According to RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) more than two million people in the UK live with sight loss. This seems a staggering statistic and since visual impairment could affect anyone, an accessibility to shop for oneself would seem a simple freedom most would expect to have.
However, there is an evident lack of accessibility within the fashion industry. People suffering from sight loss cannot simply walk into a high-street store and buy an item of clothing without the help of another person and this independence will not be available unless the fashion industry adapts.
The changes that need to be made in stores
Tags and labels do not offer a braille solution or suitably large text, thus, key information about the product remain a mystery to a visually impaired person. There are designers and shops which offer an alternative with labels in braille and even braille slogans on clothing, however, it is clearly not widespread enough.
There remains an inability to shop for a new or used style within most stores as the colour and patterns are unknown. Other information hidden are the price; an essential piece of information when considering purchasing anything, and the size; making it more time consuming to identify which piece to select.
This issue extends past the physical experience to within their own homes, where selecting clothing to wear is challenging due to the lack of suitable labels distinguishing items inside their wardrobe. This problem results in a difficulty styling outfits confidently unless an investment is made both monetarily and time wise in labelling their own wardrobe.
Making appropriate labelling more accessible for this group seems a basic requirement, and, an worthwhile investment considering the figures of visually impaired individuals, and the fact those are set to rise with an ever-aging population.
The inefficiencies online
Another sector which requires improvement is online fashion. A simple Google search of common fashion stores show some websites offering accessibility in accordance with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), which stipulates an accommodation to many disabilities, including blindness, but not the necessity to address every need.
This stipulation displays a lack of coherence for web designers to follow, as well as an inadequacy in the standards, ultimately leading to diverse needs being overlooked.
When researching, there was an absence of big brand recognition toward this need. Of the websites researched, most accessibility tabs were in small writing at the bottom of the home page; a difficult find for someone with sight loss.
The page this tab linked to contained small text and only stated that it followed WCAG guidelines, was screen-reader friendly and directed further concerns to their customer services. Again, it depicts a lack of independence for anyone suffering from sight loss when shopping.
Furthermore, concern raised by those suffering sight loss relate to the many boxes needing to be filled out when purchasing, which are difficult to navigate or poorly labelled. More can clearly be done both on clothing websites and in their stores.
More should be expected
The resulting reality is that the lack of adaptability within the market, along with the issues discussed compound to make finding an individual style a difficult task. A person’s style is part of their identity, and when styles are kept concealed that is stripped from them.
The ability to identify with oneself, and for others to identify with you is also lost. Shopping is consequently both a solitary and dependent activity given the lack of information. It is difficult to shop alone and know what item is being selected resulting in a dependent experience.
On the other hand, it can be a solitary experience regarding the fact they cannot express their opinions about an item without someone describing it. Poor labelling results in an inability to lend a friend a hand when that friend is choosing an outfit. The social aspect and fun of fashion is taken away.
To offer a braille solution on the label, larger text or even better; both, would help ease this social convention. Blind and visually impaired people would thus be able to style themselves easier both at home and in stores.
To then extend this to online and make websites cleaner and more efficient to navigate would also improve that experience. Representation would also help stimulate a more evolved approach to aiding visually impaired people in their quest to find their style and educating other people on the everyday struggles they combat.
It may cost the fashion industry to invest but in 2020 it does not seem a tall order to make stores and websites accessible to over two million people in the UK.