I haven’t got anything to wear…

fashion cat walkNot having appropriate clothing is a major social barrier for many people with disability. This is possibly one of the last barriers to participation to become visible. Academics focus on health and activities but not on the self esteem and confidence that comes from feeling well dressed, particularly on important occasions. Some specialised garments are available that are easy to put on (petal back openings) and easy to fasten (velcro), but they focus on function and lack visual appeal. 

Below is an abstract of an academic article published in Disability and Rehabilitation on this important topic. You will need institutional access to download a free copy.

Abstract:   Purpose To document apparel-related barriers faced by people with disabilities (PWD) and their families as they attempted to engage in various aspects of social participation, and explore the often invisible relationship between apparel-related barriers and disablement. Method For this qualitative research, we used focus groups to interview PWD, their caregivers and/or parents and health providers to document the experience of apparel-related barriers to community or social participation. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to analyse interview transcripts and noted. Results Participant’s responses were grouped into categories of unmet need for adaptive apparel as well as a list of specific apparel-related barriers that participants struggled to navigate in daily life; including functional, cultural and sensory-based issues. Conclusions The lack of adequate accessible apparel for PWD exacerbated barriers to community participation and disablement, and identified the need for innovation in design, production, distribution and sale, of adaptive clothing.

From the editor: On my Churchill Fellowship study tour in 2004 I came across a Style Centre within the Disabled Living Foundation premises in Manchester. It is unlikely that funding was continued for this project. This is what I wrote in my Churchill report:

“People of short stature, wheelchair users and people with asymmetrical body shapes all have difficulty finding clothes to fit and many just give up and buy shapeless stretch fabric garments to keep themselves covered and warm. The Style Centre challenges established concepts of dull and shapeless clothes. People with a disability are not exempt from wanting to look and feel good. Mostly they dress as they do because it is too hard to get clothes to fit or to put on. I think style, fashion, and clothing are a neglected area and they will become more important as more people with a disability are included in regular schools, colleges, and workplaces. Younger people don’t want old-style floral, petal-back clothes because they are easier for carers to dress them – they want the latest styles, the same as their friends. To be able to go to the school formal wearing a great outfit is a major emotional need for a young person, as is, dressing appropriately for a job interview. There is no government funding for this – charity money has to pay for this program. Maybe that is why this seems to be the only one.

The Style Centre developed from a Russian program aimed at overcoming limb deficiency. Chernobyl, frostbite, wars and workplace accidents are the cause of limb deficiency. The Style Centre runs a five day style and fashion program where a class of five, mostly young people, design, cut and sew their own garment. They also get advice on colours and hairstyles that suit them. Many of the students have an intellectual disability, and the program does wonders for their self esteem.

The Style Centre also designs clothes for people who continually undress, selfharm, and for one who eats their clothes. Really large people find underwear impossible to buy, so they go without it. Now they can have the comfort of underwear the same as anyone else.”

Jane Bringolf