Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This is according to the World Health Organisation “a day to celebrate all”. An opportunity for all of us to acknowledge that disability – permanent or temporary – is part of the human condition.
According to the Equality Act 2010 being disabled is having a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities (GOV.UK n.d., GOV.UK, accessed on 3rd December 2020, https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010). Substantial refers to the length of time it would take you to complete certain tasks – even minor, like getting dressed – when compared to non-disabled people.
The term disability is broad. There are different types of disability all with their specific challenges. Being a so-called able-bodied person, I don’t think I can truly understand the day-to-day impact of those challenges. What I do know is that I am inspired by a number of people who are disabled: Ellie Simmonds, David Weir, Sinead Burke, Emily Davison – aka Fashioneyesta and Nikki Fox to name a few. All extremely successful! I’m unable do what they do and I often wonder: is disability a restriction to achieve success or has society accepted conventional ways of doing things that make it harder for disabled people to succeed? Obviously, disability will restrict people’s ability to do certain things, but at a time when we’ve landed men on the moon, surely we can come up with ways to make certain tasks quicker and easier.
Sinead Burke is vigorously trying to change the fashion system. Why wouldn’t she? Having watched and read about her story and a few others it’s clear the standardised design approach we have adopted across the world is not inclusive enough. This is a systemic issue affecting all the Sineads, Ellies, Davids, Emilies and Nikkis we know. The challenges they face are more the result of ignorance and inflexibility towards current design (mis-)conceptions, rather then their disabilities. It’s sad this is where we stand in 2020, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to do something about it. As designers, we come up with innovative ways of shaping, adapting and simplifying design to improve people’s lives. So, we could come up with more inclusive designs. We know we can, so… shall we?
For sure! I’m committed to doing my part starting now! A new brand is arriving in 2021. It won’t solve all the challenges but I’ll be delighted if I can make a tiny contribution to improving the dressing experience. A small thing to ensure our inspirational role models can focus on their important work. Watch this space 😊 Keep safe!