From Pharrell’s inclusive skincare line to a lubricant with Braille writing, mainstream brands are finally starting to think about blind and visually impaired customers

Thinking inclusively as a brand seems easy enough. Yet for the majority of companies, inclusion is an afterthought, often sparked by a PR scandal or public shaming on social media. Many brands don’t think proactively about making their products and services accessible to people with disabilities. On this World Sight Day, it is important to remember that worldwide there are 43 million blind people and 295 million visually impaired people (including myself). And for those of us who can’t rely 100% on our vision, it’s nice to “see” that some companies are more visionary than others.

Today, consumer healthcare giant Haleon announced a partnership with Microsoft to make its healthcare products more accessible to the blind and visually impaired (the companies shared a written and audio press release). Microsoft’s Seeing AI app now allows users to scan the barcode of Haleon products for ingredient information and usage instructions provided via an audio feature. The free app works on over 1,500 Haleon products in the UK and US, including Sensodyne, Centrum, Panadol and Advil.

“People who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise have difficulty reading should be able to access the same information as everyone else,” said Tamara Rogers, global marketing director for Haleon. “Allowing people to access vital information about our healthcare products in audio format is one of our first cross-brand initiatives to help level the playing field and make everyday healthcare more inclusive.”

Earlier this year, Haleon commissioned an independent study that surveyed over 500 visually impaired people in the UK. 93% of respondents said they felt health products were not accessible enough, and 1 in 5 said they had taken the wrong dosage because they could not clearly see what was on the package .

be my eyes

One company that has helped the visually impaired with things like reading product labels is Be My Eyes. The app connects blind and visually impaired people with volunteers via a live video feature to help users with daily tasks, such as checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors and reading instructions. There are currently over 6 million volunteers on the app in 150 countries. In 2019, the company partnered with Clearblue to help visually impaired women regain control of their reproductive health. Users can now access the Clearblue Careline via Be My Eyes and receive their pregnancy or fertility test results immediately from a Clearblue advisor.

While helping the blind and visually impaired with shopping and manual work is vital, there are times when people with disabilities prefer not to look for another set of eyes – in the bedroom, for example.

Roam is an up-and-coming sexual wellness brand that has inclusivity built into its DNA from the start. The London-based startup makes all-natural products that include front and back condoms and lubricants. Along with being gender-inclusive, the brand has also made sure to be accessible to the disabled community.

“We hear a lot about symbolic inclusivity,” said Roam co-founder and chief creative officer Alex Griffiths. “It was dishonest to say that we want to give customers a choice and make them feel visible while ignoring the often forgotten people.”

The founders thought long and hard about including people with disabilities when creating their products, adding braille writing to the sides and designing square-edged lubricants to prevent the bottles from rolling if dropped.

Griffiths says that from a manufacturing perspective, printing Braille on all products was incredibly difficult and expensive, requiring multiple additional production processes and special packaging.

“It’s also incredibly difficult to access reliable information for Braille,” he says. “We’ve worked with the RNIB as well as a Braille translator, but it’s hard to proofread and the risk of error becomes incredibly high throughout the supply chain.”

Inclusive design

Despite the added costs, the number of consumer brands that include Braille in their products has slowly expanded over the years. L’Occitane is one of the pioneers in the space, adding braille to as many of its product packaging as possible (it’s technically difficult to include braille on smaller products). The Brand Foundation made the fight against avoidable blindness one of its main priorities when it was launched in 2006, in partnership with various NGOs around the world. L’Occitane says it supports screening, treatment and eye surgery projects, as well as funding equipment and training medical personnel. In 2022, the brand and its Foundation have reached their goal of 15 million eye care beneficiaries.

Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences underwent a total packaging overhaul for its Bio:Renew line of botanical shampoos and conditioners in 2019. Under the direction of P&G Accessibility Manager Sam Latif (who is blind), Tactile markers have been added to shampoo and conditioner bottles to help individuals easily differentiate between the two. While shampoo bottles have embossed stripes, conditioners use embossed dots.

As industry leaders like L’Occtiane and Herbal Essences are setting a new standard for inclusive design and accessibility, it’s no surprise that newer, more forward-thinking brands are also following suit. Music artist and producer Pharrell Williams included braille writing on his skincare products for his Humanrace line, which launched in 2020. On the digital side, skincare startup Topicals has an accessibility widget on its website and recently launched a text reader program through its accessibility tab using EqualWeb. It also allows users to increase text size and hear image descriptions, among other features.

Make alt text edgy

Image descriptions play a key role in making online content more accessible to blind and visually impaired people. According to Internet Live Stats, more than 63 million images were uploaded to Instagram in a single day in February. Therefore, describing to a visually impaired person what they cannot see is essential when sharing an image. This is done through alt text (or alt text), which is usually embedded in the HTML code of a webpage so that screen readers can access the information and translate it into a format that users can interact with. , like audio. So instead of being read “Image 1” or “jpg”, users get a full description like “A brown dog is sitting in front of a red house”.

On Instagram, users can include the description of the image they’re sharing in the accompanying caption, which makes image descriptions visible to others (as opposed to alt text, which is hidden because it’s embedded in the image). the image). Disabled activists like Sinéad Burke and Selma Blair both include image descriptions when they share images on their accounts. We hope this will normalize the practice and encourage others to do so.

Artists Shannon Finnegan and Bojana Coklyat (who has low vision) strive to make alt text more creative and playful with their Alt Text as Poetry project.

On the site, they state:

“Alt text is an essential part of web accessibility. It is often ignored or understood through the lens of compliance, as an unwanted burden to be shouldered with minimal effort. How can we approach text instead? alternative in a thoughtful and creative way?”

The artists encourage people to think about words and language experimentally when writing alternative texts or descriptions of images, drawing inspiration from the world of poetry. And that’s really key when trying to make accessibility more forward-thinking: from a lubricant with braille script to a poetry-inspired alt text, we all need to think about accessibility in a way creatively in order to normalize it and integrate it into our daily lives.

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