The Paradox of Featuring Fashion Week Models with Disabilities

Posted on February 17, 2015

It’s fashion week, and as has become the trend, designers are employing beautiful people living with disabilities to model their fashions on one of the biggest runways in the world.

Here’s the thing, there are no mainstream retailers or fashion designers making or marketing products for these disabled models. Disabled models are simply used to promote the universal concept of inclusion for brands who don’t actually sell or do anything inclusive.

Let’s take a look at a few of these companies and designers who have featured models with disabilities.

Carrie Hammer – Fashion Week 2015; Jamie Brewer, Model (Down Syndrome)

Carrie Hammer Jamie Brewer Fashion Week

Antonio Urzi – Fashion Week 2015; Jack Eyers, Model (Amputee)

Antonio Urzi Fashion Week

Nina Perdomo – Fashion Week 2015; Megan Silcott (Paralysis)

Note the universal, uninspired walker. It’s honestly infuriating when viewed in the context of Megan’s beauty and her amazing outfit.

Fashion Week Nina Perdomo Disabilities

Gap 2014; RJ Mitte, Model (Cerebral Palsy)

RJ Mitte Gap Ad

JCPenney Real Mannequins 2014

jcpenney real mannequins

Carrie Hammer – Fashion Week 2014; Karen Crespo, Model (Quadruple Amputee)

Carrie Hammer Karen Crespo Fashion Week

Now let’s take a look at a couple of the beautiful products that are ready to be mainstreamed and sold globally.

Sabi Classic, Left. Constructed out of the same materials used to make bicycles, skateboards and hiking boots.

Top and Derby Chatfield, Right. Beautifully crafted from walnut and silicone.

Sabi and Top and Derby Canes

Alleles Prosthetic Covers. A whimsical and inspiring 3D Printed product with a fun website to browse through.

Alleles Prosthetics Yes J. Crew Cane

Eone Bradley Tactile Timepiece . For the visually impaired and/or fashionable. Great for checking time discreetly.

Eone Bradley Tactile Watch

I applaud every designer who sees the beauty in someone living with a disability. But I also want to ask you. Why aren’t you doing more? Just look at the wheelchairs in these photos. They have hardly changed since they were originally designed in the 1950s. Yet consider the thought put into these garments. What would happen if you sent one of these models who happen to be using a wheelchair into a West Elm or a Crate and Barrel or a Design Within Reach and asked him or her to pick out a chair for their home. See, that’s the thing. There’s choice in every aspect of design, just not disability design.

Wheelchair Fashion Week Runway

I believe the market for all assistive mobile devices can be as profitable as the eyeglass market. Let’s make inclusion, right now it feels like we’re just faking it.

You wouldn’t just be supporting the beauty of an inclusive product, you would be supporting the safety.

Falls are the leading cause of death among our elderly. It is widely known that once you outfit an elderly person with the appropriate assistive device, you virtually eliminate falls. The reason assistive devices are not adopted by elderly people is due to stigma. I believe this stigma is deadly.

So answer me this. If Carrie Hammer, Gap and JCPenney are the first to employ models with disabilities, who will be the first to market to them?

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Gale Peterson February 17, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Is there anybody lobbying for assistant devices to be more acceptable and fashionable in Canada or Australia?

    I embrace what you are doing, I think it is so needed and timely with the aging population. When your purple canes are available, put me down for one. In the meantime, I will try to fabricate a special cane myself.

    Keep up the magic!

    • The Girl with the Purple Cane February 18, 2015 at 2:28 am

      Hi Gale,

      I need to learn more about what’s going on in Australia, but if you’re in Canada, I suggest you check out Top and Derby… they’re based in Winnipeg!

  2. Pingback: Why Are Animals With Prosthetics Upworthy When People Aren't? - The Girl with the Purple CaneThe Girl with the Purple Cane

  3. Allie February 19, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Oh girl, you are soooo right. I’m willing to bet any designer worth their scissors would love to get a brief to work on AT. Maybe there’s a case here for design competitions and licensing deals to start the train rolling toward universality of style and design.
    One thing you didn’t address is the concept of fetishization and dehumanization of these differently abled models– already a problem with able models… something I feel I’ll be writing about soon, either on my Tumblr or

  4. Stephanie Thomas February 27, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    This trend of featuring people with disabilities began in 2007 when four models in wheel chairs were featured as “Roll Models”. The models were dressed in clothing by popular mainstream brands and their wheelchairs were are decorated to match their look. Internationally, runway shows featuring people with disabilities has been around for a while. The United States is light years behind Europe with regards to the idea of people with disabilities being viable fashion customers. Although it is important to note that Stephanie Alves and the ABL Denim team have cracked the code to and now have clothing featured on for people with seated body types, who use wheelchairs for mobility. For years Walmart has sold adaptive clothing items for men…like the zip up tie.
    I love your work and would like to feature you on my new podcast cur8able live.

    • The Girl with the Purple Cane February 27, 2015 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Stephanie, I am so thrilled and impressed by your knowledge on this subject. Is there any chance you have previously written about runway models (or roll models) with disabilities? I would love to link to it on this post.

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