Let’s be real for one moment. Like the other 8 billion people in the world, we all have to put some clothes on, and we have to clean our hair, face, hands, and bodies. But 1 billion of them are visually impaired in one way or another.
The fashion and beauty industry has been excluding these 1 billion people for a really long time. Braille packaging is costly. Not everyone with a vision impairment can read braille, which means the industry should develop other solutions that allow people to know what they are actually putting on their skin, which is time-consuming. The companies do not know whether it pays off.
But with the recent surge of inclusivity in the fashion and beauty industries, this started to change. First, pimples become acceptable; then, brands began to produce a broader range of clothing to accommodate all shapes and sizes. And then came the accessibility. For now, a handful of brands are trying to open doors for people with disabilities by creating tactile cues on packages and labels, wheelchair-friendly “seated” clothing, and adding magnetic closures to clothes to make dressing oneself easier.
There are a couple of independent designers who came up with the idea to integrate braille into their clothes, not as a fashion statement but as something which has a real function, like letting people with visual disabilities know what they are wearing, like the color, size, and product care instructions. Rugilė Gumuliauskaitė, a fashion designer from Lithuania, is one of them. She creates tactile sketches so that blind people can understand the proportions and design of the clothes in detail. Her Behance page illustrates how she aims to reach a wider audience.
María Sol Ungar from Argentina is another young designer who works on accessible clothing. Her project started her graduation thesis, then grown into a fashion brand, Sonar, that caters to blind and visually impaired consumers, with pockets designed to fit canes and braille details. Balini Naidoo-Engelbrecht is also an independent designer who creates braille clothing.
Two blind brothers is a fashion brand run by two blind brothers who are dedicated to providing accessible clothing to people with vision loss.
They use embroidery to integrate braille into their clothes, and they also have a project going on for a while that raises funds to cure blindness.
There is also adaptive clothing that includes clothes designed to meet the needs of people in wheelchairs, with prosthetics, or with autism. For example, back pockets of pants are removed as they can be painful for a person who spends most of their time sitting. Or people who can use one arm when getting dressed can have a hard time dressing with hooks and buttons, so magnetic closures and velcro come to the rescue. IZ Adaptive is one of the companies which offers adaptive clothing for women. From the big guns, Tommy Hilfiger creates accessible designs under the brand as Tommy Adaptive that help people with all kinds of disabilities to dress themselves. Clothes are available in four categories: easy closures, comfort, fit for prosthetics, and seated wear. When it comes to adaptive clothing or clothes for visually impaired people, they tend to be tasteless and without any style preferences. But with these pioneering designers, this is no longer the case.
When fashion brands paved the way for accessibility, beauty products followed suit. But as for beauty brands, including braille or any sort of tactile labeling is even rarer. Until now, only a couple of brands provide braille on their packaging; Dr. Jart, Bioderma, and L’Occitane are to name a few. One of the independent companies, Victorialand Beauty, is also a disability-friendly company dedicated to making their products accessible to all. As for the nails, Color Street, a small company from New Jersey, USA provides nail stickers, that are super easy to apply and reposition and allows blind and low vision consumers to be able to follow the latest trends.
In recent years, Sumaira Latif, inclusive design consultant of Procter & Gamble, started a campaign to change the packaging of consumers’ favorite products. Including tactile labeling to assist blind and visually impaired users in differentiating between shampoos and conditioners, which usually have the exact same packaging. These tactile cues are designed to help people who cannot read braille.
There are, however, two sides to this story. All of these companies are trying to do something good for the community. They try to include people who are excluded for a really long time. But the flipside of the coin is that they are only a handful of people and accessible packaging or adaptive clothing is still an incredibly niche market. We still have to cheer even a small inclusivity attempt, that in fact, in the 21st century, should not be the exception but the norm.
We’d love to have a conversation. If you are a part of the blind and visually impaired community, you’d like to be part of our mission, or share your ideas and collaborate with us, get in touch with us.
We are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fill out the form below to reach us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org