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Let’s learn about disability

“Why do you advertise your brand as adaptive? I love the clothes and would want to buy them!” “I thought you were making adaptive, but all I see is normal clothing!” This is some of the feedback we received so far. To be perfectly honest we want Mauda to be a brand primarily focussed on adaptive design. However, we want non-disabled and people with disabilities alike to want to wear our clothes. So, in that respect we seem to be heading in the right direction. The thing is: these comments also reflect the existing misconception that accessible design and fashion are incompatible. Good opportunity to learn more about what it’s like living with a disability!

The concept of Mauda was heavily influenced by Sinead Burke’s campaign for inclusive design. Somehow, despite three Industrial Revolutions we will still focus on the blockers rather than the opportunities of disability. And no, this statement is not a contradiction. Innovation and problem-solving go hand-in-hand.

Educating and raising awareness is therefore crucial to promote a more accessible world for all. This is what this week’s blog is about: common themes we have come across during our research. The themes people with disabilities call out and we need to help change. Hopefully these will help see things from a different perspective and prompt you to re-evaluate what you think you know about disability.

It’s time to accept!

The UN recognises disability as part of the human condition. There are over 1 billion people living with disabilities. The stats are scary. A high percentage live in poverty, suffer from social exclusion and are denied access to basic support systems that should be available to everyone: education, employment and health care to name a few. It’s time we accept disability and actively stop the discrimination that still exists. Learn, raise awareness, support persons with disabilities and help eradicate ableism.

Celebrate people

Check out Samantha Renke and Sally Phillips’ experiences from negative perceptions around disability. DIsability is to some degree perceived as a “burden” and it’s not uncommon for people to report feeling sorry for someone with a disability. Don’t! Renke and Phillips’ experiences are filled with joy and achievements, just like many other people.

Hearing the word “disabled” will have an impact on any parents’ hopes and dreams for their child. However, it’s important to remember that a person with a disability does NOT have a lesser or inferior existence. They will for sure have different experiences from their non-disabled peers. But they can lead fulfilling lives regardless. A person with a disability is first and foremost a person. Celebrate the person.

Acknowledge invisible disabilities

We’ve all been there. Spotting that someone walking back to their car parked on an accessible parking bay. Or queueing for ages to get in a public toilet and that someone just goes straight into the accessible toilet on their own two feet. If you were ever quick to judge and shame, please don’t. Not all disabilities are visible. It’s very unlikely anyone will be able to spot them.

There are over 11 million people with a disability in the UK and of these less than 8% require the use of a wheelchair. So next time you see someone using accessibility don’t assume and if they are abused by anyone making incorrect assumptions, politely intervene. No one is obliged to justify their reasons to use accessibility and no one is entitled to know. Help raise awareness to prevent unfair treatment of people with invisible disabilities.

Break with the stereotypes

This is too close to home. Similar to the feedback we mentioned at the start of this blog, Mauda is struggling to be added to a directory where you can find brands supplying adaptive clothing and accessible equipment. Why? Apparently, our designs don’t look adaptive. That was the point all along! We want to make fashion for people to express their individuality, not their disability.  Adaptive fashion shouldn’t look any different from other fashion. The clue’s in “fashion”!

This however reflects a much more fallacious assumption: that persons with disabilities should look a certain way. We encourage you to read this article exploring the “disability paradox” and how disability and happiness can co-exist. Disability is not synonym to sadness or “care home couture”. Instead of expecting people to sit in a corner feeling sorry for themselves whilst sporting a hospital gown, shift the focus to how we can promote inclusive design and make the world more accessible to everyone.

Respect personal space

This is a common read: several people sharing when they were asked “what happened” by complete strangers This article by Elizabeth Wright is a good account of how intrusive and somewhat disrespectful such approaches can be and what to do instead. If you’re not familiar with the individual and don’t know their circumstances, the best option is to respect privacy.

This extends to any accessible equipment the person uses. We’ve read numerous examples of people who experienced strangers moving their wheelchairs without permission, some with the person still in it. Or parents thinking it’s fine to allow their children to “play” with someone’s wheelchair without asking permission or even knowing the individual. We learn from an early age not to touch someone’s wallet, so why would anyone think it’s ok to touch someone’s wheelchair or prosthetic? Be respectful of everyone’s personal space.

Consider your vocabulary

Certain expressions are so engrained in the culture that we don’t even think before using them. But expressions and words are powerful. They can offend and further stigmatise people who already face frequent discrimination. Consider the guidelines available and convey your message in a direct way, without using disability as an analogy to what you’re trying to say.

Avoid inspiration porn

In the words of Samantha Renke: You find me inspirational? That’s great, so what have I inspired you to do, exactly? Inspiration porn has for a while been criticised. Persons with disabilities called inspirational for performing ordinary tasks or achieving something with the help of a non-disabled person… Not only is this diminishing for the individual but it suggests disability should be “cured” or “overcome”.

LinkedIn is filled with such ableist examples worthy of the Cringetopia subreddit. It doesn’t mean someone with a disability cannot be inspirational. They can and quite a few of them are (Renke herself even though she doesn’t like the term 😊). But as she points out, if you find someone inspirational consider in what way they inspired you and what you can do about it. Become a disability ally. Every small change can start with any of us. Help raise awareness.

Learn more, and more, and always!

This isn’t all there is to know. These are just a few points to help raise awareness on some challenges that exist around disability. Persons with disabilities are still under-represented in several industries and aspects of life. Lack of knowledge and incorrect preconceived notions of disability have somehow managed to prevail to this day. It’s imperative we learn about disability so we can do more for accessible design and overall improve the experiences of people with disabilities. Learn, engage and help raise awareness. The opportunities are limitless.

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