How the Beauty and Fashion Industries are Embracing Accessibility

Published August 2, 2022

For many people, cosmetics and fashion offer a form of self-expression. Unfortunately, these industries largely overlooked and excluded people with disabilities for many years. Thankfully, times are changing and we’ve seen great improvements in beauty and fashion accessibility.

Let’s take a look at how these industries are embracing accessibility and what future improvements can be made.

Adaptive clothing

Adaptive clothing refers to clothing that is designed specifically for people with disabilities. The clothing designs are adapted to be accessible to those with disabilities so that they can put them on without assistance. A common example of this is to make adjustments to how the clothing is secured. A designer may substitute magnetic closures for buttons so that those with motor difficulties or hand pain can more easily put on a shirt. Shoes or jackets may be made with a one-handed zipper to accommodate those missing an upper limb.

There has also been a recent rise in sensory-friendly clothing and simply taking sensory concerns into consideration with standard designs. Some ways to make clothing more sensory-friendly include choosing soft fabrics, going for a tagless design on shirts, and limiting clothing seams.

Accessibility in cosmetics packaging

Having a disability makes a variety of everyday activities more difficult, including many that you probably wouldn’t think of. One such activity that presents a challenge to many people with disabilities is using makeup products. Those with motor difficulties, joint pain, and other conditions often find that opening cosmetics products are difficult, as many cosmetics come in small packages with twist-off caps or small clasps. However, over the last few years, there has been a rise in accessible cosmetics packaging.

Some of this may be unintentional on the brand's part, but consumers are still reaping the benefits. For example, it is unclear if Rare Beauty’s packaging design, which features a sphere at the top of the packaging which can be used to twist the cap off more easily, was designed specifically with those with disabilities in mind. The company’s founder, Selena Gomez, who suffers from Lupus is said to have designed the products and packaging with ease of use in mind and her own personal preferences. However, the company has stated that they have not conducted official testing or research on the accessibility of their product packaging. Nonetheless, cosmetics lovers have enjoyed having a more widely available makeup option (Rare Beauty is carried in Sephora stores) with packaging that has received rave reviews on ease of use for those with dexterity challenges.

There are also smaller brands springing up that are designing products and packaging specifically for a disabled audience. Guide Beauty is a brand that was built to address difficulties with makeup applications that those with disabilities often face. The products and tools are designed to be easy to hold and use for consumers with disabilities. They feature ergonomic designs that allow customers to more comfortably open, hold, and apply each product. The company was started based on the experience of the founder, Terri Bryant, a makeup artist who had to rethink her makeup routine and tool after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Both of these companies offer more user-friendly options for people with disabilities. They also both highlight a growing trend of people with disabilities and health conditions leading the charge to create innovative and accessible products based on their own experiences.

Models with disabilities

Great clothing designs look good on all people. Over the past few years, fashion and beauty brands have become more disability-inclusive in their advertising campaigns. It’s no longer uncommon to see someone in a wheelchair or with another mobility aid in a print campaign for clothing or makeup. We’ve also seen greater inclusion on the runways. Model Lila Moss made headlines last year as she walked the runway at Milan Fashion Week with her insulin pump visible.

The movement towards showcasing people with disabilities in fashion campaigns, runway shows, and editorial spreads provides meaningful representation, particularly for youth with disabilities. Young people should be able to see others with disabilities in magazines and fashion shows and see that their conditions do not make them less beautiful or glamorous. Representation is incredibly important.

Online shopping

Online shopping is a great resource for people with disabilities, particularly throughout the coronavirus pandemic as in-person shopping presented great challenges for those with underlying health conditions.

Between 2019 and 2021, great strides were made in improving digital accessibility across popular websites and mobile apps. Websites, including online shopping sites and platforms, are focusing more heavily on digital accessibility and WCAG compliance. This makes it easier for people with disabilities to navigate online shopping sites and make purchases. However, this is an area where there is still quite a bit of room for improvement.

The biggest challenge with shopping for beauty and fashion products online is that you don’t get to feel the fabrics, swatch makeup products against your own skin tone, or try anything on. Now imagine the extra layer of difficulty that blind or visually impaired people experience by not being able to view the product photo.

Retail Insight Networks spoke with accessibility experts on the online shopping challenges that people with disabilities face when buying clothing online. The biggest concern is the lack of information provided. Product descriptions often do not have enough information on the materials and textures of the clothing, leaving those with allergies, sensory concerns, and skin sensitivities unsure about whether a product is suitable for them. Stronger descriptions of the color, fit, and feel of the clothing are also necessary so that blind or visually impaired people can make informed purchasing decisions.

Visit our Digital Accessibility overview to learn more about making websites, mobile sites, applications, and more accessible.

AccessibilityPlus 2022 is proud of our role in promoting digital accessibility and equal access for all while recognizing there is much work to be done. As we welcome a new year in 2022, we have opened registration for AccessibilityPlus 2022, which will feature events dedicated to promoting actionable solutions in implementing digital accessibility initiatives. Registration is limited. For more information about the conference, speakers, and topics, please visit our AccessibilityPlus Event Calendar.

Registrations for our August event Add to Cart: Creating an Accessible e-Commerce Experience are now available at no cost for viewers for a limited time.