Why It Is Important to Have Disability Representation in Fashion.



The Fashion Industry has slowly managed to incorporate different types of diverse bodies and beauty types into the fashion world. However, much still needs to be done about the representation of disabled people. Disabled models are rarely seen on catwalks, on billboards or in the pages of glossy magazines. This lack of representation is a problem! Just imagine going so long without seeing yourself represented in the fashion Industry, it can definitely have a negative effect on your mental health.


The statistics and findings


The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 15% of people have a disability, forming the world’s largest minority community. And yet, a survey by Media Agency UM found that 66% of disabled people felt ignored by the fashion Industry, and 54% saying that they want to see more people with physical disabilities in adverts and campaigns to make them more relatable. Keely Cat- Wells, the founder and CEO of disabled talent agency C talent and Zetta Studios also supported the fact that “Disabled people constitute the largest minority group in the world yet are the most undeserved and underrepresented”. She continues to say that “if one does not design for accessibility, it is as if you’re telling every fourth person that comes through your door that you don’t want their business”.


What this means…


Everyone would like to be able to dress the way they like, feel comfortable and to express themselves through personal style and perhaps even be noticed more. However, if there is less fashion representation for disabled people it may be difficult for them to be able to feel comfortable or to express themselves. By having disability representation, these models, influencers etc can showcase what people with that disability go through.

Judy Heumann, a disability rights activist also stated that people do not see disabled people as an “equal member within their communities, their schools, their mosques, their churches, their synagogues, social clubs, or whatever it may be.”

This stereotype and the lack of representation only does harm. The lack of representation can also have a huge negative effect on children. A good question was raised in a Vogue Article called, “Why disability representation is crucial to building a better, more inclusive fashion industry”. By Madison Lawson. She states, “as children, we create this image of beauty based on what society deems beautiful, so what happens when the image of beauty and desirability never looks like you?” This can definitely have a negative effect on children’s mental health as it can be damaging on their self-esteem and confidence.


Social media and body positivity.


However, things have started to change. Social media has increasingly helped people with disabilities control the way they are being seen and has also helped increase the representation in the fashion Industry. There is Jillian Mercado who has a muscular dystrophy and has built an enviable fashion career and even was the face of Beyonce’s fashion line in 2016. There is also Tae Mackenzie who is a model, actress and activist who uses a wheelchair because she has a rare form of epilepsy that causes strokes. And another amazing inspirational woman is Madeline who has been named “the world’s most famous model with Down syndrome”. As a result, we’re seeing people with disabilities making appearances on the runway, on the cover of magazines, in fashion advertisements and in beauty campaigns. This representation is helping not only with the historical stigmas surrounding people with disabilities but also boosting confidence.


Brands, brands, brands!


Not only social media but big fashion brands are also finally helping with the representation. First, there is ASOS who was first to create a wheelchair-friendly jumpsuit back in 2018, and in April, was praised for showcasing a model with a hearing aid in an earring aid campaign. Tommy Hilfiger’s also made a disability-friendly collection which included adaptive features like Velcro closures, magnetic buttons and adjustable hems, while Nike’s Go Fly Ease shoe, released this past April, marks the first hands-free sneaker ever made.


So, what can be improved?


Yes, there has been a lot of great improvements. However, we still need to see more representation of people with disabilities. We need to see more representation of disabled people in magazines, at global beauty and fashion brands, on billboards, on catwalks, at the teams behind fashion weeks, in casting agencies, etc. And most importantly, there must be an increase in representation of men with disabilities. Men with disabilities in the fashion Industry are not widely known as much as the women and this should definitely improve.


There is hope!


Nevertheless, the fashion Industry has improved. Brands that had never been held to account for not representing people with disabilities before are now being called out on their unequal treatment of minorities and there has been a continuing increase of representation of the disabled community. Hopefully, there is many more to come!