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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

How Do QR Codes Work for People with Vision Loss?

September 23, 2022 | 1 Comment

by Richard Stauder, CVRT CATIS

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QR Codes in the Community

QR codes are becoming more prevalent in the community. You will find them at restaurants to order your meal, get games on your phone, and obtain information about a community event. QR Codes, or Quick Response codes,  have been described as a “modern three-dimensional” form of the traditional two-dimensional bar code. Each code is a unique square usually made up of black and white dots. In comparison, a traditional bar code is a unique pattern of of vertical bars of black or white.

These codes are printed on paper or otherwise displayed on flat surfaces. They can be difficult to locate or be missed altogether if you cannot see them. Since QR Codes connecting you to digital content are becoming more prevalent, how can we access the same information as sighted individuals? Below is one example of QR Codes on Coca-Cola Freestyle machines found at some fast food restaurants. I experimenting using this machine to determine the accessibility successes and challenges.


Consider Security First

It is critical to mention digital security when discussing QR Codes. Scanning unknown QR Codes can be dangerous since they cause your device to run scripts or programming which connect you to a website, app, or other digital content. This connection could have hidden malicious code. Sscanning QR Codes from unknown or untrusted sources is not recommended.


Getting Started with QR Codes

On the iPhone, there are two ways to activate QR Codes, the Camera app and Code Scanner via the Control Center. The easiest way to access QR Codes is via Code Scanner through Control Center. Using this method will automatically activate the link built into the code, whereas using the Camera app will bring up a Banner Notification to interact with. In my testing of the Camera app, the Notification was inconsistent in showing up as a banner.


Setting Up Code Scanner in Control Center

  • Open the Settings App
  • Select Control Center
  • Scroll or Swipe down until you get to INCLUDED CONTROLS. This gives you the controls listed currently in your Control Center.
  • Continue Scrolling or Swiping through to see if Code Scanner is listed.
  • If Code Scanner is not listed, continue to the MORE CONTROLS section.
  • VoiceOver users will hear Insert Code Scanner. Double Tap with one finger to add Code Scanner to your Control Center.
  • Low vision users can Tap the little green circle with the white plus sign in the center next to Code Scanner. Note that Code Scanner will appear at the bottom of the list of controls.


Introducing Coca-Cola Freestyle

The Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispensers are those pesky touch screen soft drink machines found in some restaurants. You might find them at Five Guys, Wendy’s, Noodles & Company, Burger King and AMC Theaters, to name a few.

Downsides to the Freestyle Dispensers

  1. Consistency. The QR Code is programmed to be displayed on the screen of the fountain machine using software. Software can become buggy or can fail at times. In one instance with two of these machines at the same restaurant, I encountered one machine displaying the QR Code on screen, but the other machine did not. When displayed, the QR Code is found in the upper left hand corner of the machine.
  2. Pour button. You should be able to press and hold the pour button again to continue filling your cup. In my testing, this was not consistently the case. I was disconnected from the machine every time I lifted my finger from the Pour button. This made it necessary to close the browser and start from the beginning in order to finish filling my cup.
  3. Time: you will likely be taking more time than others to fill your cup. If there is a line behind you, you will unlikely be making friends.

Positives to the Freestyle Dispenser

  1. Hygiene: The biggest positive is there is no need to touch a screen that has been touched by others. Using QR Codes and your smartphone to control this machine was a feature Coke added for a touch-free and healthy way to dispense drinks.
  2. Accessibility: The fact that the linked website is accessible makes it an excellent feature for customers who would otherwise find the Freestyle machine inaccessible.
  3. Location: Having The QR Code in a set location on every Coke Freestyle fountain machine is also a definite positive. It is  in the upper left corner of the machine’s touchscreen.

Interacting with the Coke Freestyle Fountain Machine

  • Locate the central point to place your glass by using the ice dispenser lever as a reference point and guide.
  • Open the Control Center. VoiceOver Users can Swipe until they hear Code Scanner, then Double Tap to activate it. Low Vision Users should look for an icon with four small squares inside a larger square designed to represent a QR Code. Tap this icon.
  • Aim your phone camera toward the upper left-hand corner of the touch screen to locate the QR Code. Code Scanner will automatically recognize the QR Code and take you to the website.
  • Once the webpage loads, your drink choices are listed, e.g., Coke, Sprite, Fanta, etc. Swipe left to hear the choices then perform a one finger Double Tap to select your choice.
  • A second webpage will load with flavor choices for that drink selection. For instance, Fanta Orange, regular Coke or Diet Coke.
  • Swipe through these flavor choices and Double Tap to select one.
  • Continue to Swipe down to the Pour button located at the bottom of the web page. Perform a one finger Double Tap and hold on the second tap to begin pouring.
  • Release your finger when finished pouring.

Low vision users will be presented with graphics  representing each drink choice on the first webpage. Flavor choices listed on the second webpage are noted by color. For example, a Fanta Orange will have an orange border and a Cherry Coke will have a darker red border around the graphic icon.

Note there is a time limit. If you take too long making your selection, the connection to the machine will terminate and/or it may not control the machine as expected. For example, when activating the pour button, it may not begin pouring.



QR Codes, when implemented correctly, can be accessed by people who are blind or have low vision. These codes link a person to accessible digital content and can make life better for the public. To achieve this, QR Codes, and the digital content they connect to, must be implemented with Universal Design in mind. The problem of discoverability is still unanswered and better guidance to locate a QR Code is needed. The audible feedback offered by apps like Seeing AI for barcodes may be one option. Implementation of a similar feature in Code Scanner would provide a way to zero in on a QR Code to scan it. Adding in tactile feedback would make it accessible to those who are deaf-blind.

Share your thoughts and experiences with us below in the comments.



Coca-Cola News Posting:; First accessed July 2022, last accessed 09/14/2022

Find Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain machines near you (Note: not tested for accessibility):; Accessed: 09/14/2022

Related Articles:

Perkins School for the Blind Post about Coca-Cola Freestyle focused on the app:; Accessed 09/14/2022

Richard is the Assistive Technology Instructor at Second Sense

1 comment on “How Do QR Codes Work for People with Vision Loss?”

  1. DP says:

    Why do we not have this in the US?,to%20get%20used%20to%20them.

    We are looking for a solution to Braille indicate that there is a QR code and where to scan for an accessible trail.

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