Arthritis Friendly Packaging

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy 12 Comments

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy was recently contacted by a group of graduate industrial design students from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, asking if he could provide some feedback on living with rheumatoid arthritis – with an emphasis on packaging design. I was more than happy to oblige.

When I was a graduate design student, I was particularly interested in the relationship between usable design and architecture. I don’t think this was too popular an idea amongst my classmates and professors. In the age of the superstar architect, shiny architecture magazines, and huge coffee table opuses, starting the design of a building from the point-of-view of the user, and asking “what will they think about this building” was interpreted by many to be somewhat boring.

In one of my first blog posts (Universal Design) I wrote about my graduate thesis project – a museum for prosthetic devices. I was tired of hearing designers talk about the American Disabilities Act and its impact on architecture as a nuisance. I wanted to embrace accessible and universal design as a starting point for design, and not merely as check-list that needed to be fulfilled. Little did I know that this would become a very personal issue less than a decade later.

(I eventually continued to explore more aspects of universal design and ease-of-use, but in the software design industry, where I worked as an information architect and user experience designer.)

I applaud these design students for including accessibility in their design studies, by researching ways in which packaging design can become easier to use for individuals living with arthritis and other disabilities. Ease of use is good because in the end it helps everyone, and not just those of us who live with certain limitations.

During this past year the packaging of products become a very real issue that I continue to struggle with on a daily basis. Here is a list of the problems that I encounter with certain types of packaging.

  • Cardboard Boxes: Relatively easy to open. These boxes generally do not present a problem…although the tab/slot design found in certain packages such as cereal boxes do not always survive intact.
  • Twist-Off Caps: Up until I started using my multi-opener on a regular basis, something as seemingly simple as opening a personal bottle of water could prove difficult, if not impossible. It would be nice if some grip device were built in, to make it easier to open these caps when an assistive device is not available (as if often the case when I am out in public).
  • Ziploc Bags: I continue to be surprised at how difficult it can be to properly seal a ziploc bag. I am even more surprised at how sometimes I cannot muster the force required to open a ziploc seal. I know that some bags have slider tabs, which solves this problem…but they are still not the norm on many ziploc packages.
  • Clamshell/Molded Plastic: Don’t even get me started…this packaging was next to impossible to open even when I didn’t live with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Pharmacy Packaging: Where I live there are no orange medicine bottles with white caps. Medicines are sold in their original cardboard package. No problem there, but once I get to the blister pack things become more difficult. The small size of certain blisters, combined with the force required to push them out, can be quite difficult at times.
  • Squeeze Bottles with Flip-Tops: Generally not a problem, although I have noticed that some tops are more difficult to flip open than others. One more thing, hard plastic squeeze bottles don’t work. A few months ago I purchased some men’s shampoo, conditioner, and gel that was packaged in a very modern, sturdy plastic squeeze bottle that was obviously trying to appeal to a masculine audience. I might be a man, but I will never again purchase this product.
  • Ring/Tab Pull-Away Lids: Once again, with my multi-opener these do not present a problem. Without an assistive device, these can be difficult if not impossible to open.
  • Jar Lids: Okay this is the biggie for many people, I know. Where I live, a majority of the food is not processed and not packaged…similar to doing all of your shopping in a farmer’s market in the U.S. Of course, certain jars do enter my kitchen…and to be honest, when they need to be opened I have someone else open them up for me. I need to look into getting a jar opener. Until then, jar lids are on my no-go list.
  • Cellophane/Plastic/Foil Bags: There have been many times when I am unable to open a bag of potato chips by pulling open the bag with both hands…quite often, I have to use a pair of scissors to cut it open. Clearly visible pre-cut notches in these bags are of great assistance.

Please feel free to add to this list. Industrial design students are listening, and some of our comments just might spark some creative solutions!

EaseofUse_logoHave you ever ached to find easy-to-open packages or bottles? Or products designed to be comfortable and effective, as well as easy to use? The Arthritis Foundation created a program to encourage manufacturers to design user-friendly products and packaging. Manufacturers submit their product(s) for testing by an independent lab experienced in the design and evaluation of products that are accessible to people with functional limitations due to the effects of arthritis. Learn more about our Ease of Use commendation and the companies that have earned it.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy

Comments 12

  1. CRK

    As a former architecture/design student, you are no doubt aware that one of the world’s most famous architects, Michael Graves, is confined to a wheelchair. His Michael Graves Designs products, available at Target and elsewhere, are specifically designed with both accessibility/usability and style — such as large grippable handles on household objects.

    Now if they could only do something with shoes!

  2. Laurie

    When the major formula companies changed their packaging on hospital use formulas, the new 2 oz bottles have a round base and opening, an oval body and the most difficult new lid to open, because it was nearly impossible to get a grip on the bottle so you could twist the sealed cap off. Many nurses (even the healthy ones) complained, and about 9 months later one company sent a grasper to use on the lid, it’s cumbersome, but better than nothing, but it only works with one brand, none of the others. We have taken some thicker silicone sheets and cut them into 4 inch squares that we can use to open any formula bottle. Now if we can only get the other formula company to stop making smooth polished metal bottle caps that slip and slide.

    My other pet peeve is bottled water, which I don’t use real often, but if I am out I will sometime get one (and reuse it to death) The bottles are now so thin and flimsy that I have actually cracked one open trying to get the cap off (and the lid stayed firmly in place!)

  3. Aimee

    LOL, I’ve told my hubby to only buy the ziplock bags with the slides…I can’t manage the other kind on any regular basis. I learned awhile ago with my shampoo to use a pump bottle.

  4. Lana

    I struggle with alot of these things. I have started buying shampoos with a pump, water bottles can be hard too, soda bottles, (that is my what my husband is useful for), ziploc bags are difficult too (I end of tearing them), I have a jar opener. I need help with my medicine bottles and I am afraid of the arthritis caps because I have small children. An electric can opener is a wonderful device. I even have difficulties putting the top off a soda can. It is nice to have a butter knife or other utensil near by. That was actually the first indicator that something was wrong with my hands – I had to start using a untensil to open a soda can. RA is a mysterious disease regardless of the research and treatments out there.

  5. Terry

    The Clamshell/Molded Plastic is the one that irritates the crap out of me. I bought the item and I can’t get to it after I walk out of the store. Also Ziploc bags give me a lot of grief. I’m glad to see this problem is at least getting a look.

  6. kmom

    My favorite tool is a comfortable handled scissors—to open bags and to cut any food that needs cutting. I can use the scissor motion with much more success and less pain than a knife.

    I keep several around my kitchen and usually set my place at the table with one.

    I’ve also changed some of the door knobs in our house—no more little round ones that are hard to grip!

  7. Diana Leneker

    Tubes of toothpaste can give me a challenge. I now buy the kind that sits upside down in the medicine cabinet where it has a flip top. I let gravity do the work so I don’t have to try to open those small caps and squeeze the toothpaste out. And even some easy open caps that the pharmacist puts medicine in for me become hard to use.

  8. Post
    RA Guy

    Glad to know that I am not the only one who has problems with ziploc bags…for a while there, I thought it was only me and that I had to be doing something wrong!

  9. Anna

    I have two questions regarding packaging and people with arthritis; you prefer a coffee jar thats made out of plastic or glass? you prefer a jar with a handle or a curvy shape?

  10. Rene

    I take 14 pills a day for arthritis and other issues due to arthritis. It hurts to open one-much less 14 that are all different shapes and sizes everyday. I have a 7 day plastic (m-s) box that I use. The difficult part is that it is difficult to keep up with all 14 drugs since none of them run out on the same date. I need something that allows me to store the open bottles along with the pills. I have a friend who dumps all of hers in a plastic clear jewelry case organizer that holds 30 pairs of earrings. I want to be able to store the bottle with the pills and go through daily and pick the pills out of the container. That way, when there are only 5 pills left-it’s visible and I can also see the bottle with all information for refill and dosage. I could then write R on the bottle, once I’ve ordered the refill. Hope this makes sense!

  11. Lucy J.

    Finally! I have so much trouble opening packages, and have wondered why packaging seems to be more to keep the consumer out of it, than protection for the product. Here are a few added woes for my arthritic hands and wrists…

    1) Children’s toys. There have been some positive changes (remember that metal twisty wires that required wire cutters?), but still, I often have trouble getting into toys I buy for the kids. During the clamshell bubble craze, I gashed myself on a regular basis with the molding itself, the scissors or knife I was trying to use in the process. This packaging always seemed to me, to be some kind of cosmic joke or punishment for past sins. My husband is paralyzed on his right side. His sheer brute strength on the left side (from years of using on the left arm/hand) meant that he was in charge of dealing with all clamshell packaging, and most of the wired in packing for toys.

    2) Strollers. The open/close mechanism of strollers can be tough for any new parent. Add to that, a new mom with uncooperative, weak, sore hands, and you have a recipe for disaster and tears. I had my hand caught in the vice grip of a stroller closing mechanism, that tore the flesh from my palm, and crushed my hand. My ridiculously over priced stroller was trying to kill me, or at least render me useless and broken. I took it out to the curb.

    3) Pots and pans. The sheer weight of high end pots and pans put so much strain on my wrists, that cooking can become more of a chore than need be. I now look for lightweight cookware. Many of us with arthritis, also have pain and weakness in the wrists, so weight matters.

    3) Okay, no laughing….but elasticized undergarments! That’s right. Sometimes you want to look super smooth with no undie lines, so you buy serious undergarments. Now, try to pull them up, over, or off of your body. Tough. Now, do it with uncooperative hands. Damn near impossible. This is one I won’t ask someone to help with either. Oh the humanity.

    4) Texting. This one may seem nonsensical, but I for one, have numbness in my fingertips. Many people with autoimmune issues have cold, numb fingers. So, texting is like trying to navigate giant gorilla fingers to tie tiny little shoes. That analogy is weird, and I have small hands, but hopefully you get my struggle here. Beyond that, touch screens usually require some heat. Maybe that’s just at my gym, but I can’t get the touchscreens on the cardio equipment to work unless I rub my fingers on something to generate heat first. If you want to experience this somewhat, just put on a pair of thick gloves, and try to text or use any touch screen. That’s how it works without gloves, for those of us with cold, numb fingertips.

    5) Water bottles, and other twist tops. Why are they on so tight? I’ve given up too many times to count. If I am alone, I just give up on twist tops that are too tight. Aside from bashing things open with a hammer or cutting with a knife, some things are just impossible.

    Karma is a relatively quick and just lady. May those who design without consideration for the user, become disabled with arthritis, and for my added amusement…maybe a persistent itch somewhere unsavory or just unreachable.

    Oh, and lest I forget. I would like to give a public thanks to my children, who learned impressively early in life, how to open child proof packaging (including medications). We use the term “mom proof” in our home. Thanks boys.

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