Are Disabled-Only Runways a Good Way to Showcase Disabled Models?

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A year ago, I wouldn’t really have thought about disabled models too much. I would have thought bringing to light the beautiful disabled models that we rarely see on the runway was an absolutely brilliant thing but at that time, I didn’t truly understand how it felt from a disabled person’s point of view.

I was born with a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which didn’t start to really affect me until I was around 10-years-old, but even then it was only the odd dislocation here and there. Although it did affect my everyday life and limited what I could do, I didn’t really consider myself as having a disability, just some fairly cool party tricks where I could bend bits of me that really shouldn’t bend that far!

However last year, I had an unfortunate bout of flare ups which led me to become reliant on a wheelchair. I haven’t really told a lot of people about being in a wheelchair, so only those friends and family closest to me understand why I’ve gone from being a 23-year-old party girl to a 24-year-old hermit. I guess I have been afraid that people would treat me differently or pity me or accuse me of wanting attention. But I don’t want anyone to think that way–I’m the same person I’ve always been, I just now have wheels!

But people do treat you differently when you are visibly disabled. I get pitying looks from strangers when I’m out in my wheelchair and quite often people talk to whoever is pushing me instead of me. Hello! I am here you know! But I do think that this is due to a lack of education and the segregation of disabled and able bodied people in the media and in fashion.

In the last few years, the number fashion shows which feature disabled models has increased. However, the vast majority of these shows feature only disabled models and while I think it is fantastic to showcase the talent of these models, the cynic in me does feel like sometimes this is being used as a very clever publicity stunt. These shows will get people talking about the designer and will make people think, “Wow, this is a brand that cares.” Don’t get me wrong, clearly these designers do care very much about normalizing disability but I also feel that by making these shows “disabled only” it is widening the gap between the able bodied and disabled models.

Why should visibly disabled models only be in disabled fashion shows? Why are these beautiful models not being used in shows across all fashion weeks amongst the able bodied models? Why are they not being used in fashion magazines and on billboards across the world? To truly overcome the stigma that surrounds disability, it needs to be viewed as “normal.” All bodies are beautiful and although some might be different from your average body these differences should be embraced and celebrated.

This has begun to happen, Teatum Jones launched London Fashion Week with their show  “The Body | Part One” which featured two visibly disabled models and celebrated the beauty of every body. This for me was a really uplifting and beautiful thing to watch and read about, especially noting that the founders of Teatum Jones have decided to focus on luxury fashion tailored for the disabled market. This is so important!

Since I’ve been in a wheelchair I have lived in baggy sweatshirts and leggings. It’s so difficult to know how to dress when you’re going to be sitting down all the time. So many of my beautiful dresses just don’t look right now and I feel like when I’m sitting down it enhances all of the bits about me that I don’t like and hides the bits that I do. Having a designer focused on luxury fashion for the disabled market will hopefully bring the need for disabled fashion to light. I really hope that people will take some notes, design some clothes for those of us who spend our time in a wheelchair or at least have some seated mannequins in stores so we can see how these clothes can look while we’re in our chairs.

Until that time, trial and error will have to do, although I have found that as long as you have a silk scarf, a beautiful handbag, and a positive attitude you can’t go wrong!

By: Selina Towers (pictured above)

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