaller products like soaps and tubes.’ L’Occitane is justified in this struggle: designing for touch, rather than sight, is a new and challenging avenue of inclusivity. Packaging for the visually impaired must overcome two challenges: design and application.

Designing packaging that is meant to be touched as well as seen presents unique challenges. Brand strategist and L&L columnist Vicki Strull explains some of the elements that must be considered. ‘The intent of sensory marketing on packaging is to engage and connect with customers at the retail shelf. What we’re really talking about is haptics and texture, but it’s a poignant technique to engage and assist the audience we’re talking about, the visually impaired. I work with a variety of food brands, including a premium dried-fruits brand. If we were designing for the visually impaired, we might include packaging and pouches that have a different texture for each product – cherries, apricots, plums, figs, raisins, cranberries and so on. The design would be engaging for any shopper, but would specifically alert someone who is visually impaired as to the product differences.’

‘I think it’s important to note that when you take into consideration a specific audience – in this case, the visually impaired – your design shouldn’t detract from the experience of your broader audience. Rather, the design is an addition to ensure you’re meeting the needs of a specific audience, i.e. it’s inclusive. We’re actually adding a layer of communication that can also dual purpose as engagement for our sighted community, and we’re using haptics to do that. Designing for inclusivity can have a payoff for brand engagement, according to Strull: ‘From what I see with brands that are focusing on inclusion and specific audiences, when you do include design that supports their needs, that audience, that community, is appreciative. They hear about it, they share it with their fellow communities, so brands actually get a very niche targeted audience talking about their product because they’ve identified needs and supported those needs in their packaging design.’

In terms of considerations printers and packaging designers need to account for with packaging for the visually impaired, Strull says: ‘You need high contrast, you need large fonts, you need a lot of haptics. We’re designing for the sense of touch, and that starts with the substrate.’ ‘Then you go into different textures,’ she continues. ‘You might include some tactile finishing, some spot gloss, maybe some matte or soft touch. It could be overall or spot, depending on the intention of the label and what it is communicating about the brand and to the shopper. Because we’re talking about different finishing techniques, converters have lots of options conventionally and now they are easily executed digitally, using Scodix or MGI. Once digital finishing is involved, then the possibilities are endless, down to personalizing, making each one different, and other versions.

‘As a brand, you’re always listening to your audience (or you should be). When you understand how a package can assist them, engage them, and provide information, then you can create a package that is not just inclusive, it creates a memory, a perception, a sale and even a 5-star review.’

Braille Ale and Other Examples

While adding braille is an additional step in the design and production process, some companies have found it to be more than worth the effort. Last year Kentucky-based converter Steinhauser partnered with West Side Brewery and the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) to print a specialty beer label named the Braille Ale. This Braille Ale label recently won best of category in the Graphic Media Alliance 2021 Print Excellent Awards for the flexographic printing category.

West Side Brewery is not alone in catering to the visually impaired with tactile packaging. Domino recently partnered with Procter & Gamble (P&G) to print tactile symbols on Herbal Essences bio:renew line of shampoo and conditioner bottles. To better serve visually impaired customers, the Herbal Essences’ shampoo bottles now feature a raised stripe while the conditioner bottles have raised circles. P&G decided to use symbols, rather than braille, for a variety of reasons.

Scheid explains: ‘We live in a world of labeling and coating cost savings, efficiencies and lack of errors. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and this is the first time ever that this tactile project was a form of social responsibility, and I don’t think you can measure that. P&G wasn’t looking for more shelf space; what they were hoping was that all their competition would end up embracing the same level of social responsibility to consumers.’ He echoes Vicki Strull’s thoughts: ‘Anything that you can put on your packaging that will help the visually impaired will just expand your market space.’

World Braille Day – January 4th


World Braille Day on January 4 is celebrated to honor the birth of Braille’s inventor, Louis Braille. Braille’s gift to the world has brightened the lives of millions of people around the world who are blind or visually impaired, and they benefit from his work every day. The day also acknowledges that those with visual impairments deserve the same standard of human rights as everyone else.

The term ‘Braille’ was dubbed after its creator. Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his eyesight as a child when he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl. From the age of 10, he spent time at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in France, where he formulated and perfected the system of raised dots that eventually became known as Braille.

Braille completed his work, developing a code based on cells with six dots, making it possible for a fingertip to feel the entire cell unit with one touch and moving quickly from one cell to the next. Eventually, Braille slowly came to be accepted throughout the world as the main form of written information for blind people. Unfortunately, Braille didn’t have the opportunity to see how useful his invention had become. He passed away in 1852, two years before the Royal Institute began teaching Braille.

Braille’s marvellous aid that opened up a world of accessibility to the blind and visually impaired was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In November 2018, January 4 was declared World Braille Day. The first-ever World Braille Day was commemorated the following year and it was celebrated as an international holiday.

Mike Howell transcribed the New Testament Bible into braille in celebration of World Braille Day (January 4). Howell, who has a sight loss condition called Retinal Aplasia, took on the project to transcribe all 27 books using his Orbit Reader device to edit and create texts. He commented: ‘Transcribing the New Testament was a vast pleasure and a vast challenge at the same time. I gathered together as many versions of the Bible in braille as I could get my hands on and also some in audio book and studied them very fastidiously. I find braille doesn’t have many limitations.’

David Clarke, chief operating officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, added: ‘Braille can open the door to greater independence, knowledge and more personal choice, whether it’s the ability to read the latest novel or labels on bottles to distinguish household products. Braille continues to play an incredibly important role in RNIB’s work.’

Campaign to Demand Retailers Provide Braille Labelling

To mark World Braille Day, charities are calling for a statutory duty to be placed on businesses and retailers to provide braille labels on food products detailing the name of the item and the use by and sell by dates. Currently, braille labelling is only required for medicines, meaning the visually impaired are not able to identify the food products they wish to purchase and use. A petition championed by Sight Scotland, Oban and District Access Panel, and Disability Equality Scotland has been published by the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee at the Scottish Parliament and will now be sent to the Government for a response.


Craig Spalding, chief executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans, explained: “We are today, on World Braille Day, launching a campaign calling on the Scottish Government to introduce new legislation which would force all retailers to provide braille labelling on food products. “It is simply unfair that braille users cannot currently identify the food products they want to buy and use. People living with sight loss have the same rights as anyone else and ensuring information is available in braille is vital for the inclusion of visually impaired people in our society. We know that some businesses and retailers are already taking action to produce more information in braille. However, the vast majority of products are still not labelled in braille.”