A Hair-Raising Experience: Styling Tools and the Need for Inclusive Product Design

by Dr. Sarah Saska, CEO (Feminuity)

Image of hair tools

In our work, we believe that designing for human diversity is the key to our collective future.  We know that we have a lot to learn from those who have experienced varying degrees of exclusion in their own lives because these experiences allow them to recognize opportunities in the world and help us all move forward.  Just last week, a friend of ours brought an example to our attention; she is tired of hair styling tools that don't suit her needs, and she wants us to help her find a solution. Here’s her story:


I inherited my grandmother’s fine hair texture and my father’s curls. My hair can be quite unruly, so I used to load my hair with straightening creams and serums, brush it as straight as possible, and let it air dry. But it always looked a bit unpolished, like I’d just rolled out of bed. I decided to start blow drying my hair.

I invested in a Dyson Supersonic. Its hefty price tag was well worth it to me because of its ergonomically comfortable design and lightning-fast speed. I could hold it easily and my arms didn’t ache from its weight or strain. I use it every day but it can still leave my mop a bit frizzy.  I find that straightening my hair gives it the polished look that I love as a professional woman, but I don’t straighten my own hair because I am afraid that I will drop the straightener on myself and burn my face or neck.

I have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy as a result of a hemorrhage I experienced in my brain as a baby. My disability is most apparent in my walk and my balance, but it also affects my dexterity, which has led to difficulty with using hair styling tools.

My solution has always been to pay a stylist at a salon to iron out my hair, usually for an event or party. I have always wanted to be able to straighten my own hair without fear of hurting myself.  

People with disabilities don’t want to be considered “inspirational,” but rather taken seriously and treated as equals. Feeling confident in the way we present ourselves is a big part of that.  Why isn’t there a hair styling tool that I can trust not to clatter out of my hands and risk burning me? Why isn’t there a line of styling tools designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities?


As our friend reminds us, how we present ourselves to the world matters, and a solution -- in this instance a hair styling tool -- becomes a barrier when it’s designed only for people with certain abilities. So here’s our ask: Are there any manufacturers of hairstyling tools creating a line of accessible styling tools?  We’ve searched “hair tools and dexterity,” “hair tools and accessibility” and a range of combinations to no avail.

Accessible hair styling tools should consider a range of abilities and needs, be designed with the people who will use them, and be affordable to anyone who needs them.  In this way, accessible hair tools aren’t just about beauty and glamour, they’re also about autonomy and independence.

If you and your team are currently working on adapting traditional hair styling tools, or if you’d like to explore how this, one of our many offerings is inclusive product design so reach out to us at hello@feminuity.org and check out our website for more info: www.feminuity.org.

Sarah SaskaComment