Since I don’t have a car with me at college, I frequently use online shopping as a way to get items that would be otherwise difficult to transport. Over time, I have noticed more and more products are being transported in what is called accessible packaging, and as someone with a vision impairment and issues with their motor skills, I could not be more excited about opening boxes without a large amount of pain. Since accessible packaging has been in the news a lot lately, today I will be answering the who, what, when, where, and why for fast facts on accessible packaging.
The term accessible packaging has been used by several different companies to describe how an item is packaged, and it is a recognized term in the International Organization for Standardization as of 2011- view their news report here. While each company may call it something slightly different, I will be using the term accessible packaging for this post.
Accessible packaging is a way of packing items to reduce waste while keeping things easy to open and access. Instead of using large amounts of tape, styrofoam, or other packing methods that generate a lot of waste, accessible packaging makes use of recyclable materials and uses designs that don’t require a large amount of hand strength to open. I personally love accessible packaging because it means I don’t need to ask for help when opening things, which increases my independence.
People have been trying to reduce waste in packaging for years, but it appears the first company to introduce accessible packaging for online products was Amazon with their frustration-free packaging in 2008. Over time, designs have improved tremendously so other companies have started using it as well. I appreciate this because I do all of my shopping almost exclusively online- even my grocery shopping. While I don’t use the service anymore since it’s no longer in my area, check out my review of the Amazon Fresh online grocery shopping experience here.
Accessible packaging has become common for many products. The first product to feature accessible packaging on Amazon was a toy set manufactured by Fisher-Price, and since then many more toys have tried to cut down on the amount of packaging used to decrease what’s referred to as “wrap rage” or frustrating packaging, both of which can be commonly found on Christmas morning. Many medication companies have also started selling over the counter medication in what they call arthritis-friendly containers (read more about accessible medication labels here). Microsoft recently started embracing accessible packaging with their new Xbox adaptive controller and has started a conversation about how technology can be better packaged for people with disabilities. With innovations like this, it’s easier than ever to find accessible packaging when buying many different items online, as companies have been finding new ways to cut down on costs and embrace accessibility.
Normal packaging can present many difficulties for people with disabilities. Boxes that use copious amounts of tape require scissors or a box cutter to open, which can be difficult for people with motor issues. Items that are tightly packed in styrofoam may take time and hand strength to be removed, and the styrofoam can break into many pieces that may be hard to clean up. Hard plastic shells can be painful to open, and removing items from packaging can be dangerous if there are sharp edges from cutting the plastic. These situations highlight the need for accessible packaging.
It’s not just people with disabilities that benefit from accessible packaging. While it’s true that people with mobility, dexterity, and vision issues benefit from having easy to open packaging, the reality is that it benefits everyone. Many people appreciate not having to dig out a pair of scissors or needing to spend a large amount of time taking an item out of the box. It’s also a more environmentally friendly option since there is less plastic and waste generated by the more minimalist packaging method. This is an example of how assistive technology and accessibility can benefit everyone- read more myths about assistive technology and how it actually helps people here.
Accessible packaging may be known by other names. Some of these names include:
Whenever I am shopping, I am more likely to choose an item that is easy to open over one that is less easy, and I have chosen not to buy certain items if the packaging is ridiculously complex or hard to open. I always read reviews before buying something and sometimes buy a product in a larger or smaller size than I need if the packaging is easier to use or re-use. For example, I don’t like buying a gallon of milk and prefer to buy smaller containers that are easier to pour, but I did buy my laundry pods in a large container that I could easily open and reuse once its empty- read more about how I do laundry in college here.
There are a few different ways that consumers can go about requesting accessible packaging that I have written about below:
Submit a message under the “contact us” form that requests accessible packaging. I’ve written a sample message that you can use here:
Hello, I would like to request minimal and plastic free packaging without a large amount of tape for all of my future orders. I have difficulty opening packages and would prefer to reduce waste as much as possible. Please refrain from using non-recyclable materials when possible for fulfilling future orders. Thank you!
This sample message was inspired by a post on the blog Mama Eco about reducing waste in online packaging that I have modified to fit the needs of customers with disabilities.
One time, I received a gigantic box that was easily three and a half feet long and a foot wide. What was inside? A dress that had been folded neatly and that took up maybe a tenth of the space inside the box. I made sure to leave feedback about the unnecessary packaging and how it would have been much easier to carry a smaller box from my college mailroom back to my dorm. Speaking of my college mailroom, here are fifteen addresses to memorize for college here.
Many stores that I have ordered from in recent times have started using easy-to-open packaging that doesn’t require scissors or a lot of hand strength. Some companies use this type of packaging by default, while others require that customers request it. Whenever possible, I highly recommend selecting frustration-free packaging or choosing companies that use recycled materials for packaging.
By using accessible packaging, companies can embrace the principle of universal design, which means that things can be used by everyone without barriers. As I mentioned before, innovations in accessibility and assistive technology can benefit everyone, and with an increasing senior population, the need for accessibility will only continue to grow. Accessible packaging is very important, and I hope that more companies work to make their products easier to open for everyone- including people with disabilities.