Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Packaging World Sealed Shut

How often have we struggled in anger or frustration as we tried to open a tamper-proof bottle of OTC or prescription medication?  Many times, elderly and blind adults look for the arrow on a bottle, which is often hard to detect.  Elderly individuals especially have problems with the pressure screw tops, only hearing the click, click, click with no results.  As if trouble getting to our medicine wasn’t bad enough, tamper-proof packaging now extends to other products like bottles of suntan lotion, baby oil, and the Avon product “Skin so Soft.”  They take minutes to open while you guess how much pressure to put on the cap so it opens smoothly without those annoying clicks or without simply bursting the contents all over yourself. 

Even food items like crackers, chips, and foil-wrapped condiments at fast food restaurants can be challenging.   Have you almost given up opening these packages and asked for sighted help, only to find that even they are no better at opening them?  If sighted people, who have the ability to read any opening directions, are having trouble, this is a big problem for everyone, especially the blind.

We long for the days when opening a bottle, jar, or package was not a struggle–when the twist of a cap or a gentle tug on a bag was all that was necessary.  Wasn’t that nice?  But unfortunately malicious product tampering in the eighties and nineties made companies much more cautious and out went the era of easy-to-open packaging so that their goods could be protected.  I don’t blame them for that, but there have to be better ways to implement packaging security.

When the blind and elderly complained that they found it difficult to open caps on prescription medication, sympathetic pharmacists put prescriptions in easy to open bottles.  My husband always complained about pills on cards and he would often ask me to open them.  When they heard of the problem, accommodating pharmacists would often put the tablets in bottles.  But now, with chain pharmacies, this seems to be the exception as policy supersedes customer satisfaction.

Recently I bought a tube of analgesic gel for gum pain and in frustration had to resort to opening the tube with scissors.  While I was able to use the product the first time, storing it for another time proved to be more difficult.  Plus, the gel was made to be kept in a sealed tube, not cut open.  Who knows if it will be any good when I got to use it again.

As I wrote this article, I asked myself why they can’t just make packaging standards a legal issue as a part of the rights for accessibility for elderly and handicapped adults.  But the biggest barrier is apathy.  Most people just deal with it because it’s what they’re given.  They don’t realize that this isn’t just something that affects the blind.  As aging baby boomers begin to experience arthritis, they too will face this growing problem. I wonder how they’ll react when their aspirin is just the twist of a cap away and yet they still can’t get to it.

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