Barbara Woods reached for the tube of toothpaste, but the one she picked up and squeezed onto her toothbrush contained Bengay, the cream used to relieve aching joints and muscles. It was a defining moment, one that helped her realize that she was nearly blind with a severe case of macular degeneration and needed tactile cues to brush her teeth and do other routine tasks.
Barbara was 69 years old at the time. She didn't read Braille. In fact, less than 10 percent of the visually impaired can read Braille. So she began using nail polish to differentiate packaging with varying sizes and numbers of dots.
Amanda Bolton helped her grandmother cope as much as possible.
“Things she couldn't feel, I would help her make these cues according to her liking,” Bolton said. “She knew what she wanted. She knew what worked best for her.”
As she watched, Bolton, then 19, decided to change her major at the University of Cincinnati from fine arts to industrial design, creating products for people like her grandmother.
“The depth of challenges and opportunities is just so broad in this category,” she said, now 24 and a designer for Design Central in Columbus, Ohio. “It was really a call to action when I was observing these things. It wasn't that they were different. It was all the same challenge. But seeing the challenges first-hand and how Grandma dealt with them was inspiring. It made me think about where my designs could be beneficial.”
Barbara Woods died in 2011, but her spirit is alive thanks to Amanda's B-PAC Kitchenware, a conceptual set of products with tactile cues for the vision-impaired that won top prize in the 2014 International Housewares Association (IHA) student design competition.
“The B in B-PAC is for Barbara,” Bolton explains. “PAC is for Prevention Accuracy Communication.”