VIP Code Reader, A New QR-Code-Scanning App Designed Specifically for People with Visual Impairments
The majority of smartphones in use today (iPhone, Android, etc.) contain a vital accessibility feature: a screen reader. With the screen-reader function enabled, a smartphone will automatically read out any text that is displayed on the screen. This feature makes it possible for people who are blind or have other visual impairments to operate their devices. (The steps to activate the screen-reader function on an iPhone, called VoiceOver, are shown below):
A study on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices by people with visual impairments showed that the usage of smartphones has doubled between 2013 and 2017.
Thanks to the prevalence of this technology, most digital text is readily accessible, even to users who are visually impaired. Many visually impaired users can easily locate the digital information they are seeking by employing input methods such as Siri, which allows them to search the web and navigate the phone using only voice commands.
Using Siri and other, similar methods is effective for finding information that is hosted on the web or otherwise digitally available, but printed text and other non-digital media still present a barrier to people with visual impairments. When faced with a pamphlet, poster, or leaflet, they are often forced to ask someone to read the text for them. VIP Code Reader was created with this situation in mind. By making printed text available in the form of a QR Code, that text can be displayed on a smartphone and read aloud simply by scanning the code and using the phone’s screen-reader function. The VIP Code Reader app was developed by Export Japan with support from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The app’s interface and features were designed after an extensive trial process conducted through partnership with several support and advocacy groups for people with visual impairments.
The results of those trials showed that three specific conditions are needed to ensure that the QR Code can be read quickly and easily:
- The area must be adequately lit
- The printed code must be of adequate size and not overly dense
- The user must be able to determine where on the object the code is printed
Of these conditions, the first is dependent upon the setting in which the code is used, but the second and third can be ensured by establishing certain standards. In order to create those standards, it was necessary to consider the different media on which the code would appear. A flat, printed object such a poster would necessarily be treated differently from a bag or box.
In the case of a flat, printed leaflet, poster, or other similar medium, the position of the QR code can be indicated by cutting approximately 1 centimeter off one of the corners, next to which the QR code is printed (as pictured below). This method of indicating the location of the code, which is both effective and easily implemented, is called a “Berman Corner” after its Canadian inventor, accessibility consultant David Berman. The Berman Corner is already in use outside of Japan.
In the case of product packaging, the dimensions and physical properties of the printed surface often make the Berman Corner unfeasible. Instead, the location of the QR code can be indicated using four raised dots (similar to braille dots), each of which is located near one of the corners of the square code. The effectiveness of this method was proven during development of QR Code Reader. This QR code with raised dots, along with its particular standards for implementation, is being developed separately by Export Japan under the name Accessible Code.
Feedback and input collected from various volunteers with visual impairments show that even with the increasing commonality of QR-code-reading apps, not all of these apps can easily be used by someone who is blind or otherwise visually impaired. It was this feedback that inspired Export Japan to create VIP Code Reader, which is specifically designed to meet the needs of people with visual impairments, and to make it freely available throughout the world.
In so doing, it is our hope that we can move the world one step closer to realizing a global society that is accessible to everyone.