Unilever is launching a prototype of what it says is the world’s first deodorant for people with visual impairment and upper-limb motor disabilities under the name Degree Inclusive. The product will be called Rexona Inclusive elsewhere in the world under a brand that ranks as the biggest deodorant globally and trails only Dove as the company’s second largest in personal care.
The product includes a hooked design for one-handed usage, magnetic closures that make it easier to take the cap off and put it back on for users with limited grip or vision impairment, enhanced grip placement for people with limited grip or no arms, a Braille label and instructions and a larger roll-on applicator that makes it easier to reach more surface per swipe.
It came from a project launched by Christina Mallon, global head of Wunderman Thompson’s inclusive design practice, who herself has arm paralysis, says Bas Korsten, the agency’s global chief creative officer.
“We said to Unilever we think this is something important. Do you think this is something you could see yourself getting behind?” Korsten says. “And they did more than that. It’s been a short journey from idea to a product and a campaign even.”
Unilever is currently having 200 users provide feedback about the product in beta mode, working with the Chicago Lighthouse, Open Style Lab and Muscular Dystrophy Association, says Kathryn Swallow, global brand VP of Degree and Rexona. “We’ll take this feedback and scale fast.”
Developing products for people with disabilities isn’t just a feel-good effort, but one with important business implications for Unilever and other marketers. One in four people in the U.S. has a disability, and 22 million people have either visual impairment or upper-body mobility disabilities, Swallow says.
It is also estimated the community has a collective buying power of $8 trillion, according to Magna. Yet these groups are not prioritized when it comes to the distribution of content.
According to a study conducted by Magna, Current Global and IPG Media Lab, social platforms are comparatively difficult to use no matter the type of disability, with users reporting challenges including small text, misleading buttons, ads interfering with actual posts, too many menus and difficulty navigating.
Unsurprisingly, 81% of respondents reported a negative emotional response when a brand's communication was inaccessible. Among other steps, Degree is also planning to roll out an improved website more accessible to people with visual impairments, says Swallow.
Marketers have overlooked people with disabilities for far too long, Swallow says, pointing to the lack of even something as simple as Braille on most packaging. “It’s staggering when you look at the industry. No one’s doing it. For me genuinely, personally, I want this to be a shift in the industry. When a big mass brand starts going here, I think people hopefully will follow.”
There's been fits and starts to such efforts.
Google looked to embrace the deaf community during the Oscars on Sunday night. The tech giant ran an ad featuring the story of Tony Lee, a lead designer at Google Brand Studio and also a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), showing the challenges of what many deaf and hard of hearing adults faced amid the pandemic. It also highlighted Google products that are helpful for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Google also sponsored this year's closed captioning, as well as audio descriptions, marking the first time those were made available for the telecast.
Interest in design for people with disabilities appears to be picking up momentum, Korsten says. “It does feel like this is the start of something, and we see more interest from different clients. It feels almost like the pandemic has somehow created a context in which people are more willing to think inclusively. I think it makes people empathize more with being isolated, which a lot of people with disabilities feel on a daily basis.”