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The Rising Trend Of Products For People With Disabilities

People living with a disability often face many barriers when shopping for products that are inclusive of their needs. Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in products catered to people living with disabilities. Is this a sign of progress toward more inclusion?

Key takeaways:

Many products are made with able-bodied consumers in mind. People living with a disability often face barriers when shopping for products that are not only stylish but inclusive of their needs. As the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in more inclusive consumer goods such as clothing, personal care products, makeup, toiletries, and hair styling tools.

Products for people with disabilities matter

Clothing and personal care products that are accessible and functional matter in the daily lives of people living with disabilities.

“If I can't access my prosthetic leg easily it poses a huge problem,” said Jo Beckwith.

Beckwith is an advocate and professional speaker who openly and honestly discusses her emotions, daily life, challenges, and triumphs as a below-the-knee amputee on her popular YouTube channel Footless Jo.

“Either I have to get to a place where I can undress, usually in public, to get to my leg, or I just have to deal with the pain of not being able to adjust or take off my leg. Having clothing that allows me to access my prosthetic leg is necessary for me to live in less pain and walk more comfortably,” said Beckwith.

Manufactures see the need for accessible products

Emma Butler recognized how much of a need there is for accessible clothing, intimates, and undergarments.

That’s why she founded Liberare, an intimate adaptive apparel company that believes everyone deserves to feel confident and beautiful in clothing that supports diverse bodies.

“Our first line consists of two bras, two underwear, and a sleepwear set,” said Butler. “Bras and underwear are the first things we put on to get dressed and also some of the most difficult–so it's important to make sure our customers have an easy, but also empowering dressing experience.”

Out of a true need, Butler started Liberare in her dorm room at Brown University. One of her family members had limited hand dexterity, so buttons and hook-and-eyes made getting dressed difficult.

“There were no options on the market for clothing that were both fun and functional for someone with limited hand dexterity or shoulder mobility, '' said Butler. “One billion people worldwide have a disability or chronic illness but no one was designing for them, let alone bras and underwear –the first thing to put on and often the hardest.”

People living with a disability face buying barriers

61 million American adults live with a disability. That is about one in four people. Those living with a disability face limited choices for goods they can use, along with increased costs.

Research shows that people living with a disability experience limited choices and encounter feelings of disempowerment when purchasing products.

The Business Disability Forum report shows that:

  • 90 percent of consumers were affected at the decision-making stage of purchases by design limitations, limited information, or how information was presented.
  • 65 percent of consumers felt like their choices of what to buy were limited daily due to barriers.

Without access to products she likes and can use easily, Beckwith says she’s started tailoring her clothing, “I've recently been modifying my own pants with a tailor to make them accessible for my prosthetic leg.”

Adaptive apparel becomes more mainstream

Nearly four percent of the disabled population have difficulty with self-care. This includes difficulty getting dressed or bathing. Adaptive apparel, or clothing specifically designed for people with some type of impairment, can be helpful.

Adaptive clothes can make it easier to change, remove clothing, or access a medical device. Adaptive apparel can help those living with a disability maintain independence and live without restrictions.

Some of the research shows there is a growing market demand for adaptive apparel. The market was valued at $250 million in 2020 and it’s expected to reach more than $294 million by 2026.

“Fashionable and functional bras and underwear that allow disabled people to get dressed easily is a basic need. We all deserve to feel our best and no one should have to struggle to put on an outfit,” said Butler.

“I have had a good experience with adaptive products, the one thing I think is missing is more stylish options,” said Beckwith.

As people living with a disability look to find more fashionable and adaptive apparel – more companies are taking action to provide comfortable, stylish, and more inclusive clothing, undergarments, and shoes.

Some adaptive clothing brands include:

  • Silvert’s
  • Target Kid’s Adaptive Clothing
  • Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive
  • J.C. Penny Adaptive
  • Liberare
  • Unhidden
  • Buck & Buck
  • IZ Adaptive
  • Zappos Adaptive

The design of inclusive products should have user input

New companies founded by people with disabilities continue to emerge. Having products developed by and developed for people with disabilities can be crucial. Along with input from members of the disabled community.

“It’s important and valuable to have people living with disabilities' input on the development of personal care products for several reasons,” said Donna Walton, EdD., founder of the Divas with Disabilities Project a non-profit organization, and community committed to increasing the participation and representation of Black and Brown women and girls with disabilities.

Walton was inspired to create the Divas with Disabilities Project because of her life experiences as a Black woman with limb loss. She wanted to show society that disability and beauty can co-exist.

“People with disabilities are consumers and have access to products that impact their daily living experiences, so if they're not included, the message is saying that people with disabilities don't matter,” said Walton.

“People with disabilities have a unique lived experience of what is needed to suit their disability,” said Maxine Plowden, a member of the Divas with Disabilities Project. “They can make suggestions and recommendations on how things can be made accessible for them to use.”

Having community input in product design is crucial on the manufacturer side as well.

“We want our products to work and benefit people across the disability spectrum,'' said Butler. “By testing and co-developing the products, whether that be with our disabled team members or our online community of hundreds of disabled people, our goal is to create products that truly make people's lives easier.”

Big companies work to become more inclusive

Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, is making strides toward inclusive and adaptive products.

In 2021, Degree, a deodorant brand sold under Unilever, launched Degree Inclusive.

“With Degree Inclusive, we hope to inspire bold action across the industry to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal playing field,” said Kathryn Swallow, Global Degree Brand Vice President in a press release.

Looking to meet the specific needs of consumers with disabilities, Degree coined the product as the world's first adaptive deodorant.

People with disabilities have growing purchasing power

According to Return On Disability, people with disabilities have growing purchasing power. People with disabilities, along with their friends and family control over $13 trillion in annual disposable income.

There is a rise in more inclusive and accessible products for people with disabilities including clothing, makeup, makeup application tools, tampon insertion assistive devices, and hair styling tools.

It appears companies realize that this segment of the population has unmet needs and they have significant purchasing power– so are more products for people with disabilities a sign of progress or a marketing trend?

“When companies create products that are accessible, it benefits everyone,” explains Butler. She said that people of all abilities shop for and buy Liberare products, so the business continues to grow in new ways.

“When brands do not create accessible products but use disabled people as models as tokens in a larger campaign, to be seen as inclusive, this is performative activism and perhaps just a marketing trend,” said Butler. “We need corporations to not only represent the disabled model in front of the camera but also create accessible products and hire a diverse staff.”

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