‘Just thrilling’: Runway features innovative designs for those with disabilities

A group of beaming models, some in wheelchairs and others clutching walkers, graced the runway this week in New York City to show off the latest in adaptive clothing, designs made to fit the bodies of people who have physical disabilities.

It was part of the Design for Disability Gala on May 16, put on by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation with help from the Fashion Institute of Technology, whose students created the designs from concept to finish.

“It was just thrilling,” Richard Ellenson, CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, told TODAY. “When they’re all out there, suddenly the disability completely goes away.”

For Ellenson, adaptive clothing is a cause close to his heart.

“My son Tom has disabilities — he has cerebral palsy; he’s 18 now,” he said. “And I always wanted to create clothing that was easier for him to put on, that would help with his needs … it was so exciting to go from seven years ago, wondering if my kid could have a shirt that fit a little better, to watching these women wearing this clothing.”

Brands are finally starting to catch on to concepts such as using magnets instead of buttons, introducing larger armholes and adjustable hemlines, all design tweaks that make clothes easier for someone with a disability to put on and take off. The organization Runway of Dreams, which recently collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger on an adaptive clothing line for children, has long been pushing for more inclusive fashion.

Five finalists presented two designs each at the show. For Grace Insogna, a sophomore at FIT and the winner of the competition, the goal was to create clothing that highlighted the women’s beauty.

“I wanted to accentuate their features, not hide them,” she told TODAY. “I think sometimes people think accessibility or adaptability means it needs to be big or oversize, because that allows for more movement. But I made the choice to work with stretch fabric, which is more comfortable and doesn’t wrinkle easily. It has a lot of stretch so it’s easy to take on and off, and it allows for movement across the body, so you can move the shoulders — if you need to wheel a wheelchair, it’s easy to do.”

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