It might feel impossible to think back to a time when consumers didn’t have many product options to choose from. Now with mega-stores like Amazon, it feels like possibilities are limitless. But for millions of Americans with disabilities and limitations, there are still only limited accessible product options.
People with limitations or disabilities have largely been left out of the conversation surrounding consumerism. That has started to change in recent years. These consumers want to be just as self-sufficient as other groups. Companies are finally starting to listen to the demands for change. Thus, the concept of ‘accessible design’ was created.
Access for All
The point of accessible design is to create products that can be used by everyone. That is why this growing field is also called universal design, barrier-free design and assistive technology. All these names suggest a field centered on inclusivity.
Inclusivity is so important because the point of accessible designs is not to make the users feel like part of an ‘other’ category of consumers. Accessible products are made to be enjoyed by everyone so no one group is singled out. And when 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has some type of disability, functional and easy-to-use products should be commonplace in the market for these millions of consumers.
Who needs these products?
Along with people experiencing disabilities, accessible products would also benefit aging adults, people affected by severe or chronic illnesses, and children still developing their motor skills. All these groups of people might have difficulties with strength and dexterity. These are key parts of handling and using products.
For people lacking strength and dexterity, certain products can be very frustrating.
These three product groups can be most challenging to open:
All three types of products are meant to be consumed. So they are usually packaged in airtight containers or complicated packages to preserve freshness. For people with difficulties and disabilities, these packages can be impossible to open without assistance.
Food & Beverage
In the food and beverage category, cans, jars, and bottle lids can be especially hard to open. Tabs on cans need to be forcefully pressed up and pulled. Cans need to be opened with a can opener with steady hand for support. Bottle caps and screw-on lids need to be pinched and turned with force to open. Also, fresh foods requiring preparation prove to be a challenge since knives require a lot of grip strength. Many types of foods are hard to open and prepare. This can make it difficult for people with disabilities to access healthy options.
As for pharmaceuticals, there is a lot of debate about creating accessible packaging. All medicines have child-proof bottle caps or packages to avoid any accidents and keep children safe.
However, aging or ill consumers often times need many medicines or supplements and have trouble opening the bottles or packages. Medicine bottles with child-proof lids require force to push down and turn. Foil blister packs for pills require force for the pills to be popped out.
How do you keep one group safe while alleviating the frustration of another group? Accessible designers are still trying to figure out how to answer this question.
Packaging Changes Lives
Designing universal packaging can be a challenge, but it has potential to change lives. Consumers with limitations can have the chance to use products without assistance, allowing them to become more self-sufficient. Accessible packaging has the power to transform a purchase experience into an experience of empowerment.
Packaging is very important to the marketing of both a product and its larger brand. Some designers might be wary of diving into accessible packaging. However, making packaging that is aesthetic, attention-grabbing, and accessible doesn’t require that much more work or material. It just requires a bit more empathy and creativity.
To make packages universally accessible, ergonomics is the key. Products and packages created with ergonomics in mind are easier for consumers to hold, grip, open, and use. They are created with the human consumer in mind. And are tailored to fit comfortably in the consumer’s hands.
This ease of use makes it possible for everyone to consume the product. For example: Imagine a food and beverage pouch that fits easily in small or large hands. One that doesn’t take much force or pressure to squeeze the product out. For an individual with physical limitations using this pouch could create an enjoyable customer experience, instead of one that is filled with frustration.
Universal Packaging is profitable
If businesses create accessible packages that can be used by everyone, they are likely to see many benefits from it. Not only will consumers be satisfied, but profits will increase. A significant portion of consumers experience some kind of disability or limitation. They are looking for products to meet their specific needs, and companies to meet those specific product needs. Companies can do this while also appealing to other groups of consumers with the same products.
Pioneers of Accessible Packaging
Many companies are already testing out accessible products in the marketplace. Some of these innovative companies include:
- Microsoft – In May of 2018, the well-known tech giant released the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This product made headlines as the first accessibly designed video game controller. Even the product packaging was made to be disassembled by people of all ability levels. The packaging contains many rings of plastic or ribbon for people to easily grasp and pull the box open with little assistance. To get the actual product out, there are several options. Based on ability level, consumers can slide, push, or pull the controller out – all without having to use much force.
- Nestlé Australia – Nestlé Australia partnering with nonprofit Arthritis Australia to figure out how to make products more accessible for aging consumers.
- Innocent – This drink company moved away from traditional cartons for their juices, instead opting for bottles with larger and wider caps. The bottle shape allows consumers with strength difficulties to grip it more easily. The large cap allows consumers to twist off without having to strain themselves.
- Whole Foods – Although the products were taken off the market due to backlash about sustainability, for a time, Whole Foods sold pre-peeled oranges. Fruits and vegetables can be hard to peel and prepare. Pre-peeled and prepared foods can really make a difference for people who would experience discomfort doing these tasks.
- Chobani – Chobani recently introduced squeezable yogurt pouches. The soft and accessible pouches are easy to squeeze, making it easier for those with strength and dexterity issues.
Creating universal packaging is important to the success of the product itself. Kevin Marshall, the creative director of design at Microsoft, perfectly summed up why this is true for brands. He said, “We treat packaging as part of the product,” because “Packaging really has the potential to validate and shape consumer experiences.”
An Accessible Future
Big-name companies like Microsoft and Nestlé are leading the way on accessible products. It’s likely that other brands will begin to follow. This is good news for both companies and consumers. Reaching more consumers means more market share and profits for brands. And for consumers with disabilities and motor limitations, it seems that greater accessibility and empowerment are in their future.