Accessible packaging, sometimes also referred to as inclusive packaging, is defined as a parcel, package, box or envelope which is easily recognised, read and opened by the consumer.
And not only is accessible packaging convenient and efficient for everyone, but for those consumers with disabilities - impaired vision, for example, or restricted physical capabilities caused by conditions such as arthritis, Ehlers Danos syndrome or Multiple Sclerosis – it also means unnecessary hassle and frustration can be increasingly mitigated.
Over a quarter of disabled people surveyed by the U.K. government said that their disability made them frequently feel as though they didn’t have choice or control over their daily lives. Not being able to open a package easily might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but when you have to face additional challenges constantly just to go about your daily life, it’s not.
Accessibility is often overlooked and not just in the packaging industry, but in all aspects of life and it really shouldn’t be for reasons that are both practical and ethical. Here, therefore, are two of the main reasons not to overlook accessibility that pertain specifically to the packaging industry.
Firstly, did you know that there are more than 16 million disabled people in the U.K., 23% of whom are working adults, with this figure rising to 45% when applied to those of pensionable age? This means that 1.6 million households are occupied by at least one disabled person; that’s about 6.6% of the population.
Now, if 6.6% seems like a relatively small percentage, consider this: it’s estimated that at some time in our lives, one out of five of us will be affected by disability. Bear in mind too, that, in the U.K., we have an aging population and as people live longer, they face mobility and accessibility challenges that they couldn’t have imagined in their youth or middle age.
Quoting all these statistics is a roundabout way of pointing out that it would be inconsiderate, and somewhat foolish, not to consider the needs of people whose lives are already more difficult and whose number will grow. Quite aside from the fact that the spending power of families with at least one disabled person is estimated to be about £274 billion per annum.
Secondly, with a bit of forethought and planning, ensuring a package is accessible to everyone benefits all consumers. More often than not, it doesn’t cost more, come with any negative downsides or cause the slightest bit of inconvenience whatsoever to manufacturers or business owners. All that’s required is some reflection and consideration up front and you have a win-win situation.
The majority of e-commerce businesses want their products to be accessible to the widest consumer base possible and reaching out to new demographics, especially those that risk being marginalised or have a history of being marginalised, is a clear signal that a company stands for fairness and inclusivity. Though gaining brand admiration probably won’t be the driving factor behind a company’s decision to ensure accessibility – if you’re anything like us, it will be done primarily out of a desire to do what is right by others - it will invariably have a knock-on bonus of being beneficial to your brand, enhancing the loyalty of existing customers as you appeal to new ones.
When it comes to making packaging accessible, there are five adjectives that should be able to be applied to the final product(s): legible, ergonomic, flexible, intuitive and desirable.
For those amongst us who have visual impairments or are partially sighted, the right size of type face can make a huge difference. Obviously, it’s far easier to read larger fonts and for people who have reading disorders such as dyslexia or hyperlexia the colours chosen to provide the background to a font are also important. High-contrast colours also make it simpler to pick out specific words and designs.
Additionally, simple shapes or symbols are far easier to make out than complex ones and have equal – if not more – impact.
Packages should feel good and that comes down to texture. Cardboard is already reasonably tactile, but embossing and debossing enhances practical use as well as physical appearance. Not only should packaging feel pleasant to handle, but texture – i.e., embossing or debossing - means the box is easier to grab hold of and grip.
Businesses might ask themselves whether it’s a good idea to add braille to their cardboard boxes or envelopes. Whilst altruistic, this isn’t a step that is strictly necessary. In actual fact, only a small percentage of blind people (mostly those who’ve been blind since birth), can read braille. It’s probably more beneficial therefore to focus on the tactile nature of the package.
The types of people buying online are as varied as the products available, so packaging should be right for all of them. In other words, packaging needs to meet a range of needs and circumstances and a whole spectrum of abilities. Packaging should have numerous facets, each one fulfilling different and even multiple requirements, for example, a pop-up box that goes flat takes up less space to store at a warehouse, is simple for a packer to use, fits through a letterbox for convenience, is easy for a customer to open and is then straightforward to dispose of. One feature = five plus points.
Regardless of who the consumer is, products must be packaged in such a way that unboxing them is instinctive, without the need for extensive cutting equipment, instructions or brute force. A package might be incredibly easy to open, but if it’s not obvious how to get inside, what’s the point? Nobody wants a Chinese Puzzle Box (unless they’ve ordered one on-line and it’s inside the ‘easy-to-open-intuitively’ cardboard box).
Just because packaging has been manufactured to meet a certain set of requirements doesn’t mean that attention shouldn’t be paid to its aesthetic. If a large font or a certain colour or a combination of both has been used on a package for accessibility reasons, that package can still be eye-catching and on the cutting edge of design.
Think of the old-school NHS glasses of the 1960s and 70s: yes, they did a brilliant job, but they looked horrendous and embarrassed the wearer. Spectacles should flatter by being both suitable and attractive whilst doing a vital job, i.e. helping the wearer see clearly. One criterium doesn’t preclude the other. Beauty can go with function. Same goes for accessible packaging.
There are many examples of accessible packaging on the market; we’ll briefly take a look at two of them - peel and seal envelopes and FlyPak – and we’ll examine their attributes from the moment they’re delivered to the consumer to the point at which they’re disposed of (i.e. recycled, reused or composted).
Many peel and seal envelopes and mailers are letterbox friendly, i.e. they fit through standard U.K. letterboxes. Consequently, a customer doesn’t have to be in to receive a delivery. They don’t even have to open the door to the postman - especially reassuring if mobility issues might make this tricky, there's few things worse than trying to rush to get to the door on time worried that the caller will leave when you're actually in. With letterbox packaging, there's no hassle: the package will be waiting on the doormat for when you’re ready to get it.
Easy open mechanisms such as those found on peel and seal envelopes are so called because they’re easy to spot, easy to get hold of and their lightly perforated cardboard zips mean that very little effort is required to tear them open. Similarly, the FlyPak box, with its hinged, pop-up construction which includes a cardboard zip is just as accessible. No knife or scissors required. No scrabbling about trying to grab the end of the tape with your fingernails.
Both peel and seal envelopes and FlyPak can be customised cost-efficiently with whichever font and colour(s) necessary to create high contrast print enabling maximum clarity and legibility as well as eye-catching, striking branding. With FlyPak, there’s also the option to use cut-outs or embossing as a result of its net construction, thus creating that important tactile unboxing experience.
Any cardboard box or package needs to be easy to open, but its journey isn’t quite over. It must also be convenient to dispose of. Fully recyclable and biodegradable, peel and seal envelopes can be reused or simply placed into household recycling. FlyPak has the same environmentally friendly credentials; its pop-up construction allows it to be pressed flat, it can be folded easily due to its net shape if necessary and then placed in the green bin or even onto the compost heap.
Committing to accessible packaging means that packaging as a whole becomes more streamlined and more practical whoever is opening it and whatever their personal circumstances. Innovating to address the needs of those with disabilities and particular needs means creative, intelligent solutions that benefit the industry as a whole, for every link in the supply chain.
And taking such a tack enables e-commerce businesses to connect more meaningfully to a wider audience. This audience will choose (and review) where to put their spending power depending on many factors, one of which being the ease with which they can recognise, receive and open packaging.
Accessible, inclusive packaging should never be a happy accident, afterthought, or even worse, a second-rate, slap-dash effort to tick a box to ‘address’ the issue of disability. Living with or caring for someone with disability is an everyday reality for millions of people globally and a reality many of us will have to face as we grow older and live longer lives.
So, if you have any ideas about how we can make our packaging even more inclusive, contact us here at The Packaging Club today.
We’d love to hear your ideas, suggestions and points of view. If you need any advice about how to make your packaging more inclusive, then please do give us a call. As ever, we love to hear from you.