Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clothing for those with Special Needs

A topic that is rarely addressed or discussed in the fashion world is the clothing needs of those with disabilities. The term “Clothing for the Disabled” is defined as clothing for anyone who temporarily or permanently has special clothing needs. Special needs clothing is worn by the elderly; persons with limited finger dexterity & arm movements; those who use crutches or wear braces or casts and for the chairbound; women who have had mastectomies; the incontinent; blind; obese; pregnant; mentally challenged and so forth. That group includes young and old, male and female.

You want to keep in mind the following when evaluating a design or garment for someone with special clothing needs:

• Independence. The individual will be able to take care of his own personal needs as much as possible.
• Appearance comparable to that of others: Clothes that do not single out the wearer in any way. Contemporary styling.
• Concealment of the handicap: To try to attract the least amount of attention to their medical equipment; so focus stays on them as a person and not their disability.
• Physiological comfort: Have to be comfortable for the wearer as much as possible.
• Safety: Is there a risk for injury.
• Easy Maintenance: Is it machine washable. Will it require little to no ironing.

Just thing about a few of these suggestions:

A garment which opens out flat is much easier for a seated person or person with limited arm dexterity to put on than one that must be pulled over the head. Arm movement is less restricted when reaching if the waistline seam is released at the side to allow the bodice to move with the shoulder.

It is much easier to dress a person with very limited ability to move by having garments open completely in the back, so they can be slipped on and off with as much ease as possible.

Wrap garments that fasten with ties are so much easier to manage than buttons or zippers. Plus a tie closure can be adjusted to fit variations for different body shapes and any required medical appliances.

Having a wrap skirt, dress or slip is so much easier to put on for those women who have difficulty with standing and/or balancing on one leg.

Having closures in the front where they can be easily accessed.

Sewing buttons in place (on the top layer of the garment where they would be if buttoned) and actually using Velcro as the closure for the garment, like on a men’s “button down” collar work shirt.

A great book that I stumbled across years ago whose concepts and patterns still very much apply today is: “Clothing Designs for the Handicapped” by Anne Kernaleguen. She specifically addresses the following types of clothing and how they can be adjusted/altered so they can suit the needs of those with disabilities. In addition, she provides patterns for clothing implementing those adjustments.

• Trousers
• Shirts, blouses and sleeve adjustments
• Jackets & coats
• Dresses & aprons
• Nightwear
• Underwear
• Children’s wear
• Bathing Suits
• Wheelchair wraps
• Accessories and other items

If you don’t know how to sew, you can have a tailor alter garments to suit the needs of the wearer. There are also companies out there that provide clothing that is designed specifically for those with disabilities.

I will talk about textiles and closures/fasteners over the next two weeks so you can understand what are the best options to choose for those with special disabilities.

Mainstream clothing is not designed to accomodate those with disabilities. Just by making some alterations to a garment you can give more freedom, independence and privacy to someone with special needs. Allowing them to feel like there wardrobe and lifestyle are not hindered by their disabilitiy.

1 comment:

Madhu Srinvasan said...

Hey it's interesting you talk about this in your blog - about clothing for people with special needs. I remember my (late) grandfather was bed-ridden with a paralysis attack for about 4 years. We had to be careful about what he wore, since he would develop bed-sores etc. Nicely put article about keeping all kinds of people in mind for apparel.