What’s a QR Code and How Can Seniors Use Them?

06 Jun

These boxy digital codes are popping up all over the place. Just a couple days ago, I saw one on a bottle of dish soap and another on a map of the DC metro bus system.

So what are they? QR codes (short for Quick Response) are 2-dimensional codes that can hold data such as a web address, phone number, email address or geo location.

How do they work? The easiest way to read a QR code is with a smartphone. You’ll need to install a QR code reader on the phone (there are several free QR code readers), and then it’s simply a matter of capturing the QR code with the phone’s camera.

How are QR Codes Used?

Businesses, organizations and city governments are finding new and creative ways to put these codes to use. Companies have used QR codes in billboards to deliver more in-depth product information. The city of Tamarac in Florida rolled out a city wide initiative to use QR codes to reach out to its residents — the codes are used in the city’s quarterly magazine, parks and public art.

Gardeners can obtain in-depth information from QR codes on plant tags. The code takes you straight to a mobile optimized web page with information on plant growing and harvesting details — much more information than is possible to squeeze onto the back of a plant tag.

How Can Seniors and Senior Service Providers Use QR Codes?

Think of QR codes as paper-based hyperlinks. Add these codes to flyers, brochures, and other places to provide a quick portal to additional information. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Business Cards. These cards can often become overcrowded with information printed in font that is too small. A QR code can contain a vCard (or virtual business card) that can easily be stored in the phone’s contacts address book.
  • Nutritional Information on Menus. Special diets require additional attention to dietary needs and nutritional information. Restaurants and care communities may use convenient icons to denote heart-healthy items, gluten-free items, etc. However, by adding a QR code next to menu items, people can have quick access (in larger, easy to read font size) to complete nutritional information.
  • Activities Calendars. Add a QR code next to key activities. The code can take you straight to an event web page with complete information on date, time, location and other details.
  • Brochures. Add a QR code to your brochure and link to a video,  photo album or other web page.

Admittedly, QR codes are only just beginning to make their way into U.S. culture. (They’re very popular in Japan.) But with smartphone usage on the rise — up 60% in the last year — it’s worthwhile to explore how these devices can be used to optimize seniors’ access to information. And, QR codes offer great potential for a wide range of practical uses.


Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


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5 responses to “What’s a QR Code and How Can Seniors Use Them?

  1. Peter Korchnak

    June 20, 2011 at 8:32 am

    I recently discovered, quote by accident, that generates a QR code for every link you shorten. Sign in to your account, and on your list of shortened links hit Info Page+. Nifty.

    • Donna Arriaga

      June 20, 2011 at 9:03 am

      Wow, that’s fantastic. (Nicely done!) Just last week I took Annikka to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and several exhibits had QR stickers. The QR code for the dolphin exhibit, for example, takes you straight to a YouTube video with some pretty impressive dolphin footage. QR codes are popping up more and more. Thanks for the info!

  2. Peggy Argento

    December 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Are there handheld, (portable) non-phone/computer devices which read q r codes for seniors who don’t have access to smart phones, ipads or computers?

    • Donna Arriaga

      December 29, 2011 at 9:59 am

      Hi Peggy,
      Thanks for your thoughtful question. I am not aware of handheld, non-phone/computer devices that read QR codes. If these stand-alone devices exist, it’s likely they would be a specialized piece of equipment with little overall practical use for a general consumer (e.g. think of store’s price check bar code scanner).

      The best way to think of a QR code is to remember that it functions like a paper hyperlink. It’s not clickable, of course, but a QR reader on a smartphone will allow you to scan the code and view the corresponding webpage (or other content).

      But more to an underlying point in your question… What if a senior doesn’t have access to a smart phone, ipad or computer? In these cases, a QR code doesn’t do a lot of good. But good QR code placement — especially considering senior accessibility concerns — should include alternative means to getting the information such as a phone number, URL or easily searchable key words. Hope this helps!


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