How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
In the last few years, weighted blankets have become more mainstream, with rave reviews touting their many benefits. More companies are making them, and the media is promoting them as helpful for stress, trouble sleeping, and as great gifts.
However, what many people may not realize is that weighted blankets were actually originally designed with autistic people in mind. And as someone with autism myself, eagerly awaiting my first weighted blanket, it’s a conversation that’s relevant, to say the least.
Plenty of my non-autistic friends and family are now talking about weighted blankets thanks to their increasing popularity. Five years ago, that wasn’t so much the case. I can still remember a time when I was the only one who had heard of them.
Just before 2018 ended, weighted blankets became an especially hot topic when this Atlantic article by non-autistic writer Ashley Fetters went viral. The article details the rise in popularity for these blankets and why more people are buying them.
More importantly, the article also wrestles with the question of whether it’s a type of appropriation — when items designed for disabled people become more mainstream.
Is it OK for a non-disabled person to use and benefit from items like weighted blankets? Ask many autistic people like myself, and the answer is pretty simple: Yes
Non-disabled people benefit from more elevators and ramps in buildings, just as an example. They can be used if you’re a parent with a stroller, if you’re carrying something heavy, if you’re temporarily injured, or if you’re just feeling really low energy that day.
This is what universal design is all about, which many disability advocates talk about, because it highlights the many benefits of designing environments everyone can access and use.
It’s also known as the “curb-cut effect.” It’s what happens when something originally designed for a specific group, like disabled people, ends up being beneficial for everyone.
When someone without a disability is carrying a bunch of pizzas in one hand and a large shopping bag in the other and uses an automatic door to get inside, that’s the curb-cut effect. It’s universal design in action and it benefits everyone, not just disabled people.
The same holds true for weighted blankets.
So, yes, absolutely: I want weighted blankets to become as popular as possible
Making weighted blankets more affordable and accessible only makes it easier for me and other autistic people, who often live below the poverty line, to get one.
As Sara Luterman explains, before weighted blankets became popular and more companies were designing them, she had to pay almost $400 for one. I’ve wanted to try a weighted blanket for my sensory processing issues (and occasional nighttime sleeplessness) for years, but cost was a huge obstacle for me, too.
I’d read other autistic people’s blogs and they’d talk about how great weighted blankets are. I could just imagine putting a weighted blanket on myself when feeling particularly burnt out after an overwhelming week and letting all the sensory input wash away.
I’ve always found that comforting sensory experiences — like a nice back rub or a cozy hug from behind — help me refocus when I’m drained or exhausted. Weighted blankets are supposed to be the ultimate stress reliever, but at that price point, they were always low on my priority list.
I’d always find some way to make do with my old weighted blanket from college or a back massage from my fiancé, if she was around.
This month, I finally ordered one. It cost around $130 for a queen size, and my partner (who isn’t autistic) can also use it if she ends up liking it, too!
It benefits autistic and disabled people when the things we use, like fidget spinners and shower chairs, become more inexpensive and widely used
I also have a physical disability, and I’d love to see more public spaces and event venues offer a variety of seating for people to use. It normalizes the fact that sometimes, we all just need to sit down.
I may need weighted blankets and seats more often than people who aren’t autistic and don’t experience pain and fatigue, but when we change the conversation about who gets to use these accessibility items and when, it helps destigmatize disability.
Think of it like this: If you say weighted blankets are only for autistic people or those with sensory processing disorders, it turns them into something you should only have if you absolutely need it, instead of something we can all enjoy if we find it useful.
Non-disabled people use plenty of conveniences in daily life, everything from meal kit services and ride sharing to escalators and automatic doors. When we signal that these things are only for people with disabilities, it makes it harder for anyone (including a disabled person) to access them.
I feel guilty for taking a seat marked as seating for people with disabilities and the elderly, even when I have my cane with me. If the seating is for anyone who wants it, I’m relaxed and confident when I choose to sit down.
The curb-cut effect and universal design make life better for everyone, because we all benefit from a more accessible world
Someone in my family got a weighted blanket as a Christmas gift last month, and it started the conversation about other people who want to try one to relax or enjoy a sound night’s sleep.
In 2019, let’s popularize anything and everything that makes life better for disabled and autistic people. It’s not just a win-win situation. It’s also about inclusion.
Alaina Leary is an editor, social media manager, and writer from Boston, Massachusetts. She’s currently the assistant editor of Equally Wed Magazine and a social media editor for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.