Panadol-, Centrum- and Sensodyne-branded lines are among the 1,500+ products whose labels are being made accessible to blind and partially sighted people thanks to a partnership between health firm Haleon and Microsoft Corp. 

Using Artificial Intelligence technology that narrates product labels, new enhancements in the Microsoft Seeing AI app will mean consumers who are blind, have low-vision or have difficulty with reading the labels of products due to low literacy, can find out more detailed product information. By scanning the barcode of Haleon products they can hear important information such as name, ingredients, and usage instructions. Through the enhanced functionality that Seeing AI offers, Haleon will help empower people to care for their own health independently.

In the UK, more than 2 million people are living with sight loss (NHS) NHS reports that in the UK, “more than 2 million people are living with sight loss. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted” (data from 2022). and 8.5 million2 people have very poor literacy skills (National Literacy Trust) National Literacy Trust reports that 8,503,000 people in the UK can be described as having ’very poor literacy skills’. In an independent study of visually impaired people commissioned by Haleon, 93% of respondents said they don’t feel health products are accessible enough and almost one in five have taken the wrong dosage as they couldn’t read the packaging effectively. Haleon, driven by its purpose to deliver better everyday health with humanity, believes that health products should be accessible. The collaboration is the first step in driving health inclusivity for this community.

The Seeing AI app was developed by a team of Microsoft engineers spearheaded by project lead and engineering manager Saqib Shaikh, who lost his sight at the age of seven, and was driven to develop the app by his passion for using technology to improve people’s lives.

Shaikh said: “I’m really excited to see the launch of this enhanced product recognition functionality, developed in collaboration with Haleon. Seeing AI’s intelligent barcode scanner plays audio cues to help you find the barcode, and now the information displayed for Haleon products is coming straight from the manufacturer, providing richer information including usage instructions and ingredients. This can be invaluable for someone who cannot read the label, leading to greater independence.”

Tamara Rogers, chief marketing officer at Haleon said: “Helping people access vital information on our products is one of our first initiatives as we do our part to make everyday consumer health more inclusive. We hope Microsoft’s Seeing AI capability to narrate labels across Haleon’s products brings greater independence to our consumers. At Haleon, we have set ourselves the goal of helping 50 million people to be more included in opportunities for better everyday health by 2025, by tackling three big barriers that we know put everyday health out of reach for too many of the world’s citizens; Health Literacy, Healthcare Accessibility & Bias and Prejudice.”

The Microsoft Seeing AI app is free to download from the Apple App Store, and will be available on Android in the future. To use Seeing AI on Haleon’s products, the user should hold their phone camera over the existing barcode on the packaging. The app will read out the product name and all text on the packaging. The user can skip ahead or move back to the relevant section they wish to listen to, for example which flavour or how to use the product. The Haleon barcode functionality will launch in the UK and USA first, with plans to expand globally and add additional languages in the future.