Student Design Improves Pill Bottle For Blind, Visually Impaired

Connie K. Ho for

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leader of the Transcendentalist movement, once said “Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley.” Two students from the University of Cincinnati have done just that; they recently applied for a provisional patent on the design and prototype of a prescription-medicine pill bottle that would help people who are blind and visually impaired. The design has universal appeal and can assist over 1.3 million Americans who are legally blind, as well as those who suffer from other vision impairment problems.

According to the University of Cincinnati, by the year 2020, there will be a 70 percent increase in the number of people who suffer from blindness. Many of these people will be baby boomers and the students´ design will especially address this population. In a statement, the University of Cincinnati students, Alex Broerman and Ashley Ma, described how the design was low-tech, simple, and inexpensive.

“Options that are currently on the market are more expensive and complex, dependent on technology and requiring a more expensive outlay on the part of the end user to purchase them,” expressed Ma in the prepared statement.

The students´ design features a number of interesting elements. One of the features is a lid that is attached to the bottle, as lost caps are problematic for the visually impaired and twist caps can be difficult for the elderly. Along with the bottle flip lid, there are eight different kinds of textures available. These textures would relate to various medications and would not be in Braille, as only ten percent of the blind and visually impaired are knowledgeable of Braille. Besides the lid textures, the design comes in a variety of dramatic colors that would be easily seen by visually impaired people and the bottles include a “fail-safe” audio button that announce the contents of the container. Lastly, the design also features a small rectangular bottle body that is two-by-two inches wide and three-inches tall; it allows a user to pick out a few pills without having to dump all the pills and pick out a few that will fulfill the dosage.

Other options currently on the market include a Wi-Fi connected bottle that glows when patients need to take their medicines, a radio frequency identification (RFID) monitor that has vocal description of the medicine when a bottle moves, and an audio recorder that plays back verbal instructions recorded by a pharmacist when the bottle is placed on top of the recorder.

“There are a lot of great technology-based solutions on the market already, but those are out of reach for users who can’t afford the time or money to learn these systems. We interviewed a number of blind and visually impaired users of medications, and the cost for an option like the RFID device is out of reach for many of them. In fact, many of those we interviewed had to develop their own custom solutions — like rubber bands around a specific bottle — to meet their needs to differentiate medications,” explained Broerman in the statement.

With their “Inclusive Pill Bottles for the Blind” design, Broerman and Ma are helping others and were recognized at Innov8 for Health, a business-concept competition organized by a number of regional institutions and businesses, with a $1,000 prize.

“It was powerful to hear the stories of those we interviewed in the early stages of the design process. These consumers, many of them elderly, are paying hundreds of dollars more than their sighted counterparts in order to aurally differentiate their medications. So the challenge becomes to create the best solution for the most number of people at the lowest cost, and we’re pretty confident that we’ve achieved something like that with this project,” noted Ma.

From June 5 to June 9, Broerman and Ma´s design will be displayed at DAAPworks, a showcase of senior projects from the University of Cincinnati´s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).

For more information about the project, visit their design process blog.