Disability visibility in fashion is beginning to blossom. However, representation is still disproportionately low, given disabled people make up a fifth of the population
3 DICEMBRE 2021
Disability visibility in fashion is beginning to blossom with disabled models, like Ellie Goldstein, Aaron Rose Philip and Jillian Mercado, representing brands from Moschino to Primark. Behind this rising visibility are disability-focused agencies like Zebedee Management, projects like Runway of Dreams, and figures like Sinéad Burke, founder of accessibility consultancy Tilting the Lens.
However, representation is still disproportionately low, given disabled people make up a fifth of the population, and is littered with ableism - including tokenized wheelchair-using models navigating inaccessible runways, preferences for more visibly marketable disabilities and inspiration porn angles, and unaccommodating industry demands.
Disabled leadership facilitates authentic, accessible representation, with notable examples. July’s Inclusion Revolution shoot by paraplegic photographer David PD Hyde portrays Zebedee- represented models with beauty, elegance and strength. Equally, Able Zine, edited by chronically ill fashion journalist Claudia Walder, captures the creativity of the disabled community through insightful articles and glossy editorials produced on crip time, and showcases innovative brands like braille-using Aille Design and elegant Ring Splints by Zomile.
Not only is there a wealth of disabled talent to celebrate, but disability visibility in fashion demonstrates belonging, sets a precedent for accommodation, and reduces mystery around how clothing may fit. Beyond visibility, fashion design should enable disabled people to feel confident and comfy, and dress safely and independently, whilst marketing and stores must deliver accessibility.
Adaptive clothing - which includes facilitated fastenings, adjustability for different shaped bodies, and sensory-friendly, easy-care fabrics - has been niche and function-focused until recently. Small brands like Abilitee Adaptive Wear, Chamiah Dewey and Unhidden Clothing offer more fashion- forward options but only at a basic level so far. Recognizing the huge ability-transcending market for easy-to-wear comfortable fashion, large fashion brands have begun to invest with success in access, such as Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive range and Nike’s FlyEase trainer, but product availability is limited by their price-point and sell-out popularity.
For an inclusive industry, adaptive fashion must become commonplace from high-street to luxury, and key to achieving this is facilitated pathways for disabled creatives into the industry.