The Under Representation of Disability
Statistics produced by the World Health Organisation suggest 15% of people have some kind of disability. And yet the fashion and beauty industries continue to under-represent them, leaving those living with disabilities feeling continuously ignored and alienated. This lack of inclusion and visibility means people with disabilities fail to recognize anyone in the industry that looks like them, whether this is in magazines, on the runway, in advertising, or even the mannequins in shop windows. People with disabilities are ignored by the fashion industry, an industry that supposedly recognizes and celebrates diversity.
Major mainstream brands continue to disregard their underrepresentation of people with disabilities. And whilst doing so, turn away substantial potential custom and profits which in turn could benefit them. On top of this people with disabilities struggle to find clothes that fit them properly, let alone fashionable ones. This leaves people with disabilities having to modify their clothing in order to make them comfortable and able to get on and off with ease.
Unwearable and Unfashionable
Fashionable yet functional clothing for people living with disabilities is hardly rocket science so how come it is proving to be so difficult? People with disabilities are incredibly restricted on where they can shop as they are not catered for or considered during the design process, however it appears some stores are now beginning to change this. ASOS has altered a tie-dye jumpsuit that accommodates the particular needs of a wheelchair user. The jumpsuit is completely waterproof which makes it easier for people who cannot necessarily hold an umbrella, and has adjustable sleeve lengths.
In 2018 M&S launched their children's 'Easy Dressing' range with the help of their customers, parents from specialist schools, and pediatric consultant Dr. John Chang. The range boasted a wide range of product innovations, such as discreet pockets for feeding tubes, velcro fastenings instead of buttons, softer materials for those with sensory needs and baby grows with wider dimensions suitable for children with hip dysplasia.
Not only will this improve the child's life by making them more comfortable and able to dress themselves easily when they reach the appropriate age. But it will also relieve a lot of pressure from the parents who struggle to find suitable clothing for their children or have to adapt their children's clothing in other ways.
Tommy Hilfigers 'Tommy Adaptive' range was launched in spring 2021, which features a collection of clothing designed to make dressing easier for people with disabilities. The line of clothing on offer was created with the aim of providing people with disabilities with independence and confidence in dressing themselves. Particular features include magnetic buttons, velcro straps, and adjustable waists and hemlines that fit in with the brand's preppy style. Such minor changes such as these can make a huge difference in the lives of people living with disabilities.
The Disabled Shopping Experience
So commonly referred to as 'retail therapy', many people consider shopping to be an enjoyable experience, but this is not always the case for people with disabilities who face endless issues when clothes shopping.
" A study of 2,000 disabled people found that more than four in ten were unable to visit their local shops due to barriers that prevented a comfortable shopping experience."
Most notably, the accessibility issues people with disabilities face when shopping can be extremely restrictive. Some stores have stairs and escalators but may not offer ramps, lifts, or doors wide enough for some wheelchairs which presents a barrier before even entering the store. They can also have narrow aisles, high counters, and loud music which can be distressing for some people. It is extremely unfortunate that people with disabilities have to think about an endless array of factors when shopping. Factors which for so many people would not even cross their minds.
Online shopping presents just as many barriers. Online retail stores need to consider the needs of people with disabilities. They should be provided with the opportunity at check out to specify their disability and explain how this may affect their order and its delivery. Once again, this minor change could make such a huge difference. People with disabilities are consumers just like everybody else and so should have equal access to shopping both online and in stores. Hopefully, this will become a reality soon.