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Today is the 10th of March 2017 which marks the national event of #DisabledAccessDay. Disabled Access Day is a day where that is aimed at raising awareness of accessibility for services worldwide for those with disabilities.
As many of you know I myself identify as having a disability, I’m registered as severely sight impaired, I also have an invisible disability and work with a guide dog. I’m also a passionate disability advocate, so today in the spirit of Disabled Access Day I thought I’d join you all to talk about some of my views on how I think the fashion industry needs to change to embrace disability. Of course I think that diversity as a whole is important from race, age, culture, gender and so on. However, for todays blog I am chiefly going to be talking about the topic of disability access (or in some cases a lack of it) in the fashion industry. After all, I am a fashion blogger with a disability and I’ve often spoken in interviews about my view that the fashion industry needs to change the way it represents disability and accommodates it. So, today I decided that I would put all my views in a blog and discuss them with you.
So, without further adieu!
First and foremost, one of the key factors that the fashion industry need to fully appropriate is the representation of their disabled customers and consumers. Over the last few years we are seeing a gradual increase in the representation of diversity in the media industry, most notably beauty. Most recently social media influencers like Jordan Bone appearing in the L’Oreal Paris beauty campaigns and Sophie Morgan appearing in an advert for Lancome.
Recently Sophie Morgan also began a project to get disability representation in retail through having disabled mannequins which has recently been featured on BBC News. Since I started my journey as a fashion blogger almost 5 years ago I have been a number of changes made in disability representation in fashion. This year London Fashion Week 2017 saw representation of disability on the catwalk with model Kelly Knox opening the Teatum Jones designer show. This was an incredible step for the disability model community as for many years diversity hasn’t been hugely represented on the catwalk. In previous years fashion weeks like New York Fashion Week have also showcased disabled models on the catwalk. So, I do not doubt that things are advancing in the right direction for the disability community in fashion.
Photo Credit: John Phillips on Getty Images (Kelly Knox at London Fashion Week 2017)
However, I would like to see further disability being used in the fashion industry, I’d love to see an advert that represents a model with a disability alongside other diverse models. However, not in a way that merely ‘tokenises’ disability, by this I mean to say that a brand should use diverse models as more of a permanent element of their brands ethos and not as a once off marketing campaign. As, there are one billion people (equating to 15%) of the words population that have some form of a disability according to stats from World Bank. Disability makes up a significant portion of todays society, whats more people can also develop disabilities through age in later life. Therefore, wouldn’t it be nice to flip through a magazine to see a model posing in the latest seasons fashions in a wheelchair or as an amputee? I for one would like to see disability as a regular and frequent element of fashion brand campaigns as opposed to being using for a single campaign or in light or a large disability related event like the Paralympic Games. Although let me just say here that I do not have the slightest opposition to brands using disability for events such as these. However, it would be wonderful if brands started to represent disability more often, after all its not like we’re only around for one point in the year, we don’t just come out for Halloween.
Fashion has a significant influence on todays society, in the media, online, with young people and in the world of creativity. It impacts upon a lot of our options about society and other people, regardless of what people may say. If we started to see disability being used and treated in a way that shows it to be ‘the norm’ then perhaps society wouldn’t be so shocked when they come across disability. People would come to accept disability in a positive way a lot quicker than they are now and that goes for many different forms of media, not just fashion advertising.
I am in no way disputing that there is certainly more disability representation in this industry then there was when I first began blogging. However, I still believe that if you don’t find yourself in fashion advertising at least once a week, you are not being represented as a paying and valid customer. Just some food for thought.
Online and Digital Access
When it comes to shopping for clothes, searching for the latest trends on London Fashion Week or surfing the net for the perfect lipstick to compliment your outfit, things don’t always run smoothly if you have a disability.
There have been countless occasions where I’ve encountered websites or fashion apps that are not VoiceOver accessible. I’ve come across websites that do not have detailed description of clothing in terms of its cut, colour and style. When I’ve watched YouTube videos covering fashion weeks or interviewing designers, I personally don’t recall seeing the option to enable closed captions for hard of hearing viewers.
The fashion industry is becoming more and more digitalised through social media, its one of the key ways that we access trends. The fashion industry should move forward to meet the needs of its disabled consumers.
Store access is also another prevelant topic of conversation for the disability community when it comes to fashion. When I’ve interviewed beauty and fashion bloggers and disability advocates for my podcast channel Fashionability many of them have spoken about store accessibility. The fashion industry is a fast paced and constantly evolving industry and stores are regularly tasked with the role of remerchandising products and altering the store layout to attract customers attention. However, sometimes this can prove to be a significant issue for people with disabilities of many kinds. People who have visual impairments would find this an issue as they may not be able to locate the items independently. Wheelchair users may similarly find this a struggle if the apparatus, displays or clothing rales constrict the store space and infringe on their ability to move about the store freely. Other elements of a store can play a part in its accessibility, lighting, the size of the changing rooms, the kind of doors the store has, the volume of the music playing. All these can be contributing factors that will weigh in the decision if a shopper with a disability will visit a store.
For instance, a friend of mine who lives with epilepsy cannot shop in certain fashion stores due to the lighting triggering her seizures. Another friend who is a wheelchair user tends not to shop in certain stores due to the fact that the layout regularly changes making it difficult to navigate the store with her wheelchair.
For me, I find this incredibly frustrating, after all we as a paying customer should have the choice to shop in a store freely, independently and with ease. Shopping for clothes or makeup should be an enjoyable experience, not a chore. It shouldn’t make you have to face challenges or make you feel as if your needs are not being recognised. Store accessibility is for me, one of the most significant elements in paving the way to create a more inclusive fashion industry and its one of the things I strongly encourage my readers to focus on this Access Day.
There also needs to be further disability awareness training in these retail industries, so that staff know how to support their customers with disabilities. These training schemes should involve being made aware of the different types of disabilities invisible ones included, they should be given further training about recognising the different types of assistance dogs and this training should be an integral part of training for new staff regardless of if they are permanent or temporary.
Another way that stores could be made more accessible is to have more companies and stores rolling out personal shopping services. Personal shopping can be a great way of enabling shoppers with disabilities to independently shop on their own without always having to have friends of family members accompany them. Personal shopping can help shoppers with disabilities have a more pleasant and hassle free experience. It is my strong belief that more fashion stores should implement a no obligation to buy personal shopping service. In which the personal shopper is given extensive disability training and would be able to assist their client as much or as little as the client chooses. Currently I am only aware of a few companies here in the uk that offer this service like TopShop, Debenhams and Intu Stores.
Debenhams worked alongside the RNIB to improve their personal shopping service for their sight impaired customers. This was very well received and was a positive step towards disability inclusion in retail. Here we had a large retail brand actually listening to the needs of their customers with disabilities and acting on them.
So, I would love to see more companies feature this service in the way that they aid and support customers with disabilities. More fashion brands and retail outlets should seek consultancy from disability charities and customers with disabilities to create a personal shopping programme that enables customers with disabilities to have a positive shopping experience.
So, those are some of my thoughts on the ways that the fashion industry needs to continue to grow to include and embrace the disability community. I do have other views and ideas, however I am saving those for future posts.
But, what I want to encourage you, as my readers, to do is to use #AccessDay to the best of your abilities. Today is a day that is marked to address the access needs of the disability community and to raise awareness of disability advocacy. So, if you have any thoughts on how you think a service, product, establishment or company could make their services more accessible, tell them. Take to social media, write them an email, attend any events happening near you for Access Day. Remember your voice matters, your access needs matter and you matter. You are valid and you deserve to be able to enjoy the same freedom of movement and opportunities as everyone else.
So, if you have any of your own views on disability access, remember to share them on social media under the #AccessDay. Go out there, do your thing, have your say and together we will make our world more accessible.
I send you all my positive vibes today.
Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @DavisonEm where I’ll be tweeting about Access Day all day.