In late April, Unilever’s deodorant brand, Degree, unveiled the world’s first deodorant. It was designed for People with Disabilities (PWDs), especially the visually impaired and those with upper limb mobile disabilities.
Though PWDs account for 15% (i.e., 1 billion) of the world’s population, companies hardly create everyday products with them in mind.
Deodorants, for one, are a special lot. Not only are their caps difficult to open, but their containers are also made of materials that could smash into pieces at the slightest drop. More so, the twist or spray mechanisms do not make these self-care products easy to use for the disabled.
Walk through the deodorant aisle of any store today and you will see line upon line of round or rectangular containers. You will see deodorant caps meant for twisting, sticks meant for turning and aerosol meant for pushing down. Although this type of packaging has become normal and often go unnoticed, it doesn’t discount the fact that about 15% of the world’s population may not be able to use them.
This phenomenon is not restricted to self-care products alone. All over the world, in any industry we can think of, there are monuments that reek of the exclusion of PWDs. From buildings without ramps for wheelchairs to highways without designated crossings for PWDs, legacies of exclusion are everywhere.
This market gap is what Degree sought to fill when it launched the world's first adaptive deodorant. Thanks to this effort, the unsighted and armless now have an essential product designed just for them.
Degree’s inclusive product has the following features as displayed in its ad video:
- Hooked design for one-handed use.
- Enhanced grip placement for easy application for users with limited grip or no arms.
- Magnetic closures make it easier to remove the cap and put it back on for users with limited grip and/or vision impairment.
- A braille label with instructions for users with vision impairment2.
- A larger roll-on applicator to reach more surface area per swipe.
Though there is much anticipation in the air, the deodorant is yet to reach stores and supermarkets. As of this writing, the prototype is in its beta testing stage. Nevertheless, there are profound lessons Degree can teach us about our journey to inclusivity.
Perhaps the most profound lesson here is collaboration. The awareness that no single company, initiative or product can champion this campaign for PWDs. It will take a concerted effort on the part of stakeholders to record results that we cannot achieve individually. Degree exemplified this virtue when it partnered with a team of engineers, design experts, occupational therapists and PWDs to develop the deodorant design we now see. The team effort paid off with the unveiling of a prototype; Degree Inclusive.
Degree campaigns on inclusivity.
Now, there are two sides to this. There’s the side involving PWDs, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But there’s another side that involves the world of the abled. The company not only collaborated with important stakeholders across several industries, but it also sought their input through focus groups, roundtable discussions and the likes. This is a corollary to the previous point. It is one thing to be onboard and another to be involved in the decision-making process that births the end product. According to PR Newswire, Degree sought the inputs of The Chicago Lighthouse, Open Style Lab and Muscular Dystrophy Association. After that, it invited 200 PWDs based in the U.S. to try the prototype design and share their feedback with Degree to help improve the product for future launch.
Also, the product’s design resolves some of the challenges with traditional designs. For one, most deodorants are opened by twisting off a cap, pressing down an aerosol or turning a stick to reload. These are normal. However, for PWDs, especially those with limited arm mobility, it’s a heck of work! Rather than repeat history, Degree Inclusive introduced a hook at the end for one-handed usage and a magnetic closure for stressless opening and closing. That is, users can suspend the deodorant by its hooked lid and pull down on the bottom to effortlessly open the container.
After use, they can easily couple the bottom back into the cover from beneath, thanks to the magnets. Similarly, the applicator was designed for people with limited grip. It has a wider-than-normal base with curved handles on both sides. It also sports a braille label and directions for the visually impaired. But it doesn’t end there.
Degree also factored gender neutrality into its design. The company chose a gender-neutral design and fragrance. According to the team, “the scent is very light to account for people with sensitivity in sense of smell.” Running inclusive projects and initiatives takes a ton of stakeholder engagement. But the rewards justify the efforts. When stakeholders can see their needs reflected in the final outcome, they are more likely to throw in their support.
There is also a lesson on sustainability here.
Degree Inclusive is refillable. This makes it a more sustainable option than the conventional deodorants designed for single use.
Our journey to inclusivity is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, we must avoid designing systems, initiatives and programs with a single-use mentality. When we approach our efforts with a degree of permanence, we allow ourselves to think and act for the long term. We also allow more PWDs to benefit from our efforts whether or not we are still here to see it happen.
There is no doubt that Degree’s revolutionary deodorant will be an answered prayer for PWDs. The question now is, will the product be this inclusive in its pricing?