Dressing With a Disability – Fashion Isn’t a Priority

Clothing on hanger at the modern shop boutique

I recently spent some time running around the internet looking at t-shirts and hoodies. I ran into a New York City-based brand known as Plurawl. They sell clothing, artwork, and other selections aimed at the LatinX community. I was struck by their message of authenticity; their message of being truly authentic to one’s self. And then it dawned on me: as ubiquitous as t-shirts are in the modern era, I know people who cannot physically wear them.

As a disabled person myself, I am keenly aware of the variety of disabilities people struggle with. Some have physical disabilities which would prevent them from putting t-shirts on. Others have cognitive disabilities that make pulling anything over the head a virtual nightmare. It all boils down to the simple fact that when you are dressing with a disability, fashion isn’t a priority.

  • He Can’t Raise His Arms

I remember one disabled friend who has since passed away. As a younger man, he was as healthy as a horse. But a brain injury in his late forties left him a near quadriplegic. Everything above the neck was fine. Below the neck, he had only slight use of one of his arms. Needless to say, he could not raise either of his arms over his head.

Before the injury, he was an avid outdoorsman. He was also big on exercise and fitness. I know he would have appreciated having a selection of Plurawl t-shirts and hoodies in his closet. But post-injury, he could no longer dress himself. His caregivers avoided t-shirts and hoodies because they were too difficult to get on him.

  • He Is on the Spectrum

I have another adult friend who is borderline autistic. He and his wife have an adult son who is definitely on the spectrum. There are times when the slightest little thing sets the son off. Pulling t-shirts and sweatshirts over his head is one of them. If conditions are just right, putting on a t-shirt can make this guy crazy.

The father dresses just as you would expect any other adult male to dress. His son is a different matter. Just because his disability makes getting dressed so challenging, he tends to wear only sweatpants and loose-fitting shirts. A t-shirt is fine if he is feeling okay. But if not, he will wear a zip-up sweatshirt instead.

  • Thank Goodness for Adaptive of Clothing

My own disability doesn’t prevent me from dressing myself in the types of clothes I like. So until preparing to write this post, I never gave a second thought to the possibility that adaptive clothing might exist. But lo and behold, that is just what I discovered in my research.

Adaptive clothing is clothing designed purposely to meet the needs of disabled people. Buttons, snaps, and zippers are replaced by Velcro and magnetic fasteners. Shirts are made with fasteners running up and down both sides for easier dressing and removal. Pants with extra high waist bands and back flaps make it easier for wheelchair users to use the bathroom.

I have to admit that, even as a disabled person, I can pay attention to fashion because my disability doesn’t prevent me from dressing myself. But now I am more likely to remember that other people in the disabled community do not have that luxury. They need to choose their clothing based more on accommodating their disabilities than satisfying their fashion tastes.

None of this is meant to condemn the fashion industry or those who appreciate it. It is just a different perspective through the lens of people who have other priorities.

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