May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. To most people, arthritis is something that their grandparents or aging parents get.
At our house, arthritis has a different face:
Our daughter Bridget was diagnosed in 2011, at age 7, with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Her rheumatologist said she’s probably had it since she was very tiny based on the deteriorated state of some of her joints when she was diagnosed. Because of the severity of her condition (she also has another serious auto-immune disease called scleroderma that was diagnosed at the same time), we must travel two hours each way every four weeks to the local children’s hospital for Bridget to receive infusion treatment with multiple medications.
So every day is arthritis awareness day at our house. But what has this got to do with the scrapbooking industry? A look at demographic and disease statistical data will tell you – a whole lot.
Bridget, as a juvenile, is one of only about 300,000 cases of children in the U.S. with arthritis. Arthritis risk goes up with age, and the U.S. population as a whole is aging. In the 2010 census, 18% of the U.S. population was over age 60. By the year 2030, that percentage is expected to rise to 25%.
At the same time, the incidence of arthritis in the population is increasing for several reasons (rising rates of auto-immune disorders and obesity are the prime culprits). Recent CDC data reported 22.7% of the population over age 18 had been diagnosed with arthritis – 52.5 million people. By 2030, the CDC estimates that the demographic age shift and the increased incidence of the disorders will combine to an estimated 25% of the total adult population (67 million people) having an arthritis diagnosis. They warn however that this estimate may be low due to the out of control rise of obesity in the U.S.
All of this adds up to the creation of a huge population in this country that will have compromised hand strength and motor skills. And because arthritis risk is increased for women, 60% of that compromised population will be female – the core market of the crafting industry.
Motor skills – especially fine motor skills – are central to crafting of all kinds. This reality hit especially close to home for me as I have watched my mother, who has suffered for years from arthritis, gradually give up all of her crafts as her hands deteriorated. She taught me to love crafting so much that I now make my living in the industry, and now is unable to do it herself.
As an industry, we cannot prevent entirely the loss of customers to declining health, of course. But can we continue to serve customers – and help them enjoy what they love – longer as they lose motor skills to encroaching arthritis? If we can’t, we face the certainty of a shrinking market base in the coming decades.
Accommodating motor skill deficits in scrapbooking can be approached from a number of ways. The most obvious way is to design grip-friendly tools. Scissors, trimmers, die cut machines and punches are the immediate candidates that come to mind but some less obvious candidates could benefit from a motor skill friendly redesign, too. One thing that surprised me that I never would have thought of was that my daughter struggles with button trigger spray bottles. Bottles with lever triggers – such as most household cleaners come in – are much easier on the hands.
A simple shape change can make a difference for those with motor grip issues. Take a seemingly simple product like stamp blocks, for instance. Lawn Fawn’s beautiful blocks, while heavy, are designed with a wavy edge that makes them easier to grip and control than a square, straight edged stamp block.
Another thing to consider is project design, and trends. Fancy, detailed handwork techniques are beautiful to look at – but not motor skill friendly. To keep the industry as inclusive and accommodating as possible, we need to provide a broad range of styles that serve a range of motor skill levels. Project Life and kits with plug & play elements like stickers, die cuts and pre-cut photo mats are not just great for quick scrapbooking. They are also low on motor skill requirements.
Are you ready to serve a motor-skill impaired customer? Will it impact your business if a percentage of your customers lose their motor skills? The next five years are the time to answer those questions, as the demographic tide starts to turn and a huge chunk of your customer base begins to age into high risk territory for arthritis.
The question of whether the industry is prepared to serve motor skill impaired customers isn’t just about the future of the industry I love to me. It’s also an intensely personal question for me. In addition to my daughter having juvenile arthritis, I have Lupus, another auto-immune disorder that causes arthritis symptoms in most of its patients. I’ve been lucky so far that my arthritis symptoms are relatively mild and have not interfered with my crafting, but I know at some point that will inevitably change.
I hope when that day comes that the industry I love will be prepared to help me continue taking part in the craft that I love.