Beauty and the Blind: accessible beauty products for VI women?

Marketing campaigns by beauty brands are everywhere, eager to appeal to a wider consumer base. Offering foundation shades for every skin tone, ethical lines using only sustainable ingredients and solutions for every skin ailment, it seems brands want to cater for every possible beauty need. The variety of products is vast, occupying a huge square footage on high streets and with huge presence online. Still, as a visually impaired woman, I find very few skincare and beauty products are designed with people like me in mind. I sometimes feel like the fashion and beauty industry has forgotten about visually impaired women. It’s something that is changing, which is great news not only for me, but also the 285 million people worldwide who are blind or visually impaired. It simply doesn’t make business sense for brands to ignore the needs of such a huge pool of potential customers.

The problem is rarely the product themselves, but rather the packaging they are presented in. Identifying different products is the main difficulty. Imagine two similar products from the same range, which are often in the same packaging except for different labelling and colours. A day cream and night cream, a shampoo and a conditioner or a lip liner and an eyeliner can be hard to distinguish without access to the visual characteristics of the product. We visually impaired women learn to identify our products by their feel or scent. I have often labelled my products with tactile markers, sellotape and elastic bands, but really, who wants to spend time doing that?

I’m pleased to report that some brands have launched initiatives which have made life a bit easier for visually impaired consumers. Proctor and Gamble introduced raised markings on some of their Herbal Essences products making it possible to distinguish between their shampoos and conditioners. L’Occitane have been striving to include braille on their products since the 1990’s and brands like Bioderma have followed suit. This is great news and encouragingly, other brands are making similar steps, but in my opinion, not enough are.

There are a few simple changes I would love to see brands make that would be game changing for the beauty routines of so many visually impaired women:

  • Use non-round jars and bottles, so they don’t roll away if they’re knocked over or dropped.
  • Use click- closures on bottles. These are easier to use as it’s easy to tell if they are securely closed and you can’t lose the bottle lid (and the click is so satisfying!)
  • Use pump dispensers so we know exactly how much product is dispensed with each pump and it’s impossible to spill.
  • Use other materials in place of glass, so bottles don’t break when knocked off a surface. This doesn’t have to be a trade off, as packaging in alternative materials can be beautiful in it’s look and feel, as well as practical.
  • Use high contrast colours and large print on packaging where possible, to help ladies like me, with a little remaining vision.
  • Include tactile markings for identification of products and colours. Simple symbols like the dots and lines used by Herbal Essences are my preference as so few people read Braille. Also, Braille requires more space on what is typically a small surface.
  • Use meaningful names for colours which describe the shade rather than abstract names.
  • include scannable codes on smaller items where markers are not possible. They could link to information online when scanned such as product name, shade, directions for use and ingredients.
  • Use blind or visually impaired models and ambassadors in marketing campaigns. It was wonderful to see covergirl choose Lucy Edwards, a beautiful visually impaired woman as an ambassador. Make us feel represented and on a brand’s radar.
  • Talk to us and find out what works and what doesn’t, or better still, follow in footsteps of P&G and have a visually impaired member on your team as a consultant for inclusive design
  • Make websites and apps accessible. Many visually impaired people prefer to shop online, but In order to navigate a site, it needs to be compatible with screen readers or offer larger text, have high contrast options and detailed descriptions of products. Poor navigation menus and pop up ads and videos can make a website impossible to use with assistive technology.
  • Make store layouts as accessible as possible. I understand the importance of visual merchandising but good lighting, a clear layout with products organised in an intuitive way and no obstacles on the floor makes a world of difference.
  • Staff awareness. While it’s not possible to train all staff in all disabilities, general training in disability awareness can give a sales assistant, representing a brand, more confidence when assisting a disabled customer and in providing relevant assistance.

Take us seriously. We care about our skin and our appearance as much as our sighted friends. There’s a very real opportunity here, a huge potential for beauty brands to reach more people. There are so many visually impaired women just struggling along and doing our best with what’s available, but are desperately seeking a more VI-friendly range of beauty products. A positive shift in attitude, partnered with a few meaningful changes is good for any beauty brand and with so many VI women ready and waiting to spend their money on accessible beauty products, it’s definitely good for business.

Thank you for reading! Please share your ideas and recommendations in the comments, it’s always lovely to hear from you.

If you’re interested in this topic you might enjoy my post on Why do blind people care how they look?

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