As a legally blind woman, I constantly get questions like who dresses you, do you have a stylist and how can you dress so stylishly? There is a major misconception that people with disabilities are not interested in fashion. And if you are a person with a disability who is considered by society to be “trendy”, it is usually surprising. The major problem with this type of thinking is that it directly affects our access to fashion. And since we are not considered fashion consumers, we are often left out of the conversation about how fashion is marketed and produced.
Adaptive fashion is a term that is becoming more and more popular as the fashion industry strives to be more inclusive. However, I often wondered where I was in the conversation, as most of the time the focus was only on the design of the clothes. Although I agree 100 percent that clothing should be more accessible for people of all abilities, I find it hard to talk about it, because I myself have no trouble putting on clothes independently. But then I started looking at my shopping experience as someone who identifies as blind. I started having a lot of discussions with other blind people, and the feedback was always the same – it can be very frustrating. The current online and in-store shopping system is not designed to allow people with disabilities to shop independently.
The current online and in-store shopping system is not designed to allow people with disabilities to shop independently.
Online shopping has become more and more popular over the years, especially recently due to the global pandemic. For a blind person using a screen reader, shopping online can be extremely stressful, the main reason being that most websites are not assistive technology compatible. For example, images are usually not depicted on a website page. For someone who uses a screen reader, they will often read the word “image”. It doesn’t tell a blind person anything about the product or what was posted on the page. We call descriptions like these alt or “alt” text. The alt text breaks down the image and provides screen reader users with detailed information about the photo. It is extremely important for brands to incorporate alt text into their website as it helps increase their SEO on Google when done correctly. Another problem is that buttons and links are usually not labeled on websites. For a blind person browsing a website this can be confusing as it is often spelled “button”, “button”, “button link”, “link”, “link”. Imagine being a consumer on the website and not knowing anything about the product; you probably won’t be particularly motivated to buy from this brand. “I want to support new brands and keep up with the latest trends,” Timbher Lomax, a blindness rehabilitation professional for the state of New Jersey, told me. “Detailed descriptions are not consistent across websites. There may be bits of description included in the product image thumbnail, but written product descriptions leave a lot to the blind imagination.”
I do want to mention though that a lot of the responsibility for accessibility lies with web developers like Shopify and WordPress. It’s up to them to make sure that accessibility plugins are actually accessible and that they use real user testing in the process. It is also their responsibility to provide detailed instructions on how to use the plugins successfully. Alex Herold is the founder and CEO of Patti and Ricky, which is an adaptive fashion market for people with disabilities. She has always demonstrated her commitment to delivering more inclusive shopping experiences, but says she struggles to navigate the accessibility overlays offered for websites. “I really had a hard time locating where to put my alt text,” Herold said. “Accessibility shouldn’t be a stressful process and website builders need to do a better job of guiding brands to use the features. I’m paying for a feature I don’t know how to use and that’s a problem.” Dealing with accessibility for a brand can be a bit daunting if you’re unfamiliar with how it works. I highly recommend working with an accessibility consultant if you are a brand to make sure your website is truly accessible. However, when working with a consultant, you want to
make sure it is a disabled person. It will make so much more sense to consult with someone with lived experience who can talk about accessibility issues on your website. But if you’re a new brand just starting out, I know hiring a consultant might not always be within the budget. There are still a few things you can do as you work to be a more inclusive brand. For example, social media is a great way to start building better accessibility habits. Instagram has become extremely popular for brands to market and sell products. The great thing about Instagram is that the alt text option is already included in the app. Whenever a brand posts a new product, they can access more options, select alt text, and write a description for the item they are sharing. This then invites the blind community to
the shopping experience at no cost to the brand. It is also useful to include descriptions of images in the caption, especially when sharing videos.
“When you don’t rely on a mirror every day to look at you or put on makeup, the beauty of touch, smell and emotion really determines how I want to spend my money.”
“My hope for the future is that all fashion and beauty websites have really detailed alt text,” said Lucy Edwards, UK-based blind broadcaster, Youtuber and disability activist. “I think they need more than the average website because we have to visualize the garment in our mind. Anything that brands can think of to help paint a mental picture in our mind would be great. The more creative, the better. don’t rely on a mirror every day to look at you or put on makeup, the beauty of touch, smell and emotions really determine how I want to spend my money. “Brands miss a lot. consumers by not being accessible One in four people have some form of disability, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control. As a result, excluding people with disabilities hurts market share and brands’ bottom line Especially because according to research carried out by Diversity magazine, the total disposable income for disabled American adults is approximately $ 490 billion.
The fashion industry has the potential to be a leader in real inclusion. Fashion has always strongly influenced culture and continues to shape the way we express ourselves through our appearance. My hope is that they seize the opportunity to move forward towards accessibility so that it is included from the start and not after the fact. Lucy Edwards shares the same sentiment: “I know for sure that if more brands heard about day-to-day universal design in product development meetings, we would see a more inclusive world. I always say that I didn’t know anything about disability, until I became a disabled person myself. For the very first time, I am having discussions with brands that I never would have had many years ago, but this is just the beginning – and if you’re reading this, your business must be inclusive today. , not tomorrow !”