Congress to Consider Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling

by Melanie Brunson

I am writing this article two days after the conclusion of the 2012 ACB midyear meetings and legislative seminar.  As events over the course of the weekend transpired, it is a good thing that I waited to write, because I now have the opportunity to share with you some exciting legislative news.  We now have a piece of legislation that puts in place the means by which people who are blind or visually impaired can have access to information about their prescription medications.  The bill was introduced by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Feb. 28, 2012.  Shortly after the introduction of the bill, Markey's office issued a press release, which I will quote in full below.  It summarizes the legislation's provisions and provides some background information on the issue that I think you will find helpful.

First, however, let me publicly thank Rep. Markey for his continuing support of issues of vital importance to our community.  I also encourage you to contact your representatives and urge them to co-sponsor this legislation, or to sponsor a similar bill in the Senate.  Please see below for the exciting details.
For Immediate Release
February 28, 2012
Contact: Giselle Barry, (202) 225-2836

** Markey Introduces Legislation to Improve Prescription Drug Labeling for the Blind

Advocates for blind and visually impaired visit Capitol Hill to call on lawmakers
to support H.R. 4087, the Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling
Promotion Act of 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With hundreds of advocates visiting Capitol Hill today to call on lawmakers to support his new legislation, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced H.R. 4087, the Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling Promotion Act of 2012, to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired have full access to the information included on their prescription drug labels. The legislation convenes a working group of pharmacy representatives, patient and consumer advocates, and federal regulators to develop guidance for pharmacists to ensure that the blind or visually impaired have safe, independent, and comprehensive access to their prescription drug information. The guidelines will provide pharmacies a range of options that could address the needs of their blind and visually impaired customers, taking into account the challenges faced by smaller pharmacies.

"No one should have to sacrifice their independence or safety to take their medication," said Rep. Markey, senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.  "Being unable to read prescription labels can lead to unnecessary illness and added emergency room visits. The Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling Promotion Act helps turn pharmacies into partners for empowering all Americans to take full control of their health.  It is another important step to ensure that individuals who are blind can fully participate in 21st century society."
 A copy of the legislation can be found at

Examples of best practices that the working group convened by Rep. Markey's legislation could consider include: enhanced visual aids such as large-print font, sans-serif font, and high-contrast printing for prescription labels; non-visual aids such as braille; and auditory aids such as digital voice recorders attached to pill bottles.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will review the degree to which pharmacies are in compliance, including determining whether individuals who are blind or visually impaired still lack safe and independent access to prescription drug labeling. The GAO will issue a report to Congress on the remaining gaps and the scope of the problem.

More than 25 million Americans experience vision loss that renders them unable to read prescription drug labels or other medication information independently. With the incidence of vision loss expected to increase with the rapidly aging American population, the consequences of being unable to read prescription information pose a significant public health challenge. People who are blind or visually impaired can mistakenly consume the wrong medication, the incorrect dose, or an expired drug because they are unable to read the label or to distinguish between medicine containers. Some patients have reported being victims of pharmacy errors due to the inability to verify the accuracy of a prescription label. Many with vision loss are forced to become dependent either on sighted companions, pharmacists, or even complete strangers to read them their prescription information. With Americans taking an average of a dozen prescriptions, those who are blind and visually impaired deserve options that ensure they can take their medications – or help a child take their medications – safely and accurately.

"Knowing what medication you are taking and the quantity is something that most individuals without vision loss take for granted," said Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind. "We are grateful that Representative Markey has introduced legislation that will allow for a greater level of privacy and independence for blind and visually impaired Americans of all ages who take prescription medications."

"For millions of people living with vision loss, being able to properly identify and take prescription medications is risky business just because container labels aren't readable," said Mark Richert, Policy Director for the American Foundation for the Blind. "We're so grateful for Mr. Markey's leadership to help us get the attention this serious public health challenge deserves."

"Blind people and those who are losing vision must have access to the critical information contained on prescription labels," said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "We thank Congressman Markey for introducing this legislation and look forward to participating in discussions to formulate best practices for making this information accessible." 

The legislation is endorsed by the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Perkins School for the Blind.