The process of shopping for people with disabilities could be a challenge. Recently, however, the beauty industry has been beginning to take action.
Shopping for beauty products can be an overwhelming decision for blind people, according to Sumaira Latif, with a 97 percent blind since she was 16 due to an inherited retinal disorder called RP, which is also known as retinitis pigmentosa. “You can’t do it alone.”
Latif is working in a position in which she has the potential to contribute to the cause. As the accessibility director for accessibility at Procter & Gamble, the firm that makes consumer products, where she has been working for over two decades, she advocates both at the corporate level and on the outside to improve the range of products available to consumers with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. In the UK only, people with disabilities make up a large consumer segment with PS274 billion of purchasing power, also referred to in”the “purple pound.”
However, very few beauty companies have specific strategies to compete. For the estimated one billion people worldwide with disabilities of some kind, shopping for beauty or personal care products is an ongoing source of stress. The fundamental task of identifying products isn’t easy for the around 217 million people who suffer from mild to severe visual impairments. Opening and using a product could be difficult for those who have difficulty gripping or have difficulty with dexterity or mobility in different ways.
P&G has a portfolio of 65 of the world’s most popular brands. They recently created the People With Disabilities Network, creating a safe and secure space for employees to interact with each other and discuss their experiences. The company also started an initiative in 2017 to promote and attract more employees with autism, created in conjunction with the National Autistic Society. And in October 2021, P&G hired content writer Lucy Edwards, who is blind, to be an ambassador for its affordable haircare line Pantene.
Practical innovation is also in progress. P&G started rolling out new technology in October 2021, dubbed Navilens, for Pantene Products in the US, and the first UK trial is planned for the end of this year. Navilens utilizes vibrant QR codes that are scanned using a smartphone application to provide read-aloud information about key products and shelf location information. The user does not have to be able to focus their camera on the QR code to allow it to function as numerous codes are recognized by Navilens from a distance.
This technology lets partially, or blind customers shop more easily and browse easily. According to Lucy Edwards, more integrated options are required, pointing out that just 10% of blind people can read Braille, which is a writing system used to interact with the visually impaired. Edwards was a participant in P&G’s first study of Navilens. “After nine years of not being able to shop independently, it [using Navilens] brought me to tears,” she declares. “I was very emotional because I could finally read everything.”
Other innovations are focused on making packaging and products simpler to use. Unilever’s owned Degree (branded Sure in the UK) has developed an experimental deodorant called Degree Inclusive. It eliminates the requirement to twist off the cap or turn a stick to pull downwards on the aerosol. This makes it simpler to apply to visually impaired persons or those with motor impairments in the upper limbs. In the current trial phase of the program, degree Inclusive is being distributed to people with disabilities to get feedback on ways to enhance the design. The P&G-owned Olay is the popular drugstore skincare brand working to revamp the jars of face creams it sells in the US that requires less effort to open. The markings are tactile and added to the Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners to make them more easily identifiable.
Independent brands, too, are contributing. Guide Beauty, launched in 2020, is a simple makeup line to apply regardless of the user’s grip, agility, or ability. The brand was started by a famous makeup artist Terri Bryant, who noticed that how she applied makeup had changed when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“We found a design team specializing in universal design and human factors engineering, and we also learnt a lot about ergonomics,” says Bryant. “I also started to interrogate every item in my kit, and ask myself why so many items seemed to rely on grip and stability — two things that many people lack or struggle with.” Guide Beauty’s most popular product includes Eyeliner Duo, which is Eyeliner Duo, which uses a soft and flexible tip with a tiny window that is cut to allow you to apply a winged eyeliner flick a lot easier.
Brands are also increasing their inclusive marketing. Samantha Renke, a broadcaster and disability specialist, believes that casting models alone are not enough. “We have a saying in the community: ‘Nothing about us, without us,'” she claims. “It’s evident that you see something just a box-ticking exercise rather than genuine positive changes.
Her emphasis on collaboration is getting better accepted by companies, she claims. “There’s no reason for companies to claim that they could not locate the right person to contact or the process was too difficult. There are many of us in the community who are active. We’re willing to consult about our expertise.”
Sometimes, minor changes could have a huge impact. One example mentioned in the article by Renke is the inclusion of alternative text (also called alt texts) to posts on social media which allows users with screen readers to speak the content out loud to people who are visually or blind impaired.
In the case of Guide Beauty, ‘s Bryant Limitations are simply in the abstract. “Disability is in a way designed. When I use eyeliner, I’m not in any way disabled. I’m quite able,” she points out.
For P&G, Latif acknowledges that there’s still plenty of work to do for the beauty industry to improve the quality of their products and their marketing. “There are so many things that we need to fix,” she declares. Latif recommends businesses seek help and direction from their staff as well as from prospective new hires with disabilities.
The attitudes are shifting, but the scope of the challenge could be a bit daunting. “There is still a lot of snobbery, and this sense that making products and services more accessible is too big an undertaking,” Renke says. Renke. “But just because something is harder work doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”