Everything you need to know about QR Codes

QR code with NCBI Labs logo in the centre

by David Redmond

QR Codes are everywhere. They pop up on TV to let you vote in talent shows, they show up on packaging to let you enter competitions, they even come through the door sometimes on the dreaded green slip you get when you have to pay customs on a package. But what are they? And how do they work? Welcome to the world of the QR Code, where a scan can take you anywhere.

What is a QR Code?

Basically, a QR Code is an image that when scanned can perform an action. They are usually square and contain lots of jumbled up black and white squares and lines. They can contain text, such as URLs or passwords, so that this info can be accessed when scanned. QR codes are now becoming part of the mainstream.

Scanning a QR Code might be quicker than typing out a long link, so they can be great for making people’s lives that bit easier. You might see them in places to help you get to a website quickly, such as on the menu in a restaurant or on an ad at a bus stop.

Recently when I received a leaflet in the post telling me I had to pay customs on a package, it had a QR Code that when scanned took me to the payment platform so I could pay on my phone. I was disgusted that I had to pay that extra €8, but at least it was a simple process. This is just one way that QR Codes can be used, but the possibilities are endless. And the biggest way that this is so different to the way we write Braille today, isn’t that you had to write it by hand, but that you had to write to left and in reverse so that when you are too the paper out and flipped it over you would be able to read what you had written.

How do I scan a QR Code?

How you scan a QR code depends on what device your using, but most modern phones will let you scan a QR Code Directly from their camera app. On iPhone for example you can just use the Camera App, or you can ask Siri to scan a QR Code and the QR reader of the camera will open. Once the phone reads the code, it displays a pop up asking what you want to do. Once you select your option, such as open link, you’re on your way to that code’s destination.

Are they accessible?

Really this depends how good you are with a camera. It’s not too hard to scan codes even with limited vision, but it might take a bit of practice if you’re not used to it.

Practice codes

Here are two codes you can use to practice. They both do the same thing, taking you to our new Labs YouTube Channel. The first code is a big standard code with just black and white, and the second contains some limited branding.

First our black and white code:

B&W QR code

Try scanning this with your phone and see if you can get to our YouTube channel.

Now, let’s try a branded one:

QR code with NCBI Labs logo in the centre

This does the exact same thing; it just looks slightly different. Be sure to subscribe to that channel by the way. We’ve got loads of awesome tech content planned.


QR Codes are a handy tool we can use to get to where we need to go, so do give them a try, and let us know how you’ve used them. You can contact us at labs@ncbi.ie or search for NCBI – Working for People with Sight Loss on all social media platforms.