This is what happens when you think that you are the standard for everyone’s needs….
From banana slicers to sock sliders to pre-peeled oranges.
On a June episode of his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver went in on a product called the Sock Slider. While discussing the same topic on the Hannity Show, he took a moment to highlight the dwindling number of companies willing to associate themselves with his news program — ”My Pillow, Recticare cream, and of course, the Sock Slider.”
Audience members roared with laughter as Oliver rolled footage of a Sock Slider ad, featuring people moaning and groaning dramatically as they struggled to put on their socks before trying out the device and beaming at the ease of use. The camera cut back to Oliver chuckling to himself as he mocked the device and the people who use it.
You’ve probably seen examples of these kinds of “useless products for lazy people” before. Things like banana slicers, egg separators, jar openers, buttoners, tilting jugs for dispensing liquids, and much more are the subject of constant amusement on the internet: “Who uses these kinds of things?” “You don’t need an avocado slicer.” These products are typically positioned as “useless” in scathing roundups of products no one could possibly need, representing little more than wastes of plastic and resources.
Imagine being unable to slice a banana over your morning cereal because your hands are paralyzed or joint contractures make it hard to grip both the banana and the knife. If you’re a baker who loves making cakes, what would you do if you couldn’t separate an egg by casually cracking it on the edge of the bowl and using the shell to tease the yolk and white apart? The inability to perform these kinds of activities independently can have huge consequences for people with disabilities.
A variety of impairments can make these tasks challenging, including hand tremors or weakness, paralysis or paresis, limited range of motion, arthritis and other joint conditions, chronic pain, neurological disabilities or stroke, developmental disabilities, and amputations. These issues may be congenital or acquired or even temporary. Some people, for example, just need support while they recover from surgery or injuries. And so those products Oliver and the internet at large enjoy mocking? Not so useless after all.
“Useless” products can actually spell independence
”If I didn’t have that silly piece of plastic with ropes, I wouldn’t be able to put socks on,” saysEmily Ladau, a disabled advocate, writer, and speaker with Larsen syndrome, a congenital skeletal disorder. (She’s talking about a similar device, not the exact as-seen-on-TV gadget.)
Ladau, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, cannot bend over to put on socks. Without a “sock putter-onner,” as she calls it, she would be forced to rely on the assistance of a personal care attendant (PCA) to put her socks on every morning. “Something that people think is a silly piece of plastic is one of the reasons I don’t need a PCA when I travel.”
Ladau, like other people with disabilities, is used to seeing late-night hosts, internet memes, and people on social media mocking the “silly pieces of plastic” that can be life-changing. For her, the sock slider and an extended shoe horn represent freedom; imagine being literally unable to put on socks unassisted before leaving the house on a cold winter day, and not being able to slip your socked feet into a pair of sturdy boots on your own.
Sometimes, living independently as a member of the disability community means having to rely on a little help, and in many cases, a gadget can be very useful. Help may also take a human face: Personal care assistants, aides, home health attendants, and other direct service professionals are vital, though there’s also a heavy social expectation that family members provide unpaid caregiving labor, a practice many people with disabilities oppose along with other exploitative labor practices.