The Accessible
QR Code

Mark Hewitt, CEO | Strategy & Innovation Lead and Alice Barrow, Accessible QR Programme Specialist

Making access to product information a basic human right for everyone.

This year, for the first time, the blind, the partially sighted and sighted communities can all access critical product information with a single QR code on pack, thanks to the launch of the Accessible QR.

Understanding the issue

217 million people around the world have moderate to severe visual impairments. For these people, using CPG products at all can be difficult, but accessing essential information about the product itself can be impossible. 

Imagine being unable to autonomously navigate shopping aisles or benefit from the new and evolving set of products brought to market. Consider a world where you can’t check ingredients or allergens, read unique instructions, or see concentration formulas. This was the everyday reality for those who are blind or partially sighted. And this was the challenge we set out to solve. 

Spotting an opportunity (and an injustice)

Working with many leading CPG’s, we know how important packaging information can be. Surely, in a world where everyone should be treated equally, navigating products like this should be a basic human right – something that everyone should be able to do and do safely, whatever their visual acuity? 

So, after doing some research we found that, while some features exist to support the blind and visually impaired with their on-pack content, most CPG brands would struggle to include additional app codes on their packs. With messaging and branding fighting for on-pack real estate, adding additional assets is very difficult for brands. 

Then there’s the consumers. Adding more codes to packs can create confusion. Consumers don’t have the time or energy for a complex buying process, so the net effect is often a lost sale.  

Accessible QR: a new packaging frontier

It was 2022 and we were working with Unilever to roll out their Global Connected Packaging program. By the end of the year, we had rolled out QR codes on billions of items. Unilever wanted their packs to be accessible to those who were blind or partially sighted, as well as those with good sight. The obvious option was to introduce a separate code. This posed two issues though – firstly, how do those who are blind or partially sighted know which code to scan? Secondly, the existing pack design would risk becoming crowded. 

We decided that rather than compromise, we would simplify the challenge. We’d create a new QR code that was more easily accessible and that would give the visually impaired an alternative way to learn about the product. 

The challenge of making codes accessible to all

There were several key challenges we needed to overcome to create a QR code that’s accessible to all. 

Firstly, for standard QR codes to be recognised, they need to be scanned at a distance of around 15cm. This requires a degree of accuracy that isn’t always possible where sight is compromised. Scanning a pack so closely also means that other packs and products positioned close by are not recognised by the scanning device, so the scan only works with one specific product at a time. 

Secondly, QR codes only work with the camera and the online search engine on a smartphone. Neither of these provide the accessibility features that are needed for the accessible QR to be a success. So, we spoke to our friends at Zappar, the Augmented Reality and Computer Visions company. 

Zappar has extensive expertise in creating codes and camera scanning and, between us, we developed an Accessible QR code solution that can be scanned at distance. Once scanned, it adapts to smartphone accessibility settings for native apps.

Making ‘accessible for all’ available to all 

Zappar made sure the Accessible QR code could be accessible to all, for free. It needed to be available within leading Global Accessibility Apps as well as within leading local market accessibility apps. As at the time of writing, Accessible QR is integrated into the existing and widely adopted Microsoft Seeing AI, BeMyEyes and Envision AI Accessibility Apps. 

To use the Accessible QR code, the user only needs to open their existing Microsoft Seeing AI, Be My Eyes or Envision AI accessibility app on their smartphone and use the Accessible QR code scanner function to scan the code.

For a standard QR code experience, the user simply scans the QR code natively with their smartphone camera. 

How Accessible QR works.

For those dependent on Accessibility apps, the Accessible QR makes it easier to find the correct products and easily access the information relevant to them, in-store and at home. 

The Accessible QR, when scanned by the accessibility apps makes it possible for a smartphone to: 

Accessibility QR recognition 

Since its creation in 2022, the Accessible QR code has already won 6 awards including Best Universal Design Winner 2023, PAC IOU and Biggest Societal Impact, Auggie Awards 2023. 

The popularity of the Accessible QR code is growing as more CPG organisations begin to recognise the many business and consumer benefits of deploying Accessible QR. 

Collaborating to create a robust and effective solution.

The Accessible QR code represented a true collaboration from experts in their own field. 

The Accessible QR code was built by leading global Augmented Reality and computer visions company Zappar, using their decade of experience in fast object detection and localisation on mobile devices. 

CEC identified the initial opportunity and helped navigate the Unilever business to secure buy-in of Unilever stakeholders at every level. We worked hand in glove with Unilever, who brought their vast scale, reach and world-class brands to bear on the project and as such, are leading the industry in Pack Accessibility using Accessible QR codes.

The RNIB provided expert assessment of the Accessible QR Code, validating the solution and UX that had been developed by Zappar and its ability to meet the needs of the visually impaired communities.

The Future for Accessible QR

Product Names
Audibly announcing the name of the product to help users identify the exact item on shelf. 

Listing ingredients and allergens for safer consumption. 

Nutritional Information
Delivery of nutritional content including calories, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, to help users make informed decisions.

Expiry Dates
Delivering the expiry dates of products to help users make informed decision.

Usage Instructions
Instructing the buyer how to open, access or use the product and even suggesting further use options to up-sell. 

Storage Information
Helping consumers keep products longer with information on the best way to store items or provide handling instructions.  

Safety Warnings
Alerting users to any safety warnings or precautions to prevent accidents or misuse.

Brand and Manufacturer Information
Sharing details about the brand, where ingredients are sourced, the manufacturer, and even sharing the brand or product story to help consumers understand the product they are purchasing. 

Contact Information
Providing simple company contact details, like phone numbers, links and support hotlines enabling.

Environmental Impact
Supporting sustainability. You can read more about this in our article ‘Beyond Green labels and Greenwashing’[link to article] or celebrate your sustainability efforts with information on the environmental impact of the product or recycling information. 

Competitions and Promotions
Communicating any promotional offers and competitions available to make your product community even more inclusive. 

Enabling AI

To help provide greater assistance at the point-of-use to aid with cooking, getting ready to go out or working out how to open and use new pack and product innovations. The AQR code will provide the true source of product truth, rendering all AI product assistance under a brand’s control.

While we work with brands and partners to develop more world-class innovations like this, we continue to work with brands to deploy Accessible QR onto more packs and into more markets every year. Our ultimate aim is twofold. 

1 - to get Accessible QR codes deployed on all products in all markets by 2030 and 

2 - that the ability to scan the Accessible QR code becomes native to smartphones during this period. This will ultimately make real the accessibility of CPG products for everyone, everywhere, whatever their visual acuity.


“Any improvement that can be made to enhance the detectability of existing optical codes such as the QR code is welcomed. This new Accessibility QR code solution provides an enhanced user experience with greater detectability and situational awareness. We strongly support the development of this initiative to improve the accessibility of product information for blind and partially sighted people. RNIB actively supports the introduction of solutions that can transform the landscape and provide equal access to information on packaging.” 

Marc Powell, Accessibility Innovation Lead, RNIB 

To learn more about how an Accessible QR code could grow your market and make your brand more consumer-friendly, email


Co-Written by Alice Barrow, Accessible QR Programme Specialist

Alice began her career as a Connected Packaging Intern at Unilever, working with global brands in the beauty and wellbeing sector. She recently graduated after reading Law at the University of Exeter and has since joined CEC to champion and lead inclusive user experiences, making packaging information accessible to all via the innovative Accessible QR Code. 

Co-Written by Mark Hewitt, CEO | Strategy & Innovation lead

Mark has spent his career helping businesses grow and lead in digital transformation. For the last 10 years he has successfully led brand, digital, technology and packaging businesses and worked with leading CPG brands, helping them operationalise Connected Packaging Programmes around the world. In 2022 he co-created the multi-award winning Accessible QR code with Zappar.

CEC Overview

For more than 4 years, CEC has been helping clients quantify the true potential of their Connected Packaging. From revealing the true business case for Connected Packs to establishing the infrastructure and helping clients scale, CEC’s talent, tech and data insights are helping businesses better understand consumer behaviour when they have the product in their hands. 

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