By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
An online petition to make food packaging more accessible for Australians with disabilities and limited physical capacities has picked up more than 12,000 signatures in one month.
Wollert woman Jerusha Mather, who lives with cerebral palsy, started the petition because the congenital movement disorder makes tasks involving strength and fine motor skills challenging for her.
The disability advocate and PhD student in cerebral palsy research said her food options were sometimes limited because she struggled to open jars, tins and bottles.
While a support worker sometimes helps in the kitchen, the tools Ms Mather uses to open tins and jars are unreliable and often become stuck.
“It makes life really hard for me. Probably the most annoying thing in the kitchen is opening the packaging. It’s really hard to open,” she said.
“I thought that if they can make it more accessible for everyone, then everyone would benefit, and people with disabilities would live a more independent life, which is what we want.”
Ms Mather hopes her campaign will influence food packaging manufacturers and designers to consider more inclusive alternatives like containers with seal openings and tear-open packets, which she said could provide more independence and reduce the risk of injury.
One in five Australians, or 4.4 million people, have a disability, 77 per cent of which have a physical disorder as their main condition.
But Ms Mathers said this was a global issue that impacted people with a wide range of limitations, including the elderly.
A 2018 study by Arthritis Australia found that 44 per cent of Australians with arthritis in their hands experienced difficulty opening packaging every day.
Turn-to-open packaging was reported to be the most difficult, with only one per cent of respondents able to open glass jars with ease, without struggle, injury, asking for help, or the use of a tool.
Women are also disproportionately affected, with a higher percentage of men reporting to struggle less often.
More than two thirds of survey respondents also said they struggled to read packaging labels, often due to the size of the print, which could be harmful when checking for expiry dates and allergens.
Ms Mathers is looking for government support to create legislation to ensure manufacturers make accessible packaging options, as well as the opportunity to provide product feedback to major retailers with a group of people who have lived experiences with different physical disabilities, including blindness and low vision.
“I’m hoping they will consider people with a disability,” she said.
“I think it’s really important for them to become our allies and support us and really include us in the design world.
“A lot of people in the design world are able-bodied people, and if they can become our allies then they can support us in making some progress.”
To sign the petition, visit chng.it/YSsztrMyy8.