The Inequity of a Can Opener
My intimacy coach once asked me, “How will you know when you are loved?” And I responded with this example:
Last year, I had a date over to my house and cooked us dinner. He watched as I struggled to get a Pyrex dish out of the oven with one hand and did nothing. And he also watched as I served the ratatouille I made and dripped sauce on the counter, but didn’t ask to help.
I am partially paralyzed on the left side of my body, so holding a serving spoon in one hand and a bowl in the other (to avoid dropping sauce) isn’t as easy for me as it is for some people.
The dripped sauce itself is inconsequential in the long term. What is important here though is I would have known I was loved if this person had stepped in to provide me with an act of service. Or, as I said to my intimacy coach, “I’ll know I am loved when I’m struggling to cut or pick something up at dinner, someone helps, and I don’t overtly have to ask.”
Now, I realize this is a bit of a controversial statement because as a workplace culture consultant, I always want people to feel empowered to proactively speak up when they need help. However, as somebody who’s had a physical disability for the majority of her life, I must admit that I have a little “asking for help” fatigue. In fact, I long for someone (aside from myself) to anticipate my needs.
In the past, I felt this ‘service’ love from one of the most influential people in my life, my maternal grandmother, who would voluntarily send me can openers and wine openers that I could use with one hand. I never asked, but she instinctively knew that they would be a help, so she sent different appliances every few years without prompt.
One of the greatest examples of ableism in our world is the huge gap in the consumer products market for people with physical disabilities.
Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. So, that’s right two-handed wine openers — you’re busted.
As I think about the shoes I have been unable to buckle with one hand, the dresses I’ve been unable to zip with one hand, and the jars I’m not able to open with one hand — it pains me to think of how challenging this world can be for someone single with a physical disability.
Our world is getting much better about making technology and workplaces more accessible for those with physical disabilities. Microsoft is committing to a culture of accessibility by expanding opportunities to enter the workforce. L’Oreal created the employee-led DiversABILITY ThinkTank: a resource group dedicated to raising awareness and supporting the recruitment, advancement, and retention of people with disabilities. Proctor & Gamble, MetLife, and Intel are also among those scaling their workplace culture in a more inclusive direction.
But there is still more to be done.
As companies accelerate the great work to become more inclusive and equitable with physical workplaces and technology, I challenge all of us to do the same with our products. How are we designing shoes that can be used by someone who can’t tie laces? How are our tangible products being collaborative with all populations, whether you are in charge of sink design in an airplane or the latest public transportation signs?
Is there anything you can do to make your design and approach more equitable? Perhaps not, but if you have only considered your own physical abilities, it’s worth being open to the possibility that you haven’t considered every angle.
Give it a thought the next time you go to open a bottle of wine. And if you’re in need of a good opener, you know who to call.