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Why universal design needs to be at the forefront of inclusive product design – by Emily Davison

Thursday, 18 August, 2022

Why universal design needs to be at the forefront of inclusive product design – by Emily Davison

A photo of Emily wearing a long white dress with a red and pink heart print and red shoes standing next to her guide dog. There is union flag bunting and foliage on a wooden cart with blue wheels in the background. She is holding a red handbag.Over the past few years, the term “universal design” has popped up more into the conversation surrounding making products accessible for people with disabilities.

Universal design essentially means to make a product inclusive for all, to make something that can be used by everyone both disabled and non-disabled. An example could be making a mascara with a push release cap like Makeup Revolution recently did with the launch of their 5D Lash Mascara.

Accessible design, however, seeks to make a product that fits a specific target group of people by making a product that adapts specifically to their needs. This could be something like making clothing items fit for someone who uses a feeding tube like M&S did when they released an adaptive clothing range for children.

Both have their merits, but one could argue that universal design as a solution to make more products across the consumer industry accessible is the best way forward.

Why? The key reason for this is because for brands to accommodate as many people as possible; a product needs to be versatile and adaptable to a person’s specific needs. Universal design seeks to do this by making a product widely usable by including simple solutions to enable everyone to use it with ease.

Statistically, disabled people are the largest minority group in the world. With 15 percent of the world’s population being disabled according to campaign website We Are The 15.  Additionally, disability is a spectrum with many different needs and abilities. It stands to reason that making a product too specific to someone’s needs may not best suit and accommodate every disabled consumer who would use it. This may also be a deterrent for brands when looking at things like costings if accessible design was the only method of inclusivity they were to use.

 

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Sadly, finance is a big factor of product design and often brands will be swayed if a reformat or redesign would be too expensive and yet only suit a small group of people. But universal design seeks to remedy this issue by ensuring that it can be used by the widest group of people possible.

Let me give you an example, accessible design may be to make a bottle of shampoo accessible to blind people by adding braille to the bottle. It would certainly help some, but not all.

According to the RNIB charity around 7 percent of blind and partially sighted people read braille. Considering this, it would be an expensive design feature with only a small niche that would benefit from it. Whereas universal design may make a product inclusive by adding tactile shapes to its packaging to allow visually impaired consumers to differentiate it from other products.

P&G brand Herbal Essences already came up with a solution like this when they added tactile shapes to their shampoo and conditioner bottles in 2018.

 

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In short, accessible design will always have a place in our society. Because there will always be people who need products that are designed to fit them specifically for their individual needs.

However, going forward many industries across the consumer space need to be thinking about universal design as the mainstay for how they can best accommodate as many people from the disability community as possible.

 

by Emily Davison – Academy for Disabled Journalists Student
To read more from Emily see https://fashioneyesta.com/

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