Designing for Disability: How can fashion adapt?

Disabled people have long been ignored by the fashion industry, but it’s high time for reform, argues Sinéad Burke.


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Last week at the Business of Fashion's annual live streamed conference VOICES, Irish academic and activist Sinéad Burke gave an astonishing speech urging the fashion industry to take notice of the differently abled, and realise that just because someone's not the size of a mannequin, it doesn't mean they don't share the same love for fashion and the desire to dress well and invest in their favourite brands.

“I have spent my whole life trying to convince the world that I am intelligent, articulate, professional and an adult. And yet the fashion industry, unintentionally or not, does the exact opposite by what it offers.” - Sinéad Burke

Sinéad talked openly from her heart about her own experience in the fashion world as a little person. Trying to find flattering and on-trend clothing that isn't childlike is an endless struggle when you stand at only 105cm tall, but have an unusally curvaceous figure.

She is acutely aware of details that are practically invisible to many of us. The fashion world -- from the height of a lock on a fitting room door or a store tillpoint, to the limited range of available shoe sizes -- often inhibits her ability to do things for herself. Here she reveals the huge cohort of people that the industry is not designing for, or even considering.

“In an attempt to be inclusive, we can actually be exclusive by saying that this section is for plus-size people, and this is adaptive for the disabled market, or this is for the elderly market. Why is not possible to just have a fashion industry that caters to the different spectrum of abilities that exists within society?” - Sinéad Burke

In this new speech, the writer goes beyond her previous TED talk 'Why design should include everyone', and demands of the high-profile industry audience at BoF Voices to consider her plea and learn to adapt.

Watch 'Designing for Disability here, and let us know what you think.

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Ruth MacGilp is an Edinburgh based student and blogger. She's a activist for all things ethical in the fashion industry, as well as supporting the #shopsmall and #shoplocal movements through her work.
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