While the beauty industry has become more inclusive in some areas with improved representation of the disabled community, as sited by The Valuable 500 this quarter, it remains a realm designed for the non-disabled. Beauty has started to broaden its marketing appeal by featuring disabled models, but could improve further by offering a more accessible online experience, improved training for retail staff, more accessible physical stores, that also take sensory issues into consideration, and universally designed products and packaging that can be used by all.

In the UK, 1 in 5 people have a disability and 80% of these are invisible. People living with disabilities represent a large, and very much neglected, community in this country.

For Sam Renke, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones disease, make-up is not a mask but a way to express herself. “Fashion and beauty have given me confidence when, from a very young age, I felt like I was discriminated against,” Sam says. “Growing up, I struggled with not being able to do much aesthetically about how I looked. I’ve got scars on my body and during my teenage years felt very different from everybody else – at one point, I found it quite difficult to look in the mirror."

However, while make-up has been empowering for Sam, in many ways, the world of beauty – from appointments at the hairdressers and going shopping for make-up, to creating the looks that she wants to – can often feel inaccessible.

How can you make your beauty business more inclusive?

  • Consider introducing a sensory-friendly hour when you dim lights, reduce scents and switch off music.
  • Offer bookable appointments out of hours, or at quieter times, when there are less people around and you have the extra time to spend with your client and sensory distractions are kept to a minimum.
  • Provide details with photos: how to get to the consultation and what it looks like, who they will meet, toilet locations, where your quiet area is.
  • Find out if your client has sensory issues and research make-up brushes and applicators for suitability.
  • Find out if your client has mobility restrictions that need to be taken into account.
  • During the consultation, be patient, use clear language to describe what you are doing.
  • Train colleagues – businesses can work with us to ensure that their staff feel confident to assist anyone with an invisible disability. Find out more here
  • Introduce the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower as 80% of disabilities are invisible. Find out how to join here

There are already a number of beauty businesses that have adopted the Sunflower, these can be found by using our locator map. We spoke to Jenna Heidstrom, Co-Founder of Sunflower friendly Suki Beauty, about why it was important that her business was a part of the scheme, she said:

“The reason why we are a member of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme is because it is very close to home to me and we have built Suki Beauty upon compassionate foundations and the inclusivity of others, whilst doing our bit for ourselves, the community & our planet by using vegan products & eco-friendly policies.

My nephew has autism and whilst he’s young, I know in the future the Sunflower scheme will help massively, whether it be in airports, going into shops or visiting the barbers. Not many people are aware of his disability and I think that’s the main reason why we are part of the scheme, for awareness. Suki Beauty will be here to support the scheme in every way and to ensure everyone has a lovely experience in the safe space that we have created.”

What about beauty brands and products?

In April, Unilever unveiled the company’s first inclusive product: Degree Inclusive, a deodorant by Rexona designed for people with visual impairment and upper limb disabilities. The product is designed with grippable features for one-handed use, easy-to-open packaging, magnetic closures, a braille label and a larger roll-on applicator to reach a larger surface area.

L'Oréal and Unilever are also in the final stages of making their brands' websites more accessible. Over the next two months, Unilever’s websites in the US, UK and Brazil will be adaptively designed and include assistive digital tools for customers with disabilities. L'Oréal says it’s exploring ways to make all their different online touchpoints easier to engage with, such as introducing voice speech as an option instead of text.

Kohl Kreatives Flex Collection has developed five self-standing, flexible, multipurpose, make-up brushes with easy grip handles that everyone can use, including those with motor disabilities. Proceeds from every brush sold goes towards holding free workshops, or one-to-one masterclasses, in hospitals and the community to help everyone, from people with disabilities to cancer patients and burns victims, and those transitioning gender.

Guide Beauty is a new makeup brand that launched last year (early 2020) with a range of accessible makeup products. Terri Bryant, founder of Guide Beauty was inspired to create this brand after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and fearing her career and passion as a makeup artist was over. Her creation has enabled her and millions of disabled people to be able to enjoy doing their own makeup. There are four accessible makeup products in the Guide Beauty range; mascara, eyebrow gel, potted gel eyeliner and eyeliner tool. They have an ergonomic design to provide easy application and the mascara and eyebrow gel even have a hand grip applicator. The grip applicators can be used as a finger rest to steady shaky hands.

It appears that the beauty industry is definitely moving in the right direction and recognising that disabled customers have been almost ignored for far too long. By championing accessible design, introducing a more inclusive in person experience and improving online accessibility the world of beauty is beginning to offer greater independence and opportunity for disabled people.