Commentary: On Finding Accessible and Fashionable Clothing for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities now have a new alternative when shopping for adapted clothing. Online retail giant Zappos hopes to make it easier for those with physical disabilities and other special needs to shop for accessible clothing. The Zappos Adaptive section in the company’s website lists clothing and shoes that are accessible to individuals with physical and sensory disabilities. These include items without buttons and zippers, pieces that are soft to the touch, reversible clothing and slip-on or easy to fasten shoes. Zappos got the idea for this after hearing that one of their customers had to exchange a pair of shoes for her grandson who was unable to tie the shoelaces because of his disability.

A lot has been showcased in the news about inclusive design for those with disabilities. A couple years ago, Tommy Hilfiger developed a line of clothing that is both fashionable and accessible to those with disabilities. What’s more, the fashion industry has begun focusing on including models with disabilities on the runway. A group of fashion students from the School at the Art Institute of Chicago worked with Lighthouse staff and program participants to learn how to design clothing accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. In other words, the fashion industry is becoming more aware about the unique accessibility needs of those with disabilities.

Just as each disability has different challenges, so does accessible clothing need different adaptations. Those of us who are blind or visually impaired might only need Braille tags or a distinct texture to know the color of our clothes. Meanwhile, people with physical disabilities might find clothing with special buttons or zippers easier to put on independently. Regardless of our needs, people with disabilities still want to be able to easily find and shop for accessible clothing.

Zappos’s initiative of dedicating a section to adaptive clothing is commendable, and is an example other retailers should follow. For one, many people with disabilities nowadays shop online due to the convenience of getting items delivered to their doorstep. This initiative will also help shoppers find clothing and shoes more easily, who will not have to worry about whether or not they will be able to put them on by themselves. Finding and shopping for accessible and fashionable clothing will become even more important in the coming years with the aging of the baby boomers.

It is extremely important for more brands to consider people with disabilities in their clothing design. Moreover, retailers – both large and small – should strive to offer accessible clothing and help shoppers find it easily. This will give people with disabilities more choices and make us feel included. A special thanks to Zappos, Tommy Hilfiger and the countless other organizations and colleges that are working to make the clothing and fashion industries more inclusive of individuals with disabilities.

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Commentary: Using Mobile Devices As Virtual Eyes

It is only the beginning of 2016, but it already looks like this year has a lot of revolutionary innovations in assistive technology! BlindTool is a recently developed Smartphone app that identifies objects for blind and visually impaired individuals. In other words, it serves as a pair of eyes for those of us who are blind or have low vision. The Android app was developed by Joseph Paul Cohen, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Cohen’s idea for this app came after spending some time working with a blind computer programmer.

 

By pointing the phone to whatever object a user wishes to identify, the app will call out the name in a matter of seconds. As soon as the app identifies an object, and is 90 percent sure of what it is, it will rapidly vibrate and say its name. As with any new technology, BlindTool isn’t necessarily flawless. It might confuse an object with a similar thing or even with something completely unrelated. A picture frame might be mistaken for a microwave, a coffee cup for a bowl of soup, and – according to one user – a Christmas tree for a feather boa.

 

As someone who has used technology all of my life, I am constantly amazed with the development of new products like this app. I remember when reading a print document by simply scanning and then listening to it on a computer became possible in the late 1990s. This was quite the technological innovation of the time to say the least! Soon we began seeing devices that could identify colors, currency denominations and so much more! They became even more portable with the development of smartphones and tablets.

 

These innovations are just the tip of the iceberg, however. Beginning in 2013, apps were being developed that could help blind and visually impaired people “see” what was around them. One of the most popular apps was TapTapSee, which described people and objects within a matter of seconds after the user snapped a photo of a person or thing. Later Be My Eyes was released, and this iOS app is still among the most popular for blind and visually impaired individuals. It connects users with sighted volunteers, who will then help by describing whatever it is the person needs help with.

 

I strongly believe that technology has been a game changer for people with visual impairments, or are otherwise disabled. Most people have the convenience of being able to check their emails and social media pages on the go, but mobile devices and apps have allowed blind and visually impaired individuals to do much more than that. Apps like BlindTool have an enormous potential of redefining access for people without vision. I sure am beyond excited at the possibility of someday being able to “see” what’s around me in a matter of seconds by simply pulling out my cell phone!

 

BlindTool is a fairly new app, and therefore I don’t necessarily expect it to be accurate 100 percent of the time. I most certainly can’t wait to see the full potential of this app, and hope that its developers will soon make a version for iOS. Better yet, I am anxious to see what future technologies have in store for blind and visually impaired individuals. After all, if technology can now help us read and “see” images, then there’s no limit to what it can do for all of us.