People with disabilities are often at a disadvantage when it comes to finding appropriate workplace attire, a recent study finds
Dressing for success with a disability can be hard work.
Nearly 20 million people of working age live with a disability, according to the U.S. Census, and one of their many barriers to workplace participation is finding clothes that meet dress-code requirements, researchers from the University of Missouri found in a recent study. This obstacle, they said, can diminish confidence and heighten stigma.
Given a lack of appropriate clothing available to those with equipment like colostomy bags, one study participant with multiple sclerosis reported struggling to find adaptive clothing options that made her feel attractive. Others reported having a hard time finding professionally acceptable clothes, and even cited that difficulty as a reason they refrained from applying to certain jobs with strict dress codes.
Adaptive clothing, according to Caring Village, is clothing designed with the dressing needs of the elderly and disabled in mind. Typical features include Velcro-type closures instead of buttons, open-back blouses, lap-over back-style garments with snaps for those who can’t raise their arms and pants with side zippers and zippers that have easy-to-grasp tabs.
“People with disabilities are no different than any other consumer looking for clothing,” study co-author Kerri McBee Black, an instructor and doctoral candidate in textile and apparel management, said in a statement. She acknowledged that people seek clothing that makes them feel confident, and lamented that the apparel industry doesn’t currently meet that demand for those with disabilities.
Using this information, the Department of Textile and Apparel Management at the University of Missouri is focused on relaying the importance of offering inclusive and adaptive apparel to future designers.
“Feeling confident in terms of clothing can look very different for each individual, but it’s important to be able to feel like you have options that allow you to present yourself in a way that feels authentic and reflective of who you are internally,” Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Gemma Quick told Moneyish.
In 2016, Tommy Hilfiger introduced an adaptive line driven by its “commitment to innovation and modern style,” that includes styles for men, women and children. Their men’s shorts feature adjustable waists, Velcro closures and a magnetic fly, while women’s dresses have hidden magnetic closures at the shoulders to allow for easy dressing. Other companies are also beginning to recognize the need to incorporate adaptive garments: Zappos has a department dedicated to selling adaptive shoes and Nike’s FlyEase line offers athletic shoes that boast a zipper and a strap for easy dressing.
“Throughout the interviews we heard from participants that people living with disabilities want to work; yet, they experience public and self-stigma, both of which undermine their confidence,” McKee Black said.
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