Reading the Fine Print – Presbyopia and Product Labelling
Presbyopia is the inevitable loss of the ability to focus on near objects, which means that most people over the age of 45 need reading glasses. The effect is significantly worse in poor light conditions.
The ageing population profile of our country means that presbyopia will soon affect over 40% of Australians.
That’s a lot of people. You’d think therefore that product manufacturers would be trying to accommodate that 40% by labelling their products in a way that made it easier to read the packing or controls.
Many people with presbyopia do not wear their reading glasses all of the time. I for one do not routinely wear them to the shops or the theatre or to the football ground or wherever, because I don’t really need them there and they are just a nuisance to carry around. Of course I can’t wear them whilst I am driving or walking upstairs, etc because they blur distance vision.
Going out without my reading glasses should not be a problem in most cases. In my car glovebox there is a magnifying mirror with a battery-operated light, just in case I need to read my street directory. And a pair of ‘near-enough-is-good-enough’ specs that I can grab if I’m desperate.
Unfortunately, shopping is not as easy as it should be. Product manufacturers routinely label their wares in such a way that the weight, contents, cooking time, etc are in such micro-fine print that I can’t read the details even if I do fetch my reading glasses. If the product is very small, then small print may be inevitable. But even the largest packets seem to want to hide the important details in fine print. Have you noticed that the one thing that’s hard to find on a packet of pasta is the cooking time?! I really am tired of marching to my room to fetch reading glasses, just so I know how long to boil the spirali.
Of course, electronics is where this problems really is endemic. Mobile phones, DVD players, car radios, MP3 players and all the other electronic gadgets are evidently made by the one firm: Bastards Incorporated. It’s not enough that the print on the buttons/controls is smaller than it needs to be, they then print it in a colour that is almost indistinguishable from the background colour. Or use the ‘stainless steel’ look (eg on microwave ovens) so when you look at the control panel you see your own reflection instead of what is written in tiny letters on the panel.
And how about the labelling on the umpteen RCA sockets on the back of TVs and DVD players. Have you noticed that it is frequently part of the plastic moulding. Once upon a time this form of labelling was made visible by the manufacturer wiping a sort of paint roller over the up-raised lettering so that it stood out in relief against the background. Not any more. Given that most of these sockets are on the back of equipment, and usually poorly-lit, you haven’t a hope without reading glasses or a magnifying glass, a torch, and someone to hold the torch whilst you try to read the labels and connect the plugs to the right sockets.
Its about time that manufacturers got smart here. If the 40% of Australians who can’t read without glasses all decided to stop buying products that use poor labelling, a lot of manufacturers would be in trouble. But that’s probably not going to happen.
Instead, why not write or email the company responsible for the next poorly-labelled product that you buy. Tell them you like their product, but have trouble reading the print on their package or controls. Tell them you are one of millions who have that problem. Ask them to change their labelling practices to make it easier for more people to read.
To help you remember to do so, put the offending packaging aside in a “to do” folder. Or keep a notebook in the kitchen and jot down the details as you go. Then one day you can have a field day emailing companies and asking them to do the right thing.
It might just make life a little easier in the long run.