Using Coca-Cola Freestyle Machines with Low Vision

My brother and I went to lunch the other day at a restaurant that uses a Coca-Cola Freestyle Machine, where customers can select a drink of their choice using a touchscreen and have it dispensed into their cup. While we saw lowered buttons that (theoretically) made the machine accessible to people who use wheelchairs, I started to wonder- how would someone with a vision impairment use this machine, which provides no touch or audio feedback? While we waited for our food, I decided to run some web searches to see what I could find, and ended up on the Coca-Cola website. Luckily, it appears Coca-Cola had already partially thought of this with the release of their Coca-Cola Freestyle app.

What is the Coca-Cola Freestyle App?

The Coca-Cola Freestyle App allows users to customize drinks and select their favorites. It requires users to create an account, which includes choosing a display name, email, password, and a birthday. Make sure to write down login information though, as each time the app is updated, users have to log in again. App registration takes less than a minute, and the app itself is free. Download the Coca-Cola Freestyle app for Android on Google Play here and for iPhone on the App Store here.

Required technology skills

For someone to use this app, they would need to possess the following technology skills:

  • Basic knowledge of a smartphone
  • Ability to use a keyboard to type information
  • Search for and select an icon
  • Navigate an app menu
  • Drag items across a small portion of the screen
  • Ability to point device camera at another object
  • Use magnifier/zoom on phone (depending on preference)

Interface

The app is fairly easy to figure out, as users use the bottom part of the menu to navigate to different sections. There is a QR icon in the corner for synchronizing app data to the machine- more on that in a minute. The bottom sections include the "favorites" section for selecting drinks, a Freestyle machine locator, and a profile section that doesn't provide much information other than the terms of use and the option to sign out. The app requires a couple of features to be approved, including camera access for the QR icon and location services for the store locator.

Accessibility

This app could be improved tremendously if it was compatible with screen readers, as the icons for drinks do not feature alt text (read more about alt text and why it matters here). Because there is no screen reader support, I instead used the magnifier on my phone to enlarge icons, though I was able to recognize many brands based on their color scheme, and I guessed which flavors were available in the same way. One thing I did appreciate was that the app was compatible with the large print on my phone and it wasn't too hard to navigate- read more about my app accessibility checklist here.

Creating mixes

Whenever I use one of these machines, I always get the exact same drink, which is a mix of three Dasani flavored waters. I was able to import this recipe using the "favorites" section of the app, under "mixes." From there, I was able to select up to three different drinks that would mix together, which I selected by tapping on the large brand icons and then the smaller icons with the different colors/flavors. After selecting all of the drinks I wanted to mix, I could choose which percentage I wanted of each type of drink. For example, if I wanted a drink that was 50% raspberry water, 25% peach water, and 25% strawberry water, I could configure that with the app. I just stuck with the default settings though, which is equal parts of each drink.

Screenshot of magnified Coca-Cola Freestyle app showing three Dasani water flavors and the percentages of each.

Selecting single drinks

If I didn't want to mix a drink together, I could select the "drinks" section of the app, under "favorites." This allows users to select single drinks so that they can remember their favorites and not spend time scrolling through the menu on the machine, which may be difficult to read. It's important to remember not every machine will have every brand of drink, so it might be worth it to select a few favorites.

Using the QR code to get drinks

After saving different drinks to my profile, I went over to the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine and located the QR code on its screen, which was in the bottom right corner. From there, I tapped the QR icon on my phone and scanned it, so the machine synchronized with my profile. My favorite drinks and drink mixes were then displayed on the machine in the same order as they appeared on the app, with the mixes at the top, favorites in the middle, and recommended drinks on the bottom. If I was not with my brother, I would have used my phone to zoom in and make sure I knew which drink I was selecting before I dispensed it. Once I selected which drink I wanted, all I had to do was push the button on the machine and it dispensed right into my cup.

An imperfect solution

As of publishing time, the app is not accessible to screen reader users, making this app an imperfect solution to using a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine with a vision impairment. After all, this solution requires a smartphone, which people may not have access to. However, if you are a person with low vision that is looking to find an easier way to get a drink out of a soda fountain, then the Coca-Cola Freestyle app is for you.

Add new comment

Read more about: Assistive Technology