Like in many industries, disabled and chronically sick people are being left behind. And it cannot continue.
I was one of those “complex cases”, labelled a mystery by medical professionals. At 16 I found myself in and out of hospital almost weekly. I couldn’t relate to my peers anymore, and suddenly found myself in this new medical space. The thing is, I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone there either.
Everything was cold, and clinical. There was never information about living with illness, only curing it. But what happens when there is no cure, or even treatment, for your condition? What happens when no one knows what to say to you anymore?
I’m a firm believer that disabled people don’t just have needs. Like anyone else we also have preferences, desires, aspirations and a sense of self. We’re individuals. And we deserve products and services that keep that in mind.
Chronic illness and disability can be overwhelming and isolating, but there can be joy in there as well. It’s important that is also reflected in the messaging, products and services we’re surrounded by.
Perhaps not strictly gifting, but let’s take a shower stool as an example. I’ve used one for most of my twenties. If I want a stool for any other area of my home, I have literally thousands of different options, colours and styles to pick from. Suddenly if I need one that can withstand getting wet, I have one option. It’s white and hospital blue, it’s clunky, and a bit of an eyesore.
It speaks to the idea that when it comes to products aimed at sick and disabled people, design is almost never considered. Industries assume we want to hide away this part of ourselves.
But I don’t anymore.
I think it’s high time there was a shake-up in how we think of “Get Well Soon” and “Thinking Of You”. Often greetings in these categories are intended to be open-ended, applicable to a variety of situations. In theory, I get it. In practice however, it’s saying so little it’s almost not saying anything at all.
When you’re in a tough situation without a definitive end point, people are often unsure of how to help or what to say. The Gifting and Greetings industry could be doing a lot more to help people figure that out.
It doesn’t always need to be a daunting sit-down conversation, I promise! Let’s normalise it. We don’t need to soften these things all the time with a fine script font, a muted palette, and a gentle floral watercolour. We need more variety, and honest connection. When was the last time there was a single aesthetic to “Happy Birthday”?
A lot of it, I believe, comes down to a lack of diversity in the teams. Diverse teams will always produce more well-rounded ideas. Disabled and chronically sick people are often locked out of employment due to ableist assumptions. We need more people with varied lived experiences involved in the creation of products and messaging. And it’s imperative that goes beyond white, slim, cis disabled people like me.
Assumptions are made about what chronically sick and disabled people need or want. We deserve products that speak to our experiences and fulfil our needs – of course. But we also deserve nice things that do that! Disabled people deserve joyful design too.
We’re not a monolith. It may be a niche market but that doesn’t mean it’s a small one. We’re a varied and valuable bunch. There are millions upon millions of us. It’s time “Get Well Soon” and “Thinking Of You” were considered varied and valuable too.
It’s time to do away with the idea of being grateful for scraps. We’re not doing that anymore.