With close to 2 million subscribers on YouTube, motivational speaker and digital content creator Molly Burke — who also happens to be blind — has made a name for herself with her refreshing and positive videos.
Molly’s videos range from documenting her daily tasks to deep talks about her accomplishments and struggles as a 27-year-old woman living her life to the fullest. Upon watching your first video of hers, you’ll soon recognise the genuine and energetic spirit that many associate with her personality, one of the main reasons why many of her fans keep coming back to watch and support her.
Using her large platform, Molly utilises her voice to advocate for blind people everywhere and regularly shares her daily experiences with her seeing viewers, offering a ‘put yourself in her shoes’ kind of scenario for them in every video she makes.
In this exclusive interview, Molly divulges her story on going blind, educates on the importance of accessibility in the beauty industry through universal design and gives her suggestions on how corporations can improve so everyone can experience beauty in the same way.
You were diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age four and lost your sight almost completely by age 14. How has this affected the way you live your life thus far? Do you have a support system you rely on on a daily basis?
Going blind changed pretty much every part of my life, but it didn’t change who I am. When I could see, I loved sports, social gatherings, shopping, and makeup. I still love all of those things, I just enjoy them in different ways. I was very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive family and a team of medical professionals who helped me through my vision loss and still support me to this day.
Anyone who watches your videos will know that you have a positive outlook on life and this almost infectious optimistic energy about you. Many young people even look up to you as a role model. How does it feel to have this platform to influence change?
When I started my channel my goal was to be the role model I didn’t have when I needed it. Knowing that I can help create positive change and inspire others means that all the pain I went through had a purpose.
If someone were to be in a similar situation as you were at age 14 when you lost your sight, what advice would you give them to help cope with the change as smoothly as possible?
Everyone is going to deal with challenges in life, for me, it was losing my vision at 14 but for others, it may be not getting their dream job after graduation, or getting a divorce in their 40’s. At the end of the day, my advice is the same… let yourself grieve, feel the pain, and then pick yourself back up. Reach out for help, and rebuild your life.
As an avid makeup user, how do you feel about accessibility in the beauty industry to blind consumers?
Overall, I don’t think blind people, or disabled people in general, are really considered by most large companies. It’s slowly been improving but historically, we’ve been left out of the conversation. Products, packaging, and marketing have not been created with us in mind. It’s nice to see some improvement, but we still have a long way to go and these brands are missing out on a large market they have the potential to tap into!
Can you describe some of the struggles you face when testing out new products without accessible packaging?
My biggest issue is not knowing what colour I’m using, whether it’s lipstick, an eyeshadow palette, or blush, it’s impossible for me to know what colour I’m trying without asking for help from a sighted person to describe or explain it, or using some form of assistive technology.
Take us through your everyday makeup routine. Is there a specific method you use to identify and differentiate your products?
I have a very well organized vanity and every makeup product I use has its own place. I memorize where I put things and then always know what I’m reaching for. I also will Braille label or use tactile stickers to identify other products. In the end, I’ll have someone sighted check over my makeup, like a human mirror, and make sure all looks good!
You mentioned that you’d rather corporations invest in universal design rather than an accessible design like Braille. Can you explain to our readers what you mean by that?
Universal design impacts everyone, accessible design only impacts the specific group who happens to have that disability. Asking companies to design with everyone in mind is an easier task than asking them to spend time and money on making improvements for one small minority community. My dream would be to see products use universal tactile symbols to identify the product type, but a Braille label to identify the brand name.
Besides universal design like textiled symbols on top of lids and such, what other improvements do you think companies should make to their products to make them more user-friendly — not just for the blind, but for the elderly and vision-impaired as well?
Pop-top lids that open and close without completely coming off, so that they can’t fall and disappear, packaging that has more grip and isn’t slick to the touch, packaging that isn’t round and can easily roll away if dropped.
You mentioned Victorialand Beauty’s ‘Cyr.U.S. System’ as a good stepping stone to achieving better universal design for beauty products. How does a system like this benefit everyone?
Tactile markings like Victorialand Beauty has created are beneficial for those who are blind, visually impaired but don’t read Braille, those who take their glasses off or contacts out during their skincare routine, those with learning disabilities or language processing disorders, those who are non-English speakers, etc.
Fragrances have such a bad rep amongst the beauty industry for their sensitizing properties, but many don’t realise how scented products help the blind community in identifying products. How do you personally feel about this dilemma?
Scented products can certainly be beneficial for the blind community but as a blind beauty and skincare lover, my ideal would be to see fragrance removed and replaced with other accessible features like tactile and/or Braille packaging so that we don’t need to rely on scent as an indicator. That said, I do enjoy scented products, despite their negatives, because as someone who can’t see the makeup I’m using, it allows me to have another layer of multi-sensory experience while playing with products!
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