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Disabled Clothing: More Options Needed

Despite the increased awareness surrounding the topic of inclusivity; the first topics that come to mind involve gender, race, religion, sexuality, size. While disabilities are usually forgotten or left out of the discussion. When we talk about disability-friendly design we often think of disability ramps and elevators. Even then, designs with access in mind are often few and far between and are frequently left to lower-level design staff.

We tend to forget that handicapped people experience more than simply moving from point A to point B, their wants aren't just limited to that. Each and every one of them striving to live full lives.

One of these wants may include fashion, something that non-disabled people often take for granted. Unaware of the difficulties one may face with wearing the same clothes and having to tailor them specifically to their needs.

At 18 months old, I had an 11-hour operation that put me in a hip spiker for months. My mum and nan had to cut and sew all my clothes, just so I wasn't only in a nappy. I had that operation again 9 years later, and it wasn't just about being in a nappy but even having underwear to get on at the time. Let alone clothing. - Chloe Ball-Hopkins, TEDxBristol

The 2016 Rio Olympics, uncovered an underlying issue with inclusive sportswear design.

The Paralympics is one example of a means for opening up discussion on "breaking down social barriers and discrimination towards persons with disabilities."

In recent years, the 2018 Winter Paralympics "attracting a cumulative audience total of 1.87 billion people" watching outside PyeongChang. While 2016 Paralympics garnered around 500 million more in viewership than its Olympic counterpart.

However, despite the Paralympics popularity in 2016, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. During the same paralympic, designs meant to help improve the capabilities of Team USA's runners, ended up being left unused by wheelchair racers.

This lack of consideration for disabled people in design has been an ongoing issue and has yet to be properly discussed in the limelight. When researching this topic, I found that many disabled individuals often found it difficult to find designs that looked fashionable whilst accommodating to their needs.

It is an untapped market that brands are unwilling to dive into

Chloe Ball-Hopkins is a para-athlete, who designed a fashionable waterproof coat that could be removed easily. The design was later picked up, created and sold by online fashion brand ASOS in July 2018.

Ball-Hopkins has since worked with fashion students to create designs and prototypes that are compatible with disabled people to start her own brand.

It isn't hard to bring the change I'm calling for- but it will make a big difference. I know this because I'd decided I'd had enough of waiting for the brands to do it and decided to do it myself. It started with the support of friends and family, who helped me realise I could do something about this. - Chloe Ball-Hopkins, TEDxBristol

Ball-Hopkins reflects in her TEDxBristol talk that despite the overwhelming recognition she received from the press, no large change was occurring.

In an interview with Refinery 29, Stephanie Thomas explains that if designers were to continue creating more disability-friendly designs (Adaptive fashion) that appealed to non-disabled people. Brands may become willing to include more adaptive fashion in their lineups.

Additionally, by bringing adaptive fashion into the limelight. This form of fashion would become more widespread and help drive the conversation into public consciousness.

What fashion industry needs to do

When researching this topic, I came across several interviews on the experiences of disabled people. A common thread between each testimony related to the topic of perception and body image.

Rebirth Garments is a brand for "queer, trans and disabled people of all sizes and ages. An Art Insider interview with the brand's creator, Sky Cubacub provides a brief insight into their design process in creating one-of-a-kind clothing for disabled individuals.

During this interview, the client Miss Alexis requests to get a tight-fitting sexy outfit tailored for her.

The fact that there's a lot of things I can't necessarily buy because they don't have it in my size- I love the way I look in this. There's a sexiness to it. - Miss Alexis, Art Insider

The desire for sexy clothing or wanted to feel sexy is mirrored in a Truly interview on an inter-abled couple, where fashion model, Bri goes over the perception that people have with regards to disabled bodies and sexiness.

I realised that my wheelchair was going to affect the way that people perceived me. Even to the point where it was like- your body will never be attractive. No one will ever find your disabled body attractive. - Bri, Truly

The plastic poncho is one of few options

As of now, most wheelchaired people use plastic ponchos to cover themselves in the rain. Ball-Hopkins remarked that there "Should be better options for people like [her] in those situations." Stating that the plastic covering made her looks like a "Grandmother out the care home for the day." (Which inspired her to create her waterproof coat designs!)

The plastic poncho is not a sexy look and Ball-Hopkins is correct in saying that there should be more options for disabled people outside what they've been given.

We need to do more

Whether you are a designer or not, bringing up disabilities and other issues into discussions can help raise awareness on forgotten issues. When we think inclusive, we need to think of everyone.

Brands are slowly making a move to becoming more inclusive, as seen through the release of Nike's GO FlyEase shoe. But this isn't enough.

As it stands, disabilities seem to be more of an afterthought during discussions and in terms of design. We need to do more to help improve the quality of life for everyone.


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