Where Fashion Meets Disability

For those of you who don’t know, today is International Day of People with Disabilities. It’s the opportunity to bring awareness to what it’s like living with a disability but also to celebrate the achievements of those people with a disability (I’m not talking about “inspirational porn” achievements but real achievements). Seeing as I’ve already explained my disability in my first blog post “The Sexy Elephant Look” and as this weekend was a great example of where fashion meets disability, I thought I’d recap the week that was.

Firstly, let’s start with a few disability statistics because you all know I love including some facts in my posts. 4.4 million Australians live with a disability, which is roughly 1 in 5 people. 1 in 3 households also include someone with a disability. Now when you think of disability you might just think of people in wheelchairs or those with an intellectual disability, but it also includes everything from mental health to your grandparents who have heart problems. In fact, the disabled minority group is the only group that you could potentially join at any momemt in your life. So, think twice before you put disability at the back of your mind.

For me, being disabled is a part of who I am, but doesn’t define me. Hence why you’ll see I use people-first language (people with disabilities). However, there isn’t a cure for my disability, so why not just embrace it? There’s no point resenting your life, you just need to get on and live it. This is exactly what I did in my full-on fashion weekend!

Growing up, America’s/Australia’s Next Top Model was one of my favourite TV shows. So, when a friend asked if I wanted to “walk” in Mauricio Alpizar’s fashion show I jumped at the chance. I’d dappled in modelling a few times before, doing a few photoshoots and obviously posting my own photos on Instagram, but never anything like this. The overall experience was amazing and something I’d definitely do again!

When it comes to modelling, seeing people in electric wheelchairs is very rare (in fact, Jillian Mercado is the only person I know of in an electric wheelchair who’s walked at New York Fashion Week), but models who use an electric wheelchair and a VPAP is basically unheard of (Vita Bernik is the only one I know of in the world). I sometimes struggle with my own internal ableism (ableism meaning discrimination in favour of able-bodied people), in the fact that I do think I look better without my VPAP mask. So, leading up to the show, I thought I would walk the catwalk without it on. However, as I like to say, “breathing is always better” and with the busy weekend ahead, I decided to wear it. A new mask that I’m trying (known as a pillow mask) really opens up my eyes and allows my glasses to sit flat on my face, so I wore that one. I was a bit nervous about how the hair and makeup artists would go, but they were amazing and professional, managing to work around my mask with no problems.

Waiting in my outfit to head out onto the catwalk

With the clothes, hair and makeup, I felt like a true professional model. I’ll admit the applause from the crowd was pretty great too when I walked out. Haha, we’ll have to see what the professional photos look like as sometimes I focus too much on my driving than my face, so maybe I’ll stick to just modelling in photoshoots. However, not only was this a great experience for me (and who knows what might come of it), but hopefully it opened the eyes of audience members too, in that having models with disabilities should be the norm because they too are customers just like everyone else. This awareness is what International Day of People with Disability is all about.

Then it was off to the WA Fashions On The Field final on Saturday. For those that don’t know, I only started competing in traditional FOTF competitions (compared to photo competitions) this year after gaining enough confidence to do my own thing and not worry that I wasn’t on the stage like everyone else. So, to make the final after only competing for such a short amount of time was an achievement. What was also an achievement was that, as far as I’m aware, I’m the first wheelchair to make the final, which is a huge step forward for inclusion in FOTF (something I talked about in my FOTF blog post). I hope by me entering and paving the way, it encourages more people with disabilities to enter too!

Having a love of fashion but also a disability does raise a few problems sometimes. Due to my disability and unusual body shape (wide waist which isn’t straight, narrow shoulders, no boobs and sitting down all the time), it makes finding clothes off the rack very hard. For this reason, the majority of my FOTF (and race day) outfits are made by Mum. So, it was fitting that I made the final in one of her creations, and probably one of her best ones at that. Besides that, the rest of my outfit was just from normal shops/not expensive, so I like to think that it showed women that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to compete in FOTF.

My FOTF outfit
My FOTF outfit

As I previously mentioned, FOTF stages are generally not accessible (though someone is in talks with local clubs to make it not only accessible for people in wheelchairs but those with walking sticks, etc). Hats off to Racing and Wagering WA for trying to make Saturday’s one accessible though. They organised a lift to get me onto the stage which was probably a good metre off the ground. Unfortunately, the lift collapsed during my practice run (when there was no audience) and the engineers couldn’t fix it in time. However, instead, they organised for everyone to do the final lap on the ground with me, which spoke volumes not only of RWWA and their ability to adapt to be inclusive but the other ladies who were competing and wanted me to be included. People with disabilities need able-bodied people to be aware of challenges we face and speak up with us so that change can be made for the better!

Overall, though, besides me having the best time last weekend, it showed that people with disabilities can absolutely be stylish and fashionable! It’s also not that hard to include us, considering people with disabilities make up a large proportion of the population. So, if you’re a company, especially in the fashion industry, I urge you to get in touch or do some basic research, so that your company can be more inclusive too.

Happy International Day of People with Disabilities!

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