I have an unusual reading schedule: various online news sources of a wide diversity politically; several educational newsletters; a fairly outrageous dis/ability blog; and daily email digests featuring issues of race, ethnicity, orientation, and mental health. I find that this sort of cross-pollination of sources adds to my growth. Reading about the continuum of political views informs my teaching. Likewise, staying current on issues of race expands my vocabulary when considering topics in the disability community.  Recently, in The Root, one of my favorite newsletters with unflinching commentary about issues for the Black community, Kai (2018) reflected that the fashion industry does not represent people of color, both as designers and as industry influencers. Wagner (2018) noted that despite fashion’s love affair with diversity, current reflections might be more fad than real change. And Wagner underscores this point with quote after quote from Black fashion industry professional who describe the difficulty of breaking through. Serious reading on a topic that some find frivolous, but I ask you this: are you wearing clothes right now as you read? Fashion touches all of us, figuratively and literally.

Fashion for people with disabilities is currently called adaptive apparel, and it is hailed as an “inclusive clothing trend” (Moniuszko, 2018). Clothes to fit all body types, clothes that are easy to dress in, clothes that respect the needs of the wearer—this is inclusive clothing and it is a trend long overdue. For children and adults with physical and hidden disabilities, clothes that reduce improvisation and barriers feel like a basic life necessity: wheelchair and prosthetic friendly; magnetic buttons; tag-free; assistive designs; comfort, fit, independence, dignity and…coolness (Matchar, 2018).

Inclusive clothing is inspired and necessary; but does fully inclusive clothing make the fashion industry fully inclusive? Inclusion in fashion has come to mean size, age, and culture, and orientation. All of these areas are celebrated. For example, Christian Siriano is a designer who gained national prominence as the youngest winner of Project Runway, a design show which catapulted him to fame and a career capitalizing on inclusion. Known in the industry as a champion of women of color and size, he is also breaking other barriers, “Siriano introduced size-inclusivity into his runway casting for spring 2017, becoming one of the first major designers to do so; for spring 2018, he featured male-bodied, trans, and gender-nonconforming models as well” (Soo Hoo, 2018). What I can’t help but notice, though, is that there are no dis/abled bodies in this celebration, almost as if inclusion has its limits. But inclusion doesn’t have to stop at the runway’s edge.

Two examples of people pushing past the limits of inclusion in fashion are Mindy Schier of Runway of Dreams Foundation (http://runwayofdreams.org/home/) and Jillian Mercado, a Latina model repped by IMG. Schier’s Runway of Dreams is “leading the movement to broaden the reach of mainstream adaptive clothing and to include people with disabilities in the fashion industry” with a showing in New York Fashion Week this September (runwayofdreams.org, 2018). Mercado is a nationally-known model whose campaigns include Diesel, Ivy Park, and Nordstrom (to name a few); she uses a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy and has become the model she never saw growing up (Lesavage, 2018).

There are probably many other examples of greater inclusivity in fashion. Like Beyoncé who recently tagged Tyler Mitchell, the youngest and first African American photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, people with disabilities will also press until doors open, cameras shoot, and runways cut the curb. Glover Blackwell (2017) describes this “curb-cut effect,” how everyone in society benefits from changing the way society thinks about challenges to access and opportunity; instead of benefit to just one group, the curb-cut effect shows benefit to all groups. Cutting the curb in fashion could strengthen inclusivity for all groups.

Author Info:

Hi! I am Anne Steketee, M.Ed., currently a part-time lecturer at Chapman University in the Attallah School of Education. As a PhD student in education at Chapman, with an emphasis in Cultural and Curricular Studies and a minor in Disability Studies, I am particularly interested in conversations about intersections. I am a mother of a multicultural family, a foster mother, and an educator with over 30 years of partnering with students of all learning profiles (that means I am really old).


Glover Blackwell, A. (2017). The curb-cut effect. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 15(1), 28

  1. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_curb_cut_effect

Kai, M. (2018, August 24). Still waiting for a seat at the table: what’s it really like to be Black in

the fashion industry? The Root (The Glow Up). Retrieved from https://theglowup.theroot.com/still-waiting-for-a-seat-at-the-table-whats-it-really-1828576934

Lesavage, H. (2018, March 29). How Jillian Mercado beat the odds to become a model.

Glamour. Retrieved from https://www.glamour.com/story/how-jillian-mercado-beat-the-odds-to-become-a-model

Matchar, E. (2018, May 8). Designing “adaptive clothing” for those with special needs.

Smithsonian.com. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/designing-adaptive-clothing-for-those-with-special-needs-180968976/

Moniuszko, S. (2018, April 4). What is adaptive apparel? Everything you need to know about the

inclusive clothing trend. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2018/04/04/what-adaptive-apparel-everything-disability-friendly-clothes-mainstream-inclusive/1044712001/

Runway of Dreams Foundation. (2018). Retrieved from http://runwayofdreams.org/home/

Soo Hoo, R. (2018, Feb. 9). How Christian Siriano’s inclusive approach to fashion

revolutionized an industry. Glamour. Retrieved from https://www.glamour.com/story/christian-siriano-10-year-anniversary

Wagner, L. P. (2018, August 23). Everywhere and nowhere: what it’s really like to be Black and

work in fashion. The Cut. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2018/08/what-its-really-like-to-be-black-and-work-in-fashion.html?utm_campaign=thecut&utm_source=tw&utm_medium=s1


Adaptive Clothing


Tommy Adaptive and the Complicated Ethics of Having No Alternatives

Jillian Mercado: