Marketers have been expanding their offerings of merchandise designed for consumers with disabilities, especially in categories such as apparel and Halloween costumes, over the past three years or so. Licensed and collaborative examples have occasionally been part of the mix as well. The idea is to create solutions that are accessible, but also stylish and appealing, and to provide the opportunity for consumers with special needs to purchase products similar to those available for everyone else.
More recently, mainstream brands—particularly retailers—have shown interest in translating this philosophy to adaptive products in the home goods category, sometimes through collaborative efforts. A number of announcements have come to light recently (especially in the last year):
- In July, Pottery Barn launched its first accessible furniture lines, consisting of 160 items for people with disabilities and those who are aging in place. Called The Accessible Home collection, the array includes chairs, tables, and bathroom vanities, among other items. Bestselling pieces from the retailer’s everyday assortment have been tweaked, such as by adding a lift function to chairs or adjusting the height of tables and desks so they will work with a wheelchair. Additional products include grab bars, unbreakable plates, and non-slip rugs. It should be noted that while Pottery Barn is an active partner with licensors of various types, this brand-new line initially does not include any collaborative products.
- In February, Michael Graves Design partnered with drugstore chain CVS for a line of home health care furniture and accessories for elderly consumers and those with disabilities, starting with bathroom safety items. The design-forward, aesthetically appealing products include shower chairs, three-in-one commodes, and raised toilet seats, as well as travel walkers and foldable canes. The products, which are available in stores and online, were designed along the principles of the Design for All movement, of which Graves was a part. More products are planned for later in the year.
- AARP and Lowe’s entered into a two-year deal last November to enhance the Lowe’s Livable Home program with information supplied by AARP. Livable Home recommends products from among Lowe’s offerings that can help create a more accessible home, as well as offering design and DIY tips for living comfortably with disability. The AARP content falls into the second bucket, providing how-tos for adapting an existing home to help its residents age in place, such as tips for anchoring furniture or ensuring non-slip flooring. Under the deal, AARP also provides training for Lowe’s associates on how to better understand the needs of older consumers when it comes to home upgrades and fixes.
- In 2019, Ikea and its advertising agency McCann created 13 open-source templates for home goods add-ons to help consumers with disabilities adapt its (or other brands’) furniture for their needs. The patterns, which also include standalone accessories, are available for anyone to download and 3D print. The templates encompass solutions such as elevating sofa legs, closet handles, cane racks for beds, and lamp button enlargements, all of which can be brought to life using 3D printers at libraries, print shops, maker labs, and other locations. The program, called Ikea ThisAbles, started in Israel before expanding worldwide. Some of Ikea’s physical stores have included an accessible space where consumers can try out the solutions before 3D printing their personal versions. Ikea also offers a range of off-the-shelf accessible furniture in stores, and had been doing so before this program began.
The potential market for accessible and adaptive home goods is large. The CDC estimates that 61 million adults in the U.S. (26% of all adults) have some type of disability, while the Urban Institute estimates that 34 million households are headed by people age 65 and older, with that number expected to rise to 48 million in 20 years.
Furthermore, this market remains relatively untapped, making it ripe for licensing deals and collaborations with designer labels, home furnishings brands, disability influencers, nonprofit accessibility groups, and other licensors whose properties make sense in this space.