This is a guest post by Author Shivangi Anil. Shivangi is a psychologist by profession and works with young working adults to overcome depression, anxiety, and work towards overall psychological wellbeing. She lives unfazed with her cerebral palsy diagnosis, uses crutches to walk and loves Bollywood! You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for therapy, trainings, workshops or just a chat about mental health.
People often assume that being disabled only impacts that one ‘defective’ part of your body. I, for example, use crutches to walk. People often take the liberty to either give free medical advice or simplify my impairment, for their ease, comfort, and convenience. An unknown passer-by once took the liberty to comment about how I simply walked slowly.
Well, auntyji, I wish life was that simple, but it isn’t. Being disabled (which includes physical, visual, hearing, sensory, neurodevelopmental, mental, and other invisible concerns by the way) impacts almost all aspects of our lives. Positively and negatively.
Let’s start with Fashion. My disability impacts my fashion choices too. I can’t waltz into the room wearing a long skirt or a bellbottom. I will forever be worried about tripping over my clothes. To anyone who believes that able-bodied persons and I have the same twenty-four hours. Well, we don’t. Simply because I spend a day every winter getting customized pants stitched and two hours a day in physiotherapy, just to be almost as functional as you.
In the era before online shopping was a norm, shopping itself was a struggle- I couldn’t fit in with my mum who needed to help me change in those oh-so-tiny try rooms, and barely found clothes despite all the walking to get to the biggest Zara store in town.
Don’t get me wrong this blog isn’t a sob story about my never-ending fashion woes. Okay, maybe it was. But here are 4 steps brands can take to cater to disabled persons. And oh, we are no small bunch. You are missing out on being able to cater to a very loyal base of 1.3 billion people worldwide. Missing out on every 6th person in the world is surely not good for business. So read along.
Get a disabled-friendly trial-room: A disabled-friendly try-room is big enough for a wheelchair user to get into (without the push and pull), and has support bars for the person to shift onto a sitting space and an emergency button, to say the least.
Train your staff to support disabled persons: The way the staff in a clothing store stare at my clothes and crutches is a major put-off. Kindly train them on inclusion and sensitivity, helping a disabled person (Pro-tip: Ask before you help us or touch our assistive aids; we don’t need help always and there are things we can do ourselves). Train them in how to help a disabled person dress up without making it awkward as hell.
Make sure your website is accessible: Online shopping is BAE (Before Anyone Else); there I said it. But not everyone can use every website. Please learn about digital accessibility, image descriptions, screen reader compatibility, and other features. Oh also, have a good return and exchange policy. We might love how something looks on your site but may not be able to wear it. (Returns amazing Mango pants with a heavy heart). Believe me, your business will thank you.
Design accessible clothing: Ask your designers, suppliers, and the entire chain of command to design accessible clothing. It may look like a shirt with Velcro instead of buttons, Velcro shoes that are not for a child, or pants that don’t have buttons or stretch materials. I can write a million pages but do your research.
But the question is why do we need to dress up at all? Well to go out, shop, and party with friends, just like anyone else. However, friendships aren’t that simple for us either. I have had the best of friends not invite me to a party because they assumed I would be uncomfortable or would not show up at all. Please don’t do that. We party (and drink). Let us decide if we want to make it or not. You will be surprised at the lengths we can go to for an outing if it’s with people that matter obviously. Ask and invite just the way you would do it for anyone else.
Another aspect is that people are curious about disabilities and are worried about how we would react when we are asked about them. I don’t know a single person with a disability who doesn’t want to answer disability-oriented questions – if it’s not the first and only thing you ask us. But if we are friends go ahead and ask away, being ignored hurts a lot more. Talk about other things too, you are missing out on some spicy and fun conversations on hair, Hollywood, horror stories, and handsome men if you have never spoken to me.
Long story short, behave exactly the way you would behave with anyone else. One odd disability-oriented question can of course lead to some fun conversation. As long as you stay away from ‘you are my inspiration’ and the bravery jingle. Believe me, we have heard of it and are done with it.
Disclaimer: This post is based on personal experiences and may differ from other disabled person’s experiences. This blog is not representative of all kinds of disabilities and is not intended to belittle the fashion industry or any individual person. This piece is intended only to create awareness around disabled lived experiences.
This post is a part of “International Day of Disabled Persons” blog hop hosted by Sakshi Varma – Tripleamommy in collaboration with Bookosmia. #IDPD2022Bloghop. Access all posts of this bloghop at https://tripleamommy.com/2022/12/02/idpd2022-lets-make-this-world-a-more-inclusive-space/