Using Penfriend to Meet Health Needs

(Note: The following article has been submitted by the ACB Health Issues Task Force for your consideration.) 

The ACB Health Issues Task Force is working on a number of fronts to improve healthcare components for blind and visually impaired people. Last summer, we began by distributing free audio tape copies of pamphlets from the American Cancer Society, and this distribution is now ongoing. In October 2009, one of our members, Dr. Chris Cooke, had an article in "The Braille Forum" about HIPAA regulations. 

In this article, we tackle the issue of labeling. This has to be one of the more frustrating tasks in which we all engage on a relatively continual basis. When it comes to things like prescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements and over-the-counter health aids, the collection of unidentified things in the medicine cabinet can grow at an alarming rate. 

As one of several means of managing all this labeling, the task force wishes to bring to your attention a relatively new and inexpensive solution called the PENFriend. This easy-to-use device was developed and is manufactured by the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the United Kingdom. 

The PENFriend is small enough to fit into your pocket, and it uses small adhesive labels, onto which you can record whatever you like. The small, round labels are about the size of a dime. Larger round labels are about the size of a 50-cent piece. Similar in size to the larger round labels are squares as well. Each of these sizes is ideal for sticking to the top or side of a pill bottle. Several of our committee members have found that one of the three sizes can accommodate just about any bottle you'll get from the drugstore or pharmacy. 

Here's how it works. First, remove an adhesive label from a sheet of labels and place it on the lid of a bottle. Next, take the PENFriend, turn it on, press record, and touch the label with the device. When you hear a beep, say what you wish or have somebody read what you need from the bottle. That's it! Labeling your bottles, cans and other items as you unpack them from the store and put them away adds only seconds to the process. The ease of correctly identifying them can save you literally hours of time each year. 

There are a variety of sources these days from which to purchase the PENFriend. One source is the ACB Store (1-877-848-3218 or By making your purchase through the ACB Store, you are helping to support the work of ACB as Independent Living Aids and Maxi-Aids both provide a percentage of your shopping total back to ACB on any purchases made through the ACB Store. 

A few other sources include Bay Area Digital (415-217-6667,, Perkins Products, a division of the Perkins School for the Blind (617-972-7373,, and Speak to Me (1-800-248-9965, You can also check with your local area adaptive product reseller. 

The PENFriend runs on 2 AAA batteries, contains a USB port through which you can back up your information, and can also be used as an MP3 player through the speaker or with headphones. It comes with 127 labels; packages with 380 additional labels can be purchased for as little as $29.95. 

PENFriend is certainly not the only labeling system available today. But it is one of the least expensive, with a price ranging from $125 to $150, depending on the purchasing source. Labels cost between 6 and 7 cents each. Besides the adhesive labels, magnetic versions are on the way, and by the end of 2010, RNIB hoped it could offer washable labels for clothing, too. 

The ACB Health Issues Task Force realizes there are many options for labeling medications, and the PENFriend is just one choice. We believe that it is helpful to provide readers with information about these new devices that could make managing your medications and other items easier.