Natalie Trevonne, blind actress, dancer, podcaster, and dancer, starts her day with a multistep skincare regimen. This creates the perfect canvas to apply makeup. After applying Lancôme’s Teint Idole Long Wear foundation and an eyeliner, she’s ready for bronzer. But she encounters an obstacle that people with visual impairments are familiar with. fashion: The Jouer Cosmetics highlighting-bronzer stick doesn’t distinguish which side it is. So, Trevonne’s routine comes to an abrupt halt.
Trevonne began losing her vision in her 18th year due to her juvenile arthritis. She is now 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. Blind and visually impaired people have had to navigate the already difficult terrain of cosmetics with additional obstacles. These include the barriers that prevent them from purchasing products and the difficulties they face when using them.
Belle Bakst, a photographer for over 50 years, has been an inspiration to many. fashionEditor and content creator. She lost her left eye in her toddler years. She avoided mascara at all cost. When she was 15, her mom offered to take the girl to the mallBakst was thrilled to discover the perfect mascara. Bakst, who had her eyelashes removed and some missing due to surgery, was eager to get the help of a professional. This trip proved to be very disappointing.
“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 explains. “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 says. “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,”The podcaster provides more information. “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 is determined to see the industry change and has dedicated her passion for inclusion in beauty. fashionAccessibility consulting is offered to brands in this space. 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 says. “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.”
Many brands, both well-known and new, have begun to include braille labels to their products in an effort to assist the visually impaired and blind. Although this was a great addition 50 years back, when nearly half of legally blind school-age kids could read braille, it is now less relevant as less than 10 percent of Americans are blind.
Many brands consider braille labels a starting point and a means to communicate with customers. 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 CleanlogicSimilarly, all of its products have braille labels. Isaac Shapiro, the founder, said that it was inspired in part by his mother, who was 7 years old when she became blind. “An integral part of my passion for creating Cleanlogic was to establish a wellness brand with accessibility and inclusion at its core,”He points out. “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 recognizes the importance of including visually impaired people in its customer base and also among 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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Other brands, such as Herbal EssencesTrevonne believes that tactile labeling in simpler forms (e.g. raised text or raised symbols) is the best choice. “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 explains. “The raised tactiles are such an easy thing, and, honestly, they cut costs for the brand if the alternative is a braille label.”
Others, however, like the makeup-brush brand Kohl KreativesYou must realize that reaching the visually impaired and blind community requires more than 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 adds. “I really believe in thinking of all possibilities.”
Trevonne states that it is encouraging that brands such as these are working to make it easier for blind and visually impaired customers. However more work needs to be done. “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 explains. “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 is an independent writer based in New York who covers beauty, travel, wellness, food and more. She has contributed to Forbes and ELLE, Women’s Health Magazine, Fortune, and Departures.
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