OXO Good Grips Peeler – 1990

OXO International’s Good Grips kitchen utensils launched in 1990—the same year Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—and the swivel peeler has since become an icon of the movement to design more inclusively. Originally conceived for people with arthritis, the peeler’s rubber handle fits snugly in the palm, reducing fumbling and the chance of self-inflicted wounds. Consumers responded with practically universal enthusiasm, proving that rules once thought to be regulatory burdens don’t just create niche markets but can be good for the rest of us.

“We didn’t go into the marketplace shouting that it was for disabled consumers,” says Patricia Moore, a gerontologist and industrial designer who consulted on Good Grips and famously disguised herself to find out how an 85-year-old experiences the world. “The design recognized that people of all ages and abilities would use these tools. That really was a turning point, because a lot of product designers were still essentially decorators—more interested in fashion than utility.”

The market for universal products has certainly expanded since the ADA elevated accessibility in buildings, transportation, and telecommunications to a civil rights issue. But given that the first wave of 76 million baby boomers will retire in the next five years, a lot more has to be done. “Until we wake up and start encountering curbed sidewalks as roadblocks instead of safe pathways, we aren’t really thinking about it,” Moore says, adding that another culture faced with an aging population has been quicker to respond. “In Japan people have more of an appreciation for what designers do. In one of the major department stores in the Matsuya Ginza there’s a section dedicated to universal products. The general population understands that universal design is the ideal for all design.”

Now is the time—before the aging of the baby-boom generation creates a genuine emergency—for designers in this country to start putting accessibility at the beginning of the design process rather than adding it on in the end to meet ADA requirements, as if accessibility were just an afterthought.

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