There are many challenges that face the world of design. One major point of focus is designing for disability. This will be the central focus of the essay, with an exploration of adaptive clothing lines, how disabled people purchase them and the consequential issues. The design response to this issue will be a campaign that raises awareness of the reality of fashion and shopping amongst those with a disability, trying to inspire social action.
There will be five sections described below. The first begins with an analysis of the social issue of disability. It describes the social pressures and prejudices that come with it through an explanation of both social and universal design. Section II regards the real world examples of disability, which is disability in fashion, specifically shopping on the high street. It will also explain the inspiration behind the creation of the campaign, which leads into section III; campaign as the design response to these issues in disability. Section IV then demonstrates the visuals of the campaign and brings light to what it will actually look like. Section V will conclude the essay.
I. Social Issue: Disability
In considering designing for disability in the fashion industry, ‘social design’ and ‘universal design’ are crucial. Social design is about understanding the community being designed for and aims to make life easier and more practical, “it is about designing for needs rather than wants, finding practical solutions to enhance people’s well-being” (McClumpha, 2017). It is a form of design geared towards social and global change. Social design should now have greater focus on helping create sustainable and accessible developments that support positive change. Fry discusses the idea ‘defuturing’ as “it can no longer be assumed that we, en masse, have a future. If we do it can only be by design against the still accelerating defuturing condition of un-sustainability” (2009, 1). He argues that because the environment and disability are such prominent social issues, social design must continue to design for human practicality now more than ever. Designers must keep these urgent issues consistently in mind otherwise as Fry argues, the world will remove its own future.
Universal design in turn, is design that benefits everyone specifically those with a disability. To create a space that is suitable for both abled-bodies and bodies with disabilities. Jos Boys describes how there is much creative potential in design that keep disability in mind, however also recognises that “starting from disability does not lead to universal or simple design solutions" (2014, 4). Designing for the range of bodies that exist in the entire world is immensely difficult. However, Boys is arguing that the ‘creative potential’ is massive when considering disability and could open design up to many opportunities. These design opportunities link strongly to current developments in social disciplines; anthropology, sociology and psychology. This is because there is now greater understanding of the specificities regarding human need and want. There is an understanding of needing design to adapt and change around time and the variety of body types. Designing for people in the most practical way is therefore more available to us than ever before with the advancement of these social sciences.
Social and universal design are being practiced and design for people with disability has been thoroughly improved over the years. However, in considering the actual reality of disability beyond social theory, societal attitudes and disability design practices do come with fault. Boys uses a discussion of the medical model of disability versus the social model to emphasise this point. The medical model refers to the physical impairment of the person and the assumed lower quality of life. The social model of disability is more how disability is not the result of physical impairment, but the way people are forced to feel this impairment. He uses the comparison of these two frameworks of perspective to show how often times the biggest issue that surrounds disability is not always the disability itself, but the attitudes that surround it. There exist assumptions that life is worse and that those with disability are always extremely needy. There is social caution and lack of understanding that comes with disability because it not the ‘normal’. Disability scholars also reveal the discussions between disability studies and medical sociology about how to properly understand ‘disability’. These disciplines argue whether “disability is to be perceived as social oppression, exclusion and unequal rights or as being caused by impairment and illness" (Finkelstein 2001, Oliver 2004, Williams 1999, Bury 2000 cited in Brodersen and Lindegaard 2013, 268). Through this argument, the authors of the article Brodersen and Lindegaard decide to follow the description of disability by Thomas as he combines these two theories together. He writes, “disability only comes into play when the restrictions of activity experienced by people with impairment are socially imposed … it is entirely possible to acknowledge that impairments and chronic illness directly cause some restrictions of activity (Thomas 2004, 581). Thomas demonstrates that in many ways disability is a form of social oppression because of the limitations people with a disability have to certain activities, and how this is completely socially instilled.
Consequentially, designing for disability is majorly important because it creates spaces accessible for more people and builds inclusiveness despite the diversity of bodies. It is vital to consider the reality of living with a disability both in the context of social theory and through real world examples.
II. Real World Example of Disability: Disability in Fashion
Designing for disability is therefore not always a given and neither is it always the most straightforward answer. This is why it is important to understand both social and universal design to see the ways in which many high street shops fall down. Many brands now have adaptive clothing lines, notably, Tommy Hilfiger, Bezgraniz Couture, Rebirth Garments, Target and M&S just to name a few (Barbarin, 2018). However, majority of the others still do not make them accessible to the physical shopper. Having an adaptive clothing line is a form of social design in considering the practicalities of designing for a different body type, however the lack of accessibility to trying these on in the shop itself is still very challenging for those people being designed for. Furthermore, because shop accessibility and disabled changing rooms are still very limited, it counters the idea of having an adaptive clothing line in the first place. It removes the person with a disability from being able to physically shop for themselves, as they are forced to do it online, particularly problematic for people with visual impairments. The design response to these issues is therefore my ‘#allthesame Campaign’, which will be explained below. The image below is a sketch of a basic retail floor plan. It highlights points of difficulty for disabilities and the challenges they are forced to face:
After looking into these issues and seeing the severity of this retail model, it became apparent just how repetitive this issue was. There are hundreds of news and media articles expressing these as told by many different individuals. The consistency of real life experiences became a major source of inspiration for a campaign.
The viral spread of this issue in disabled shopping and fashion inspired an urgent sense of action. There is consistent discussion regarding the lack of appropriate design in fashion for people with disabilities. Brands may have adaptive clothing lines, but may not carry through in the physical reality of shopping, i.e. no disabled changing rooms to actually try on the adaptive line. Looking specifically at Ryan’s article, there is a strong element of shock in the title, which is an effective way of highlighting this issue. Ryan mentions how “accessibility to the clothes themselves is rarely mentioned” (2018), and the campaign is designed to open up this discussion allowing disability in fashion to be understood and talked about.
When analysing Butterworth’s article, an irony was expressed in the launch of the M&S adaptive clothing line because none of the stores had any changing rooms for these people to try them on. Butterworth shares the experience of Laura Moore whose son has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Moore was only able to help her son try on the clothes in the bathroom by laying him on the floor, as there was nowhere else with enough room or accessibility to change him. Moore describes her experience as “nothing short of hypocritical to make clothes - and try and make money - out of people they do not want in their store” (Butterworth, 2018). Moore gained a mass online following showing how she is not alone in her experience.
Barbarin is someone with a disability who writes in their article on adaptive clothing lines that, “finding your style as a person with disabilities can feel like trying to catch a butterfly with your bare hands” (2018), which further expresses the nature of challenge. They are fighting for a sense of normalcy and a space where their personality can be expressed through fashion. Through Twitter, disabled shoppers have also been able to share their opinions on the challenges of shopping and have suggested key solutions (Capon, 2018). These have been presented in the mind-map below.
Another major issue that came up in this discussion was staff awareness. Lack of informed staff on the adaptive lines and clothes descrptions for visually impaired and blind people. Staff awareness issues also include the fact that some people with disabilities cannot change themselves in the dressing room. If they need assistance from their partner who is a different sex to them, they will not be allowed in due to privacy regulations. There needs to be a way for staff members to allow carers and partners into the changing rooms to assist the person with a disability.
Looking deeper into this, disability in fashion as an issue can be stemmed from the roots of globalisation. It becomes apparent just how much disability has been excluded from fashion and how it has had no space to be empowering. Lees-Maffei discusses design and consumption and the ways that consumption has become a major industry. Lees-Maffei argues that the consumption of designed goods has always been global, which gave room for marketing and advertising to grow as industries as a result to go alongside this mass consumption (2016, 446). This therefore meant that "psychological understanding informed more sophisticated approaches at the turn of the 20th century as advertisers learnt to appeal to consumers' dreams and desires rather than simply to their needs" (Lees-Maffei 2016, 448). This explains how an industry like fashion involved with this mass consumption and advertising, became dominated by transforming trends through the decades. However, no matter how transient these trends were, they always revolved around abled bodies luring people in to have these same expectations of what their bodies should look like. Advertising is a space to promote a certain lifestyle; one that did not feature disability. It naturally becomes difficult for most people, especially those with a disability because the ‘idealistic’ image is one of unachievable standards. Fashion has neglected disability for far too long in the past, and now requires the change it deserves.
III. Design Response: Campaign
In light of this issue, a campaign became the most appropriate design response. After analysing the trend in this issue, the campaign became so relevant because it aims to increase consistency in designing for disability in fashion. The entire experience must be considered not just parts of it. The campaign is fighting to provide that sense of individualism amongst people with disabilities by allowing more accessibility in their shopping experiences. In the two sections below, it will be discussed how the campaign will be built on these ironies in the disabled fashion industry to construct a vision of how it could be more accessible. The campaign is fighting to try and change the stigma of shopping with a disability to make it more ‘normal’ for those people.
The campaign will be called #allthesame as mentioned above, in order to emphasise how everyone is human and deserves the same right to experience regardless of their body type. People are all still people no matter what their body looks like. The campaign’s mission will therefore be to express the reality of fashion amongst people with disabilities. It will try to make fashion and shopping more accessible and independent with greater freedom of choice both on and offline.
The campaign will use images to reflect the real life challenges and then offer solutions to these challenges. While the campaign is still new, these solutions are for inspiration purposes to try and get retail and other shoppers thinking more about the issue. The initial aim is therefore primarly to inspire. To start fuelling ideas that show how the changes being advocated in the campaign are not entirely impossible or out of the question.
IV. Design Response: What the campaign will look like
The media hash-tag #allthesame will be prominently featured alongside the visuals of the campaign, presented below. Each set will be comprised of three or four images. The theme is to have a direct comparison of an able bodied person to a person with a disbaility to highlight obvious challenges that are often overlooked. The first two of the campaign sets have captions above images 1 and 2 saying ‘normal day’ to represent the ease that an abled bodied person will experience when facing stairs, shop counters and tight spaces. Having this standard scenario directly next to someone with a disability tries to enforce how a ‘normal’ situation for one, is of immense challenge for someone else. To highlight the challenges that disabled people face on a daily basis to draw attention to the need for change.
Below each campaign set will be a small caption that summarises the issue and explains how it can be solved and looked at with a fresher design perspective. For example, the set (see below) is highlighting the emphasis on how models are predominantly abled-bodies, but raises the question; why can’t people with a disability also be models too? This links to one of the issues discussed in Section II regarding the fact that many people with disabilities are forced to shop online but there are no models showcasing what these clothes would look like on someone in a wheelchair.
This is how the campaign uses visuals to directly appeal to the real-world issues discussed above and how it is directly targeting disability as a social issue.
This essay has highlighted disability as a prominent social issue and how both social and universal design are still limited. We then zoomed in to a specific aspect of disability, involving a discussion of real world examples. These presented the ways in which disability in fashion is exclusive and often neglects people with disabilities. The design response to these issues was the campaign, #allthesame. This campaign aims to encourage a sense of deserving equality amongst all body types and offers solutions thorough design images and text.
Barbarin, Imani. 2018. "Disability And Fashion: 5 Adaptive Clothing Lines We Love". Disability Horizons. https://disabilityhorizons.com/2018/08/disability-and-fashion-5-adaptive-clothing-lines-we-love/.
Boys, Jos. 2014. Doing Disability Differently. 1st ed. London.
Brodersen, S. and Lindegaard, H., 2013. Ability or disability – design for whom?. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 16(3), pp.267-279.
Butterworth, B., 2018. M&S Launches Clothing For Disabled Children, Despite Having No Changing Rooms For Them. [online] Inews.co.uk. Available at: <https://inews.co.uk/news/marks-and-spencer-disabled-changing-rooms-children-clothing-range-282348> [Accessed 28 March 2020].
Capon, Laura. 2018. "People With Disabilities Are Sharing All The Ways Clothes Shops Could Be More Accommodating". Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/fashion/a21963440/clothes-shopping-people-disabilities-access-twitter/.
Fry, Tony. 2009. Design Futuring. Berg Publishers.
Gladwell, Hattie. 2018. "Wheelchair User Slams Topshop For Filling Disabled Changing Room With Sale Stock | Metro News". Metro.Co.Uk. https://metro.co.uk/2018/04/25/wheelchair-user-slams-topshop-for-filling-disabled-changing-room-with-sale-stock-7496186/.
Lees-Maffei, G. ''Why Then the World's Mine Oyster': Consumption and Globalization, 1851 to Now' pp459-470 In: Sparke, P. and F. Fisher (eds.) (2016). The Routledge Companion to Design Studies. Georgetown : Taylor and Francis.
Ryan, Frances. 2018. "Why Are There More Clothing Lines For Dogs Than Disabled People?". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/18/why-are-there-more-clothing-lines-for-dogs-than-disabled-people.
Dreams Vector. 2020. Set Of Different Disabled Person In Cartoon Style. Image. https://www.123rf.com/photo_89906992_stock-vector-set-of-different-disabled-person-in-cartoon-style.html.
iStock by Getty Images. 2020. Cashier Counter In The Supermarket, Shop, Store. Image. https://www.istockphoto.com/sg/vector/cashier-counter-in-the-supermarket-shop-store-vector-illustration-cartoon-style-gm1143689702-307229251.
Sabel Skaya, Dreamstime. 2020. Help And Support Of Disabled Or Handicapped People Banner With Cartoon Diverse Characters, In Wheelchair And Healthy. Flat Vector Illustration Isolated On White Background.. Image. https://www.dreamstime.com/help-support-disabled-people-banner-flat-vector-illustration-isolated-handicapped-cartoon-diverse-characters-image151082588.
Virina Flora, Dreamstime. 2020. Cartoon Character. Image. https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-cartoon-character-model-illustration-picture-image39936515.