Finding the perfect outfit is a struggle for anyone. For Skyler Chadwick, an 11-year-old who lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a sensory processing disorder and amplified pain syndrome, it can be almost impossible.
MU’s department of Textile and Apparel Management facilitated a discussion Tuesday between fashion companies that design clothes for people with disabilities and the people they are serving.
About 80 people filled Jesse Wrench Auditorium to learn how to serve often overlooked communities and to better design adaptive apparel for the varying needs of different people living with disabilities.
The problem, however, is broader than the functionality of clothing. Skyler, who spoke at the Design For Disability forum with his mother, said it can be difficult to find clothes that work for him that he also enjoys wearing. He can’t always wear the clothes that he likes — graphic T-shirts with images from his favorite video games, television shows and movies — because of the way the logos and graphics are applied to the shirt.
“It really makes it feel weird and doesn’t work with sensory issues,” he said.
His mother, Kate Chadwick, said that the clothes he’s comfortable wearing have changed over time. When he was younger, he was only comfortable in tight clothing like turtlenecks or leggings.
“As he got older and started to go through school, it became difficult because the only tight clothes came from the girl’s section,” she said. “The stuff from the boys section is always loose and baggy.”
However, Chadwick also said Skyler’s disorder is not linear — or predictable. As he got older, he became uncomfortable with any clothing touching his skin. Chadwick had to put together an entirely new wardrobe to meet her son’s needs.
She also found out that there is a high cost associated with apparel for people with disabilities. Skyler needs to wear special shoes that keep his foot at the correct angle. The shoes cost upward of $130, and it can be hard to justify the expense knowing that he will quickly outgrow them.
Balancing prices with product quality is a goal for inclusive-design company NBZ Apparel.
“We want to have a self-sustaining business,” said William Herron, a spokesperson for the company. “It is hard to balance that. We do our best to keep our pricing affordable.”
Herron also said that it’s important to design clothing that allows people living with disabilities to express themselves in the same way that able-bodied people do.
“When you go into your closet and you’re grabbing clothing, that clothing says something about you,” Herron said. “That’s your identity and your image, especially with veterans and other people with disabilities. You want to get that identity back.”
Herron said that standard clothing designs are taken for granted by the majority of the population living without disabilities.
Chuck Graham, who works at the Great Plains Americans with Disabilities Act Center at MU, said he suffered a broken spine in a car accident more than 35 years ago that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
As a professional, he said one of his biggest challenges is finding suit jackets that fit him properly and don’t drag or bunch up while he’s seated.
Graham also mentioned the little victories in finding clothing that makes his day-to-day life easier.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” he said. “Once you find something, though, you’re going to be brand-loyal for a while because it works.”