Packaging design should always consider accessibility, but making it suitable for people with visual impairments is not always a priority. US-based beauty business Victorialand Beauty uses System Of Raised Universal Symbols (CyRUS) to help visually-impaired consumers identify the product through touch.

Packaging Gateway spoke with Victorialand Beauty founder Victoria Watts to find out how she makes packaging accessible, how other companies can improve on packaging accessibility, and about the importance of packaging accessibility to consumers.

JP: How did you start your business?

VW: I started Victorialand about six years ago. I had a bunch of skin conditions that I couldn’t get any remedy for, so I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally, and started mixing and blending natural ingredients in my kitchen to see if I could figure out a natural solution to solve my skin conditions.

After six months of experimenting, I started noticing an improvement in my skin conditions. I finally felt confident enough to go out without makeup, so I wanted to share that with other women and empower them to feel comfortable in their own skin.

During that time, I had my fourth child, Cyrus, who was born severely visually impaired with a rare genetic disease. Victorialand Beauty first launched in April of 2018 and that was shortly after Cyrus’ birth.

JP: Why did you start manufacturing packaging for the visually impaired?

VW: A few months after the launch, Cyrus began to crawl and navigate his world through his sense of touch. This got me thinking about how the world of consumer goods is so geared towards sighted people. How will my son be able to shower himself, or use personal care products? Will he be able to go shopping? All of these things started to roll through my mind.

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I started to research what brands are doing across consumer packaged goods to make their products accessible but I couldn’t find much. It didn’t surprise me, but it also made me realise what a huge need for it there was.

JP: How have you made your packaging accessible?

VW: One way is through the CyRUS system. Yes, there are a few brands in the skincare space that put braille on packaging, which is great, but only 10% of the 300 million visually-impaired and blind population can read braille. I came up with the idea of a raised universal symbol system that I have adapted and added to the products in my line. I’ve so far created 11 symbols and launched four of them in December.

I worked alongside a blind man named Rick at the LightHouse organisation [A US-based non-profit for the blind and visually impaired] to help me develop the symbols. We worked together for about a year because I’m a sighted consumer and so needed to work with someone who actually experienced the need for accessible packaging. He was able to give me feedback on things I would never have thought of.

We created the symbols and we also created raised QR codes. We decided to link the QR’s to product information so that somebody visually impaired can scan that and get the necessary information. We’ve embossed our QR codes on our cartons so that somebody can identify it by touch and be able to scan it.

JP: Do you have any plans for the future of Victorialand Beauty packaging?

VW: We haven’t launched this yet, as it was in the process of being launched before Covid-19 happened, but we’ve switched everything to digital – brand books, brochures, everything. Beauty is meant to be accessible to all. We will be implementing these things along with the raised QR codes in the next coming months.

Another feature we’ve added but not yet advertised is that our QR codes are now linked to an audio message so that when you scan the QR code there is an audio message which tells you the product description. It will give you the key ingredients, directions, and then it will give you an option to go to the website if you want to know more or leave a product review, etc. The reason I did this was because, in watching Rick use his screen reader, it occurred to me that there must be an even more accessible way to get the information. This is why I implemented the audio message.

JP: What are your hopes for the future of accessible packaging?

VW: I think accessible packaging is something all brands can do. The only possible thing I could see as a deterrent for some brands is the cost of embossing the code but, again, if a small business like me can do it then so can larger companies.

I hope that my raised universal symbols I created will raise awareness and get other brands to start incorporating their own symbols and add QR codes to their packaging. It’s not difficult to make packaging accessible to the visually impaired consumer and be inclusive. This blind population of 300 million is expected to double in the next 20 years, that’s a really big thing. Change needs to happen now so that we can support this community.