What is accessible design?

What is accessible design about and why is it important?

The accessibility of a product essentially relates to the ease of use a consumer experiences when interacting with a product. For the task of removing a water bottle lid, factors like the size, geometry and finish of the lid and bottle can impact a consumer’s ability to grip the product. The force required to break the seal will also influence the level of difficulty a consumer may experience when opening the bottle.

Understanding which factors contribute to an easy or difficult experience is important, as a product that is inaccessible and hard-to-open results in the consumer being left feeling frustrated and angry about their negative experience. But if they attempt to use a tool like a knife or scissors to break through the packaging, it also increases the risk of an injury occurring, or they may damage the product itself. Understandably, these negative feelings created by such interactions may cause consumers to look for alternative products next time they shop.

Making a product accessible and easy-to-use or open adds value to a product for all consumers. Accessibility is especially important if a product is marketed to consumers who are ‘on the move’ or with time poor lifestyles, such as busy working parents. Accessibility is also important for the independence of those with functional limitations such as reduced strength or dexterity. Groups particularly impacted are those with a disability, chronic pain, injury or illness, including the 3.9 million Australians living with arthritis, as well as the growing ageing population. For these groups inaccessible packaging and products become daily barriers to achieving everyday tasks like preparing a healthy meal.

Your strength and dexterity will reduce as you age (60+) making many types of packaging harder to open

What is the Accessible Design Division?

Arthritis Australia’s Accessible Design Division provides industry and government with decision-making tools to evaluate accessible packaging and products at a design and procurement level. We have undertaken work for more than fifty organisations throughout the supply chain and clients include small family owned companies through to large organisations like Nestle, SPC, Kellogg’s, HealthShare NSW and Woolworths.

The Accessible Design Division works with Dr Brad Fain who has more than two decades researching human factors engineering and design, as a Principal Research Scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and founder of the Intuitive Design Applied Research Institute. Dr Brad Fain has conducted world-leading research in accessibility and established the Accessibility Evaluation Facility at Georgia Tech. He has also pioneered evaluation techniques designed to measure accessibility and usability of products and services for people with disabilities.

Why is the Division focused on improving packaging accessibility?

Over the past few years the Division has been working towards easier to open packaging through a range of advocacy and testing processes. We undertake this role because packaging is something consumers encounter a number of times a day, everyday, and because Australians living with arthritis have reduced strength and dexterity they are impacted more than most.  So, although there is no current cure for arthritis, packaging is something we can work to improve that will have a big impact on the arthritis community.

Packaging is also having an adverse impact on quality of life, with 65% of consumers having to wait for someone to come and open packaging for them (Catalyst Research, 2013) and 89% of consumers are currently feeling frustrated or furious with packaging (Catalyst Research, 2013). 53% of consumers have also suffered an injury while trying to open packaging (Catalyst Research, 2013). These negative experiences with packaging can impact a consumer’s life, particularly if they live alone or have a functional limitation. The packaging industry needs to take responsibility for a consumer’s post-purchase experience and consumers should seek alternative products that better meets their needs.

Together with Dr Brad Fain, the Division has developed world-first guidelines and testing services that the packaging industry can use to make products accessible.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings
Catalyst Research (2013) ‘Packaging Survey Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand’