Sports shoe giant Nike recently made headlines after the introduction of their new Nike GO FlyEase sneaker, a shoe that can be taken on and off completely hands-free. The sneaker’s design is built on how a person typically kicks off a shoe at the end of the day, utilizing a hinge and tensioner that works like a big rubber band, letting the shoe open and close as the wearer steps in and out of the sneaker. The shoe requires no laces or straps to stay secure, making it ideal for those with disabilities or accessibility issues.
History of the FlyEase
The GO FlyEase is the newest member of the Nike FlyEase family of products. Nike launched the FlyEase line in 2015, after designing adaptive shoes for executive Jeff Johnson when he suffered a stroke that reduced his mobility. The company had also been working on adaptive high tops for high schooler Matthew Walzer, who had written Nike about living with cerebral palsy and his desire to have high tops he could put on without assistance. The first FlyEase product was the Zoom Soldier 8 FlyEase. The GO FlyEase, announced on February 1, 2021, is Nike’s latest offering.
Nike touts the FlyEase’s universal appeal, and Forbes explains why:
A shoe with proper support that doesn’t require your hands to put on and take off arguably has universal appeal. Almost all of us will experience disability at some point in our lives, if only from the simple fact of aging. It’s easy to see a range of scenarios where a hands-free shoe is useful: for pregnant women, for carrying heavy objects, or for any other situation that prevents someone from bending over, reaching, or using one or both hands at once.
A shoe for disabled people with no mention of disability
However, Nike’s splashy launch and announcement for the new FlyEase left some disability activists scratching their heads. Their February 1 press release does not mention the words “disabled” or “disability” once. They use the words “accessible,” “empowering,” and “adaptive,” and those words only. Which begs the question, to what audience is Nike marketing its products? Weren’t they originally designed for a stroke survivor and a teenager with cerebral palsy?
The online publication Slate had a similar query in a recent article, asking, “Why Won’t Nike Use the Word Disabled to Promote Its New Go FlyEase Shoe?” The authors compared the marketing response to the FlyEase to something called the “Peeled Orange Phenomenon.” This is when abled people dismiss a product as unnecessary or frivolous, but the product is valuable to disabled people.
Slate points out that by using marketing jargon that dances around the word disability, and failing to highlight the disabled athletes the shoes were designed for originally, Nike’s “framing accessibility as an edgy marketing slogan without centering disabled people is problematic.”
The authors also remark, “Believing that a mere mention of the word disability stigmatizes their product, euphemisms are added. In Nike’s ‘Behind the Design’ advertisement, designers used the phrase ‘adaptive athletes’ in lieu of ‘disabled athletes’—yet only one disabled person appears in the video, at the very moment we learn the Go FlyEase is ‘for everyone.’”
The #SayTheWord campaign tackles this issue head-on. Lawrence Carter-Long, an activist and media spokesman with cerebral palsy, talked to NPR about #SayTheWord in 2016. Carter-Long believes that when we don’t use the word “disabled,” we aren’t seeing the entire person. In his words, “To suggest disability is simply a ‘difference’ and has no impact on a person’s life is a very privileged position to take. Most disabled people don’t have that luxury. The assertion flies in the face of reality and minimizes the very real discrimination disabled people face.”
By dropping the word “disabled” entirely from their marketing language, Nike is effectively erasing their disabled audience completely. Slate also points out that the pricing of the FlyEase is prohibitive. People with disabilities typically live in poverty, and a $120 price point on the Nike GO FlyEase is a non-starter for many consumers.
Lack of accessibility equals lack of options
Research from 2018 shows that people with disabilities face many barriers to society, including the workplace. Further, barriers to the workplace are worsened by lack of access to appropriate clothing. Lack of accessible and work-appropriate clothing has a negative effect on self-esteem and workplace participation.
The paper’s author, Kerri McBee-Black, pointed out, “The social model of disability basically is that being disabled is not what prevents you from being able to fully participate in society, it’s society that prevents us from being able to fully participate. I would argue that there are many more things that we could include into those social and societal barrier access points for the disability population.”
This could certainly include marketing accessible and adaptive products to the appropriate audience.
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