7 decidedly fab examples of disability in fashion


fullsizeoutput_21b3I don’t mean to brag, but among my friends and family, I’m kind of known as the resident fashionista. I have a penchant for finding unique clothing pieces and putting them together in cute, original outfits; and I love looking at online slideshows of the latest haute couture shows.

One thing about which I’m even more passionate than fashion, though, is disability justice. It is defined by Mia Mingus as “a multi-issue political understanding of disability and ableism, moving away from a rights based equality model and beyond just access, to a framework that centers justice and wholeness for all disabled people and communities.” 

You might think these two things are incompatible; and in the past, perhaps, they were. However, I’m delighted to report that in recent years, there has been an upsurge in disabled bodies integrating into the world of mainstream, contemporary fashion.

Here is a roundup of some of my favorite real-world examples of the intersection of disability and fashion at work.

1. Ad[dress]ing Ableism

In April of this year, five students at Cornell University, including two fiber design science majors, created an exhibit utilizing fashion to raise awareness about disability, “acknowledging the broad spectrum across which disability is defined, and changing the way students across campus think about disability and respond to it.” Each of the participating students was either involved with Cornell disability services or self-identified as “disabled.” 

2. Chairmelotte

In The Netherlands, there is a clothing brand called Chairmelotte Wheelchair Couture, “a company offering exclusive, in-house designed, specialised fashion for ladies and gents who live in a wheelchair.” Their website declares, “The clothes are distinct from other brands thanks to a perfect fit tailored to the sitting position, concealed adaptations and extras, and the use of high-quality, mostly natural fabrics with stretch.”

3. Design for Disability

In May, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation launched a six-part web series created “to challenge perceptions and increase public awareness about the need to include people with disabilities in the fashion and design industries,” partnering with fashion designer Derek Lam and six young designers from Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the Fashion Institute of Technology to create the accessible outfits featured in the series. 

4. Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective

Also known as the INFDC, the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective is “the first fashion trade association for people with disabilities.” 

5. FTL Moda

During New York Fashion Week in February 2016, the FTL Moda shows, an Italian fashion platform that brings designers together to show their collections in a cooperative setting, featured a number of models with disabilities, including Madeline Stuart, the first runway model with Down Syndrome, and Shaholly Ayers, a fashion model born with a congenital amputation.

6. Seated Design

Back in 2015, Parsons alumna Lucy Jones won the Parsons Fashion Benefit Womenswear Designer of the Year award “with a collection designed for self-propelled, seated disabled people — a segment of society completely ignored by the fashion industry today.”

7. Nike FLYEASE

According to TIME, in 2012, high-school junior Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to Nike in which he said his dream was to go off to college “without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day.” Thus, the Flyease 8, “a LeBron James-branded basketball shoe with a one-handed fastening mechanism” in which “wearers yank on a strap, which zips around the ankle as they pull,” was born.

 What about ADHD?

As is so often the case, while doing research for this post, I encountered a lot of information about physical disabilities and other, more outwardly apparent mental disabilities, but there was a decided lack of references to my disability, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Granted, disabilities such as paraplegia inherently require more physical adaptability. Nevertheless, ADHD does impact a person’s embodied existence, and it would be refreshing to see fashion reflect that.

Imagine, for example, if shirts were produced with heavy fabric, thereby compressing the wearer like a weighted blanket. Or failing that, it would be great if some garments could consist of flexible, durable fibers less likely to rip should the wearer trip or fall, as ADHDers have a tendency to do. Likewise, now that Nike has conquered zip-up shoes (see above), I would love to see its product designers turn their attention to creating a running shoe with extra traction to prevent unintentional slipping. In fact, I would like all shoes to be designed this way, including non-utilitarian styles such as high-heel booties or Oxfords. After all, ADHD-induced spazziness isn’t confined to the fitness domain — trust me!

 

7 things about ADHD I wish I had always known (ADHD Awareness Month post #6)

This is the sixth and final post in my series on ADHD Awareness Month. But rest assured, although the series is wrapping up, I’ll still be publishing writings on ADHD-related issues; just not necessarily so many per month. — DRD


fullsizeoutput_1c63

Having lived with ADHD for as long as I can remember — and even longer — I’ve learned a few valuable lessons about my disability the hard way; I’ve done my share of learning by doing. I can’t help but feel that my life would have been a lot easier if I had known said lessons from day one. I hope that someone out there reads this and they — or their child — can benefit from my experience. Read on!

1. People will tell you to go easy on yourself, but still, expect you to be ‘on.’

I’ve found that even if you tell your manager, for example, that you have ADHD, and he claims to understand that this makes you function differently, his understanding nevertheless flies out the window when you have a deadline to make but quite clearly aren’t going to be able to. 

2. ADHD has nothing to do with your personality or morality.

I spent a horrifying number of years of my life feeling guilty — often, despite not having done anything wrong. And even when I did err, I was convinced that whatever act of misbehaving I had committed was evidence that my character left something wanting. Moreover, I was sure that with the right resolve, I could ameliorate this situation and become a better (read: less ADHD) person. I don’t think I’ll ever stop regretting this now that I’ve realized how wrong I was back then. I’ll never get back the time I wasted feeling guilty for nonexistent or out-of-my-control incidences of ADHD-ness. Don’t make my mistake.

3. You shouldn’t necessarily believe teachers who say, “Oh, I’m so ADD too!”

I was diagnosed relatively young, back in pre-k; meaning that I knew I had ADHD — and all of my teachers knew it too — for all 12 years of my lower education. And I swear, every single year a new teacher would tell me upon learning of my ADHD diagnosis, “OH, that’s totally fine, I’m really ADD too.” Unfortunately, that usually turned out to mean, “I don’t understand ADHD at all, but I think I’ll bond with you by saying I have it and referring to it in the pejorative.” Over the years, I heard many teachers say a lot of stupid, cruel things without seeming even to give it a second thought, but that is not ADHD. There’s a difference between wanting to think before you act and not being able to, and just deciding that you’re so wise, you never need to think twice. In the end, only one of my teachers ever turned out to have ADHD, my AP World History teacher during my senior year of college. How did I know he had it, and that he was the only one of my teachers who did? One day I was sitting in his classroom at the end of lunch when he walked in, looked around his desk, and announced that he just realized he had lost a pair of Bruce Springsteen tickets. I’m totally serious. But you know what? He was also one of the best teachers I ever had. 

4. Medications may “last” 12 hours, but that doesn’t mean you will.

Here’s a fun (by which I mean, not fun at all) fact: Even if the prescribing information for an ADHD medication says it lasts up to 12 hours, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use all 12 of those hours effectively. You see, even when medicated, people with ADHD have to expend more energy to complete tasks that seem to take our neurotypical counterparts no time at all. Do that for a full workday, and the remaining man-made focus you have left in your nervous system via medication is reduced to the equivalent of potential energy,  never getting used. (This is a lesson I’ve started learning literally in the last few weeks.)

5. Stimulant medication isn’t the be-all, end-all. 

From ages 5 through 22, I was on some form of the stimulant medication methylphenidate (aka Ritalin). For over 5 years now, I’ve been taking both an immediate-release dosage and extended-release dosage of dexmethylphenidate (aka Focalin). I first went on Focalin because when I was a senior in college, I discovered, to my horror, that my medication did not seem to be working anymore. Like, at all. That’s when I went on Focalin. But just two years later, I again ceased to feel medicated enough on a day-to-day basis. It was then that my PCP put me on bupropion (aka Forfivo), which belongs to a class of antidepressants known as Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors. Later, I also started taking guanfacine (aka Intuniv), a non-stimulant ADHD medication initially formulated to treat hypertension. As it turned out, for me, at least, these Forfivo and Intuniv were the magic bullets of ADHD treatment regimens. 

6. Coffee is your friend.

During my ‘bad concentration’ time of the month, and especially toward the end of it, my verbal acuity temporarily goes out the window. Somehow, this always seemed to happen *right* when I had a big paper due imminently (like, in two days, or even sooner). One day, in desperation, I did some Hail-Mary googling, seeking confirmation that yes, in fact, coffee does help ADHD people concentrate. According to a post published recently on ADDitude, it “arouses the central nervous system by stimulating the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, and by blocking the absorption of adenosine, which induces sleep.” I’ve found that a Starbucks frappuccino with a shot of espresso enables me to write even when my medications are at their least potent. Pardon the pun, but I really do think you should give it a ‘shot!’

7. ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of. People should be ashamed to think it is.

…Self-explanatory!

fullsizeoutput_1c65

 

What is it with ADHD people and time, anyway? (ADHD Awareness Month post #4)

You know that song “Time is on my side”? I’d bet you a million bucks whoever wrote it didn’t have ADHD. After all, people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are often — OK, fine, usually — late. Recently, however, I’ve learned that there’s a neurological explanation for why I’ve had to send so many messages to my friends over the years containing some version of this text:15 mins lateApparently, we function on a different timetable. In other words, ADHD people experience time differently

In an article in ADDitude, ADHD specialist Ari Tuckman notes, “Because everyone — not just those with ADHD — feels the present more strongly, it’s difficult to do challenging things now that won’t have an immediate positive impact,” but even so, for people with ADHD, “It’s difficult … to plan for the future because they don’t see the future as clearly as their peers.”

Still, I don’t believe we ADHDers are entirely at fault here.

To feminist philosopher Alison Kafer, the concept of ‘being on time’ isn’t innate; instead, it’s something society has created. What if we ceased to place such a high value on punctuality, she muses — what if we stopped penalizing people for being late, and viewed such punishment as ableist?

Naturally, as someone with chronic ADHD, this intrigued me a lot. But my boyfriend, who is neurotypical, just could not wrap his mind around the idea that our social mores exist outside us, meaning that they could be changed to be more inclusive of people with disabilities (PWD). Now, he is a scientist; abstract thinking has never exactly been my boyfriend’s forte. And yet, in this case, I think it’s just impossible for neurotypical people, much as they may love us, to understand how far removed their world is from ours — or, for that matter, that their world isn’t the only world.

Punctuality can be a struggle for all PWD: a need for “extra time,” according to Kafer,

might result from a slower gait, a dependency on attendants (who might themselves be running late), malfunctioning equipment (from wheelchairs to hearing aids), a bus driver who refuses to stop for a disabled passenger, or an ableist encounter with a stranger that throws one off schedule.

ADHD people practically invented the concept of needing extra time. If you have ADHD, from the day of your diagnosis, you know that you and time will always be at odds. Think about it: The longest-acting CNS stimulant medication lasts 12 hours; but many people, from attorneys to high-school students, work far more hours a day than that — often well into the night. And even so-called regular people, who only work in a professional sense eight hours a day, are born with the ability to concentrate and be at least slightly productive the moment they get out of bed in the morning and only resting their brains after they get back in at night.

That’s not how it is for us ADHD people, though. The simple fact is that it’s impossible to have an average life if you have less than the average amount of time. And not having enough time, well, that’s ADHD 101.

When I was younger, I used to apologize anytime I was even the slightest bit tardy to an appointment or late on an assignment. Now, I’m trying something new. As I near my 28th birthday, I remind myself that life is short; the time in which we actively live, even more so; and for people like me, with only 12 hours of each day at our disposal, time is the most fleeting — and the most precious — thing of all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would feel guilty at my lateness, but I just can’t seem to find the time. 

Why mobility is a free speech issue

On Monday, Sept. 25, according to the captioning of a HuffPost video,

Over 200 protesters gathered at a Senate Finance Committee hearing for the latest version of the Graham-Cassidy Bill, the latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, which would gut Medicaid and allow states to raise premiums on individuals with pre-existing conditions. Protests began as soon as the hearing did.

The next day, The New York Times ran an article with the following lede:

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Other than the week in which they took place, these two events have something else in common: They both illustrate how mobility — or lack thereof — is a free speech issue.

Medicaid is crucial for mentally and/or physically disabled people wishing to live with agency and autonomy. Yet, as stated on the website of Disability Rights Ohio, “an individual with a ‘pre-existing condition,’ such as mental illness, may be denied coverage for that condition as long as other employees … are denied coverage for their pre-existing condition.”

So, in the absence of Obamacare, people with disabilities (PWD) may not be able to afford or have any access to subsidized medication or other essential kinds of treatment. Moreover, many PWD (*raises hand*) can’t work part-time jobs, or even, whether due to architecture or any number of other reasons, full-time jobs, making them inherently ineligible for company insurance. No employer = no employer coverage.

Obviously, speech isn’t always spoken or uttered in protest; a person may be born with a significant speech disorder or impairment, or simply have no desire to speak out on a particular subject on a given occasion.  But when a person with a disability wishes to exercise their right to free speech, it is absolutely (and, in the U.S., constitutionally) essential to allow it. Yet while it seems that healthcare has been saved, at least for the time being, this was not the first time that PWD were forcibly removed from a public forum simply for exercising their first-amendment rights; as such, it is likely not the last.

59c958a01a00002650f0871d

U.S. Capitol Police arrest a protester. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mobility Matters

The New Oxford American Dictionary gives two definitions of mobility: “the ability to move or be moved freely and easily,” and “the ability to move between different levels in society or employment.” 

It may seem, then, that these PWD do have mobility; after all, the ones with physical handicaps are equipped with wheelchairs. However, although they may move easily, they weren’t being moved freely. Though they peaceably assembled, Capitol police stripped many of the protestors of their mobility by pulling their wheelchairs out of the room against their will, thus keeping them from advocating for the preservation of what they need to be socially mobile: Medicaid. 

‘Moving’ Forward

saudi-drive-master768

A woman behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Faissal Al Nasser/Reuters)

Assuredly, Saudi women are reacting so elatedly to the news because of the newfound agency it has brought them. And they apparently were not the only ones celebrating. To quote Ben Hubbard, “Saudi leaders … hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace.” 

What the my dictionary app fails to mention is that in its entry on mobility, the first definition begets the second: The ability to move freely and easily facilitates movement between different levels in society or employment. Whether they seek employment, or guaranteed well-being even in unemployment, all people, including and especially women and PWD, have the right to move or to stay right where they are, thank you very much. And we need to do everything we can to protect that right.

ADHD is a Battlefield; Meli is an Ally.

If you’ve ever heard of ADHD (or, more likely, ADD), you’ve probably also heard that people usually get over the disorder when they grow up. But I’m going to let you in a little (horrifying) secret: Many people don’t get over ADHD, but get more ADHD when they enter adulthood. And there is a name for these people: women.

Members of the ADHD medical community have observed for decades that women seem to experience an amelioration of ADHD symptomology during pregnancy. (This is great, because physicians will tell you that you should only continue taking ADHD stimulant medication while pregnant if you feel that the benefit to you, the mother, outweighs the risk of harming your baby in utero; basically, the implication is that you’d have to be a sociopath to continue your treatment regimen if you have a bun in the oven.) However, it has also been observed that women seem to experience an exacerbation of their symptoms during menopause, and as young adults every few weeks or so.

As it turns out, studies in recent years have shown, an average woman’s mental acuity is proportional to her estrogen levels. An ADHD woman, of course, struggles with inattentiveness and lack of focus just as a baseline. Thus, she may be able to get by and even thrive during the first half of her menstrual cycle each month, thanks to medication and/or therapy of some kind. But when she hits her PMS week, her hormone levels deplete, and stay low until the end of her period, leaving her feeling out of it for virtually half of every month.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been empowered by acknowledging how real — and how limiting — my ADHD has always been. It became particularly acute starting around age 18, and now we know why: In a word, hormones. If I weren’t aware, or didn’t believe, that my disability has a biological foundation, I would inevitably suffer even more, because I would be left believing that the cause of my troubles were some flaw in my character, my quality as a person. I can’t adequately express how significantly my mental health has improved since I’ve learned to acknowledge my own limitations (and their neurological basis) and forgive myself for not always being able to exceed everyone’s expectations.

But that’s only half the battle. To win that battle, you need allies. I have at least 20. Let me tell you about one of them.

Me and Meli, May 8, 2015

Me and Meli, May 8, 2015

This is Meli. She and I were roommates at the University of Oregon’s Living-Learning Center residence hall during my freshman year of college. We definitely did not have a perfect roomie-roomie relationship back in 2009, but with every passing year she and I have grown closer and closer, so much so that today each of us considers the other one of her best friends. There is a lot to love about Meli: She is adorably small in stature and unabashedly nerdy; I can’t do justice to her particular syntax, but trust me, it’s completely unique and utterly hilarious. Above all, though, I love Meli because she loves — and supports — me, ADHD and all.

About two months ago, on the second Friday in May, Meli accompanied me on a trip to Newport (one of Oregon’s coastal towns) for the wedding of my friend Dana to her longtime boyfriend, Nick (Dana and Meli get along really well, which isn’t surprising, because they are both awesome), in which I was to be a bridesmaid. The members of the wedding party had all chipped in to rent a beach house for two nights. Around 10:30 p.m., after everyone had returned from the rehearsal dinner and a complimentary boat ride around Newport Bay, Dana knocked on the door of the bedroom Meli and I were sharing to inform me that in about 10 minutes we were all to congregate to go over the logistics of the wedding day. “Is that okay?” she asked. “Yes,” I deadpanned. “As long as you understand that I am heavily unmedicated and will not retain any of what you say.” Dana, of course, gracefully accepted this, she being an ADHD ally herself, though we were left wondering what to do in light of the current situation. But then, Meli chimed in and gamely offered to attend the confab as my proxy and take notes on the scheduling and my responsibilities for me to read the next day when I was medicated once again.

Now, granted, I was pretty emotional already, seeing as how I was about 15 hours away from witnessing the nuptials of two incredible people, but I almost burst into tears because of what had just happened: Rather than chiding me for being lazy, or even encouraging me to have some faith in myself, Meli simply accepted that I couldn’t handle the task at hand, and offered to do it in my stead. Why? Because she could. It was a far cry from my senior year of high school, when a girl who at the time I counted as one of my closest friends told me that I had done a good job “not saying anything stupid yesterday.”

A true ADHD ally embraces an ADHD woman for all that she endures, and for all that she is unable to endure. My friends support me when I push myself, and support me when I don’t. Meli is the epitome of an ADHD ally. I’m hanging out with her tonight, in fact.

I can’t wait.

Here goes something…

[F]or those who agree with the norms embedded in ADHD concepts and practice, diagnosis and treatment can come as a welcome relief. Adults dismayed with broken relationships, lack of success at work, or past or present academic failures often embrace the biomedical interpretation of their life story. (Susan C.C. Hawthorne, “Institutionalized Intolerance of ADHD: Sources and Consequences,” Hypatia vol. 25, no. 3, p. 517)

I’ve known for some time that I would eventually need to start a blog of my own. But it was  reading this passage earlier today, as part of my literature review for my master’s thesis, which finally galvanized me to get off my ass and do so. So, here we go…

When I first matriculated to the the graduate program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University, back in January, I had a very specific goal in mind: to broaden my understanding of feminism enough that I would be able to do justice to the subject someday as a writer. I specifically hoped to land a job as a feminist blogger focusing on women’s health issues. But it became apparent to me relatively quickly that there was one women’s health issue that I specifically was meant to focus on: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).* Feminist theory, after all, teaches us that Woman’s experience is valuable; not something that invalidates whatever research you’re conducting.

Another unexpected turn my graduate studies have taken is toward Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with, yep, the study of disability. Within the DS canon, there are two basic schools of thought:

  1. The medical model, originating from the view that disabilities are pathological, and thus, undesirable, and should be treated, if not completely cured, with modern medicine.
  2.  The social model, based on the premise that disability is in the eye of the beholder; that it is how society views and accommodates (or, doesn’t) natural human variation.

Among my mentors in DS at OSU, there is a general consensus that of the two, it is the social mode that comes to the closest to getting it right. The thing is, though, that my personal experience just doesn’t jibe with that.

It’s true that a lot of ADHD symptoms, as Hawthorne expertly articulates in her article quoted above, could easily be viewed as simply differences, and even adaptations: A person who is unafraid to speak his mind, who doesn’t bow to social convention, who is a multitask-er, actually sounds pretty great. But I am of the belief that ADHD exists on a spectrum, and at the very end of the spectrum, is me. I don’t get distracted (i.e., concentrate on multiple stimuli at once); I struggle to concentrate at all. If you have difficulty concentrating, even in your most private moments you feel impaired. So you can change the architecture of a building, and make people more tolerant, but that won’t make me suddenly able to focus on getting ready in the morning without pharmacological assistance (more on this later).

All of this is to say that thinking of my disability, not as a personal illusion or a subjective notion conceived by an non-accepting society, renders my persistent struggles (for indeed, I was diagnosed and first treated 20 years ago, at age 5, yet I still struggle with severe ADHD symptoms today) as a disabled woman real and valid. And that is feminism at its finest.

 

* In true ADHD fashion, I’m going to put off writing a detailed piece on just what ADHD is, and my lifelong experience with it, till I feel like I can do it justice, i.e., not right now.