Fashionable options for teenagers with disabilities remain limited despite improvements in clothing for children with disabilities

NEW YORK (AP) — Mindy Scheier, a former fashion industry professional, found her perspective shift when her son, Oliver, was born with muscular dystrophy.

Witnessing his struggles to dress himself, she became acutely aware of the limitations in the fashion industry for people with disabilities.

At the tender age of 8, Oliver yearned to abandon his daily sweatpants in favor of jeans, just like his peers.

However, his leg braces and difficulty with zippers and buttons posed a challenge. Unable to find suitable jeans, Mindy took matters into her own hands and started making modifications herself.

She ingeniously added strips of fabric fasteners along the inseams of the jeans, replacing the traditional button and zipper on the front with the same. The impact on Oliver’s life was profound.

Now, Scheier dedicates herself to raising awareness about the need for designers and retailers to embrace adaptive clothing through her Runway of Dreams Foundation and Gamut Management talent and consulting agency.

With a passion for inclusivity and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, Scheier has become a leading advocate for adaptive fashion.

Through her Runway of Dreams Foundation, Scheier works tirelessly to promote and support the development of adaptive clothing lines. She believes that everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, should have access to stylish and functional clothing options.

By collaborating with designers and brands, Scheier encourages the creation of adaptive clothing that not only meets the specific needs of individuals with disabilities but also reflects current fashion trends.

Additionally, Scheier’s Gamut Management talent and consulting agency serves as a bridge between designers, retailers, and the adaptive community.

By connecting talented individuals with disabilities to fashion industry opportunities, she strives to break down barriers and challenge traditional notions of beauty and fashion.

Through her agency, Scheier not only helps to promote diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry but also showcases the immense talent and potential of individuals with disabilities.

Scheier’s dedication to raising awareness about adaptive clothing extends beyond her professional endeavors.

She frequently speaks at conferences and events, sharing her personal journey and highlighting the importance of embracing inclusivity in fashion.

Through her powerful storytelling and advocacy, she inspires others to join the movement and contribute to creating a more inclusive and accessible fashion world.

In conclusion, through her Runway of Dreams Foundation and Gamut Management talent and consulting agency, Scheier is making significant strides in raising awareness about the need for designers and retailers to embrace adaptive clothing.

Her passion for inclusivity and commitment to challenging the status quo in the fashion industry have made her a respected figure and a driving force for change.

As she continues to advocate for adaptive fashion, Scheier is paving the way for a more inclusive and accessible future.

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Scheier has successfully collaborated with some of the most prominent American brands and retailers, bringing them on board to support adaptive clothing.

Although there has been significant progress in the development of adaptive clothes, shoes, and other accessories in recent years, Scheier believes that more industry players should actively participate in this movement.

She highlighted that many brands were initially hesitant to venture into this space due to the fear of making mistakes, saying the wrong things, or not knowing where to begin.

Scheier’s role involves working closely with brands, providing guidance throughout the process to ensure they navigate this new territory successfully.

Oliver, now 18 years old, expresses satisfaction with the progress that has been made. However, he believes that the fashion industry’s ability to seamlessly combine style with functionality for individuals in his age group has not yet caught up with the offerings available for younger children and adults.

Oliver emphasizes the importance of equal opportunities for people like him and his peers to express themselves through fashion, just like any able-bodied person.

He firmly believes that adaptive clothing plays a significant role in showcasing his true identity and enables him to express himself authentically.

As an expert in writing, I can help you create a well-written paragraph in English. Here’s the revised paragraph:

Including people with disabilities in the design process is an essential aspect to consider. It involves providing features like hidden openings for medical ports, tubing, and bags, as well as ensuring less bulk in the front and a higher rise in the back of pants for wheelchair users.

Making dressing without assistance easier can be achieved through the incorporation of pull-on loops at the sides of skirts and pants, and wider necks on pullover shirts.

Moreover, it is crucial to design shoes that are wide and sturdy enough on the inside to accommodate braces or prosthetics. Including zippers or other fasteners can facilitate putting them on for individuals who have limited hand mobility.

Adidas stands among the industry giants that have collaborated with Scheier in this regard. The company has sought the consultation of Oliver and other individuals with diverse disabilities to develop an adaptive backpack.

This backpack features a flat bottom, wider loops on zippers, and straps that can be easily attached to wheelchairs and scooters.

Numerous brands, ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Target, as well as niche online sellers like No Limbits and Billy Footwear, are catering to the needs of people with disabilities.

In addition, JC Penney, Walmart, Kohl’s, Amazon, Uggs, and Zappos also offer adaptive clothing options.

Walmart, being one of the latest entrants, has partnered with specialized adaptive brands. The company is actively working towards reducing prices and expanding the range of styles available for older kids.

“Brandy Lackey, a senior director of product development at Walmart who played a role in the recent rollout, stated, ‘Tweens are, in my opinion, an underserved customer holistically today.’ This observation highlights the pressing need for various adaptations to cater to the diverse requirements of this age group.

For instance, individuals with sensory processing issues often require softer fabrics, tagless clothing, and flat seams that don’t cause itching.

Recognizing this need, niche sellers have also stepped in to fill the gap. French Toast, for instance, offers a crisp white Oxford shirt with hidden fabric fasteners behind a line of buttons, designed specifically for young people who are required to wear school uniforms.

Another notable example is Billy Footwear, founded by Billy Price, a wheelchair user who faced difficulties in putting on shoes after breaking his back at the age of 18.

Price’s company offers a range of trendy footwear with a unique zipper design that runs down one side and around the toe, allowing the entire top to open up.

Speaking about their mission, Price stated, ‘Our goal was to be able to come out into the market with an easy shoe that could work for anybody.’

These examples demonstrate the importance of addressing the specific needs of tweens and providing them accessible and inclusive products.

By acknowledging and catering to the diverse requirements of this customer segment, companies can create a more inclusive and customer-centric market.”

Working for everyone is a crucial aspect for Price, Scheier, and other advocates of a universal approach. They believe that adaptations should be incorporated into garments and other gear in a way that appeals to both individuals with disabilities and able-bodied individuals.

Last year, in its eighth year of operation, Billy Footwear generated approximately $10 million in sales. Remarkably, their customer base was evenly divided between those who require accommodations and those who do not.

Considering the fact that there are over 60 million adults and over 3 million children living with disabilities in the United States, Oliver, the founder of Billy Footwear, sees a great opportunity for companies to cater to this market.

“We want to wear fashionable and functional clothing too, but often struggle to find suitable options he explained. “There is a clear financial opportunity here.”

Open Style Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making style accessible to, is also actively involved this movement.

They offer a 10-week program that brings together occupational therapists, individuals with disabilities, engineers, and designers to collaborate on creating functional and stylish clothing and accessories.

Yasmin Keats, the executive director of Open Style Lab, emphasized the importance of inclusivity in fashion. She stated, “We believe that fashion should be accessible to all, and our program aims to bridge the gap between functionality and style.”

“We want to educate the next generation of designers on how to do inclusive design better,” she said.

Erica Cole, who is 27 years old, lost a leg in a car accident in 2018 when she was 22. She discovered that the options for pants that could accommodate her prosthetic fell far short in terms of fashion.

“The socket on my first prosthetic was so large that my calf was the size of my thigh. I had to wear sweatpants that were three sizes too big and shorts in the middle of winter because I couldn’t find anything that would fit over it,” she explained. “So, I started altering clothes for myself.”

Her solution eventually became No Limbits, a brand that offers hipster jeans and other pants with side zippers, less bulk at the front, and stretchy waistbands for wheelchair and prosthetic users. She also included front thigh pockets for easy access while sitting.

While older kids may still lack options, Cole acknowledged, No Limbits hopes to address this issue in future releases.

“We’ve been talking to a lot of parents, and there’s a lot of anxiety surrounding kids outgrowing adaptive clothing sizes. Suddenly, they’re in the junior section, and there’s nothing available. That’s where the gap still exists,” Cole said.

In 2021, JC Penney entered the adaptive clothing market and sought advice from Alex Harold, the founder and CEO of the online adaptive fashion marketplace, Patti and Ricky.

“We’ve been in the apparel business for over 100 years, but this was a new venture for us, and we wanted to ensure that we approached it with respect and purpose,” said Chris Phillips, a senior vice president, and general merchandise manager for JC Penney.

Adapting clothing for caregivers of individuals who are entirely dependent presents unique challenges.

Kimberly Peterson, from Knoxville, Tennessee, takes care of her 14-year-old daughter, Tilly, who was born with Joubert Syndrome, a rare genetic condition. Tilly is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair, and experiences severe developmental delays.

Before openings for gastrostomy bags were available on the market, Peterson had to make her own. Even today, she struggles to find long-sleeve tops, outerwear, and sweaters for her daughter, who is 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 85 pounds.

Affordable winter jackets and long-sleeve tops with full zippers or fabric fasteners at the back would greatly help. However, Peterson appreciates the progress that has been made in adaptive clothing.

“It’s encouraging to see more inclusivity,” she said. “It’s great to have that element of normalizing children with disabilities.”