Sam Latif is a member of The A List, which honors individuals who are driving and shaping the future of beauty.
In her 21 years at Procter & Gamble, Latif has worked on some of the most impactful examples of accessible beauty product design: Olay’s new Easy Open Lids and, for blind and low-vision consumers, Herbal Essences’s raised dots and strips (known as tactile markers) and Clearblue’s Be My Eyes app (through which pregnancy results are read to you). Latif, who is blind, is currently the company’s accessibility leader (a position that was created for her) and she walked us through a typical Wednesday spent changing the world.
Chatting over coffee covers more than “How about that weather?”
“We’ve been hiring more people in the company with disabilities, and my typical day usually involves talking to one or more of them to understand how they’re getting on, to help them remove any barriers or issues they might be experiencing, and about how they can get involved in some of the work that I’m doing. They’ve got unique skills to bring. Most successful people in companies never had a disability themselves or a [disabled] family member. Why are [other] companies not making accessible products today? It’s because they never thought about it. What I’m trying to do in life is to reverse that.”
Scheduling more meetings — with strangers too
“When we’ve interviewed consumers like me, we’ve found that they felt the beauty industry didn’t really reach out to them. So, one version of a day is just talking to consumers with disabilities: ‘What are some of the frustrations that you’ve got?’ That way I can understand how to bring those to P&G to meet their needs.”
Finding creative ways to help coworkers understand
“I love taking the brand teams through the journey. ‘Put on this arthritic glove and try to open that product. Did you know that there’s an opportunity to make it easier to open?’ Or, ‘Wear these glasses that simulate sight loss. And now can you see the writing on your pack?’ I’m teaching them to think differently, more inclusively. For example, with Herbal Essences, I showed [the team] a prototype of bottles where they could tell which was shampoo and which was conditioner simply through touch, even when they wore the glasses that simulate sight loss. They realized, ‘Ah, that’s a problem people face.’ And when they found the tactile markings, they realized, ‘Ah, that’s how we can solve it.’
“One day in a meeting, we were playing some P&G ads. People [in the meeting] were laughing, but I wasn’t because I didn’t know what the ad was all about. It was just music [to me]. I thought, Why don’t we put audio descriptions in? [In 2017, P&G did indeed start adding these to many ads.] Bringing in my own unique insights gives me ideas that I go after. I know it’s not only going to help me, it’s going to help the 300 million or more people with low or no vision in the world.”
Tipping off the competition
“The bigger vision that I have is that those [tactile] stripes and circles will be on all competitor shampoos and conditioners as well. When you’ve got soap in your eyes in the shower or you’re not wearing your contact lenses or glasses, you will be able to find those four stripes. It will become a universal language. Yes, it’s good for P&G to do and, yes, we’re doing it, but we can’t — and shouldn’t — do it on our own. Everyone, we need to work together. It’s a big culture change that needs to happen.”
Keeping everyone in mind
“If we want the world to be inclusive, we need to create things that everyone can use, not just special things for the disabled people here in one corner. When we design inclusively, we’re designing so that everyone is delighted with the same product. I often think, How can I make this so that it’s successful for blind people first and then the broader world second? Because I know if I can make it work for blind people, it’s actually going to be quite cool for everyone else.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.