Natalie Trevonne is a blind actor, comedian, blogger, podcaster and dancer. She starts each day by applying a multi-step skin care routine. It creates the ideal canvas for applying makeup. After applying Lancôme’s Teint Idole Long Wear foundation and an eyeliner, she’s ready for bronzer. However, she runs into an issue that many people with visual impairments know well. fashion: The Jouer Cosmetics highlighting-bronzer stick doesn’t distinguish which side it is. So, Trevonne’s routine comes to an abrupt halt.
Trevonne lost her vision at the age of 18 due to juvenile arthritis. Now she is legally blind. While she’s able to enlist the help of Be My Eyes, a mobile app designed to help blind and visually impaired people cope with everyday situations via live chat with sighted volunteers, Trevonne’s dilemma is symptomatic of a far greater issue: a lack of accessibility to beauty products.
According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 2.2 billion people around the globe who are blind or visually impaired, yet even as diversity and inclusivity become increasingly important to consumers and brands alike, the beauty industry’s long-standing exclusion of this particular group endures. The already challenging terrain of cosmetics has been made more difficult for visually impaired and blind people. They face difficulties when they use them and are prevented from buying products.
Belle Bakst is a long-standing photographer who has inspired many. Fashion Editor and Content Creator. Her left eye was damaged in the early years of her life. She shunned mascara. Her mom took her to the mall when she was 15. Bakst found the perfect mascara. Bakst was desperate to see a professional after having her eyelashes cut and some of them missing from surgery. It was a disappointing trip.
“I went to the makeup counter with my mom, and the woman working there had beautiful, long eyelashes, so naturally I wanted to mimic that,” Bakst recalls. “But she couldn’t understand why my eyes and lashes were so uneven, and when I explained myself, she said that maybe mascara just wasn’t for me. I realize now that she just didn’t know how to help me, but I was so young at the time that I genuinely believed her.”
For Trevonne, going to a store or a salon never even rises to the point of being told a product won’t work for her because she’s so rarely treated as a customer in the first place. “When I walk into a nail shop or beauty counter, they immediately see my cane and go straight to the person I’m with to ask, ‘What does she need?’”She elaborates. “They just talk to the person they view as normal so they feel more comfortable and don’t have to ask the blind person.”Trevonne will often get something completely different from what she expected, whether it’s a wrong shade, size, or product altogether, if Trevonne is approached by sales reps or makeup artists. “I have been saying for a long time that in-store consulting and disability training would make a big difference,”She said. “There are questions they can ask to get a better idea of what the client needs, and those questions don’t just have to be used for people with disabilities; they can help every person’s needs get met.”
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Online shopping is becoming more popular, and it’s not always possible for visually impaired people to purchase a moisturizer or eyeshadow in a matter of seconds. “Website accessibility is a big issue still,” says Trevonne. “Right now, blind and low-vision people are unable to shop independently because the buttons and links aren’t labeled on websites and social media.” Without these labels and descriptions, it’s impossible for these customers to find the products they’re looking for, let alone purchase them. “The more details there are, the more confident the consumer is, so when you build accessibility into your brand, you’re actually increasing your bottom line and reaching the trillion-dollar spending power of the disability community. Yet there’s still this huge gap,”More information is available from the podcaster. “We’re shoppers, beauty lovers, and fashionistas. We want to buy products, but we want to be able to do it on our own, and that shouldn’t be too much to ask for.”
Trevonne wants to change the beauty industry and has made it her mission. FashionAccessibility Consulting is available to companies in this sector. Through these services, she and her Fashionably Tardy co-host, Lissa Loe, have noticed that many companies want to do their part but simply don’t know where to start. “A lot of younger brands and even younger people coming into legacy brands are thinking differently about what inclusion looks like,”She said. “But there’s still a lot of confusion about how to go about it.”
When you build accessibility into your brand, you’re actually increasing your bottom line and reaching the trillion-dollar spending power of the disability community.”
In an attempt to help the blind and visually impaired, many brands have started to add braille labels on their products. This was an important addition fifty years ago, when almost half the legally blind children in school could read braille. However, this is no longer relevant today as only 10 percent of Americans can see Braille.
Brands consider braille labels to be a way of communicating with customers and as a starting point. show blind and visually impaired consumers that they’re being considered. “I decided to offer a braille ID band on all of our skincare products so that those with blindness or visual impairment could have a better in-use experience with the products,” says Jennifer Norman, who founded the inclusive Humanist Beauty after witnessing her son’s experience with disability and illness. “It’s not a perfect solution, but to me, it’s an important way to let the community know that I’m thinking about them and that I care.”
Body-care brand CleanlogicIts products also have braille labels. Isaac Shapiro was the founder. His mother was seven years old at the time she lost her sight. “An integral part of my passion for creating Cleanlogic was to establish a wellness brand with accessibility and inclusion at its core,”He states. “And that mission has come to life in little and big ways over the brand’s history, from having braille product descriptors on 100 percent of product packaging to employing blind and visually impaired team members.”Cleanlogic is aware of the value in including people with visual impairments among its customers as well as its employees. “Of the 25 million blind and visually impaired people in the U.S., 70 percent are unemployed,” Shapiro says. “Our true north as a brand is to see this staggering statistic dramatically lower, so we are driving the dialogue and partnering with others to increase the visibility of why inclusivity is so important.”
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Others brands include Herbal EssencesTrevonne is a firm believer that tactile labeling can be used in simpler formats (e.g. Trevonne believes that tactile labeling in simpler forms (e.g., raised text or raised symbol) is the best option. “I try to explain when I do consulting that the best thing is raised, tactile indicators, with different labels for different things — if it’s lip gloss, put a raised ‘L’; if it’s eyeliner, put ‘EL’ — so people can easily distinguish between all the different products versus struggling to read a braille label,”She elaborates. “The raised tactiles are such an easy thing, and, honestly, they cut costs for the brand if the alternative is a braille label.”
Some people prefer to use the make-up-brush brand. Kohl KreativesIt is important to realize that reaching out to the blind and visually impaired community does not require just new labels. “Understanding this market firsthand, I knew [reading braille] wasn’t very common,” says founder Trishna Daswaney. “So, we decided to distinguish using shapes, sizes, and familiar objects, plus we created a tactile scannable QR code, which leads you to an audio guide that describes each brush and its function to the consumer.”
Inclusivity for as many people as possible with the use of the same products is at the core of Kohl Kreatives’ approach, and the brand considers accessibility, representation, and education a long-term commitment, not just a short-term marketing tactic. “People mean well with these different methods of inclusivity, but sometimes it also needs to be done right,”Daswaney also adds. “I really believe in thinking of all possibilities.”
Trevonne says it’s encouraging to see brands like these working hard to help blind or visually impaired customers. But there is still much to do. “There are conversations being had now which just weren’t previously, and the disability community is continuing to be loud and proud about the need for representation, with more allies stepping up,”She elaborates. “I think people are really starting to notice, and I’m hopeful that within the next few years, the beauty industry will really start to take accessibility seriously across the board.”
Gabby Shacknai, a freelance writer, is based out of New York and covers travel, beauty, well-being, food, and many other topics. She has contributed to Forbes and ELLE, Women’s Health Magazine, Fortune, and Departures.
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