The decision by a Canadian chocolate maker to produce packaging for the blind and visually impaired is one of many campaigns launched this year by companies trying to make their products more accessible to people with disabilities.
Purdys Chcolatier created a box of chocolates for the Christmas holidays with both a braille label and a braille caption for the chocolates inside.
“When it launched online and in select stores, it sold out within hours,” said Julia Cho, brand marketing manager, from its Vancouver plant.
“I know the box is not perfect and we have so much to learn, but for me it encourages me that this is a step in the right direction.”
The company, which has 80 stores across Canada, has rushed to produce more braille boxes, and Cho says another series will take place in the new year.
“There is a lot of work to do”
Some large companies are focusing on inclusive products and packages in 2021, says Christina Mallon, head of inclusive design and accessibility at Wunderman Thompson, a creative agency in New York City.
“There is a trend towards inclusive product design, and I see that in 2022 it’s going to expand even further,” said Mallon, whose clients include fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger, the tech giant. Microsoft and the Unilever consumer goods brand.
Still, Mallon, who is disabled, says the movement is painfully small compared to the needs of the disability community.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, 6.2 million people, or about one in five Canadians, have a disability. About 1.5 million of them identify as having a loss of sight.
Purdys designed its box and braille caption in consultation with members of the blind and visually impaired community. The National Federation of the Blind of the United States estimates that only one in ten blind people can read braille.
“It’s rare to find braille on a product,” said John Rae, a retired Torontonian who has been blind for most of his adult life. He said he was happy to be able to buy a braille box.
“Many products or services are not designed or built with blind people in mind. “
An online video from the company features the emotional reactions of community members to the box.
Businesses embracing inclusive design
When it comes to packaging, creating more inclusive or accessible designs has several elements.
“This ensures that you can easily open the package. And then it ensures that you can easily manipulate the product to make it work,” explained Mallon. “And that guarantees an easy grip, easy tearing, open and perforated edges; ensure that a person with a visual impairment can actually identify the product. “
Mallon, who has paralysis of both arms, has struggled as a consumer with difficult-to-handle packaging and products, as well as clothing.
Her personal experiences have helped her guide Unilever in creating a more accessible design for its Degree deodorant brand.
Earlier this year, a new container for Degree was tested with 200 Americans with disabilities.
Company Online Videos Pin up disabled athletes using the product. One more informational video shows the hook-shaped container cap, ergonomic lower handle, Braille labeling and large applicator.
A team of experts, including Mallon, and other people with disabilities participated in the design process.
Unilever has not announced when the product will launch, but Procter & Gamble sells Oil of Olay face creams with a “easy-to-open cover” in line.
The company also did not patent the design and published it on the Internet so that other manufacturers can use it.
Some beauty brands have been offering accessible forms of packaging for years.
L’Occitane has started put braille on their packages in 1997.
Canadian social media influencer Molly Burke, who is blind, criticized the packaging of a number of beauty products in online videos.
Much more work needed to create the change
There are also signs of progress in packaging design in other industries.
Kellogg’s tested a more accessible QR code design this year to help visually impaired customers identify products and obtain information about them.
Microsoft created easy-to-open packaging for its Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Mallon celebrates these far-reaching efforts, but says people with disabilities are still too often low-priority customers.
“I’ve been doing this for about seven years,” she said. “And I can name all accessible products and mainstream brands on both hands.”
People with disabilities are a huge market
Mallon points out that people with disabilities represent a huge market.
According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of the world’s population, or about 1.1 billion people, identify as having some form of disability. WHO says this makes people with disabilities the largest minority group in the world.
Return on Disability, a Canadian research and advocacy company, found that the number of people with disabilities around the world represents an emerging market the size of China plus the European Union, with $ 1.9 trillion in disposable income each year.
Add to that estimate an aging population in many counties, which will mean more consumers with disabilities in the future.
Yet Mallon says she still meets business executives with doubts about the value of this market.
“I think some brands are still hesitant because they think it’s still a niche market that doesn’t have the money,” she said.
Peter Athanasopoulos agrees that doubting the disabled customer is a mistake.
He suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident as a teenager and has limited use of his fingers.
Today, he is the Director of Public Policy for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and lives independently in Bluewater, Ontario.
He says people with disabilities are great customers for companies that make it easier for them to use their products and packaging.
“I get very loyal when I see a business doing that. When I find something that works, I stick with it,” Athanasopoulos said. “So there is value to this business.”
He also believes it’s time for businesses to step up the pace of change. “Are they improving fast enough?” I would say no. ”
Young designers learn inclusiveness
In design schools across the country, designers of products and packaging of the future are learning to incorporate the values of inclusiveness and accessibility into their work, explains Donna Saccutelli.
Saccutelli, professor of graphic design at Seneca College in Toronto, helped the school launch a targeted inclusive design program for businesses just six months ago.
The 120 places quickly filled.
Saccutelli said that “there has been a lack of awareness in companies with decision makers” about accessible design.
Today, she trains designers to think that inclusiveness is just as important as environmental sustainability.
“Where is the world today, we have to do it.”