Blind advocacy group’s bid for safe drug labelling in B.C. gets boost

Human rights complaint seeks better prescription medication labelling

Blind rights advocate Rob Sleath is a step closer in his bid to have Shoppers Drug Mart label its prescription medication for sight-impaired customers.

Shoppers failed in its bid to have the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismiss the complaint made by Sleath on behalf of independent advocacy group Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers.

“I think it’s fair to say the whole landscape has changed as a result of that ruling,” Sleath said Tuesday of the June 10 judgement. “I think they were pretty confident they would win the dismissal.”

Sleath’s June 2, 2014 complaint claimed that Shoppers discriminates against sight-impaired individuals who purchase prescription medication at its B.C. outlets.

Shoppers argued it doesn’t compromise the health and safety of its blind customers by not using radio-frequency identification—or RFID—technology in its labels.

ASIC is seeking that everyone with a visual disability get access to the high-tech labels, the tribunal judgement said.

While he denied Shoppers’ bid, tribunal member Walter Rilkoff wrote that the decision doesn’t “mean or suggest that ASIC’s complaint will necessarily succeed.”

It added that the drugstore chain “ignored (Sleath) for years until after he filed a human rights complaint.”

Shoppers is now offering other accommodations to assist visually-impaired customers.

Sleath said the company made a counter-offer four days later that was “much improved.”

The Richmond man has been advocating for the blind for many years, but said this case became personal for him in 2008, when he was diagnosed with acute renal failure.

He went on dialysis and was given 10 medications to take, but he had no way of reading the bottles.

Then, in 2014, he mixed up two insulin pens and ended up in hospital.

Overwaitea Food Group now offers medication with the high-tech tags, which allow a special electronic device to read out key information including the patient’s name, dosage, side effects and warnings.

But Sleath said that service takes seven to 14 days.

London Drugs also offers the service, but it takes up to 10 days.

Walmart is supposed to be doing so, but hasn’t followed through yet, Sleath said, adding that Costco hasn’t been approached yet.

About 727,000 people in B.C. are affected by one of four major eye diseases that lead to blindness, as well as 64,500 who are legally blind. Others have print-reading disabilities, including dyslexia or age-related vision problems, and they also stand to benefit, Sleath said.