As a blind woman, I keep getting questions: who will dress you, do you have a stylist and how can you dress so stylishly? There is a big misconception that people with disabilities are not interested in fashion. And if you are a person with a disability that society considers “fashionable” it is usually a surprise. The main problem with this mindset is that it directly affects how much access we have to fashion. And since we are not considered fashion consumers, we are often left out of the discussion about how fashion is marketed and produced.
Adaptive mode is a term that is growing in popularity as the fashion industry works towards being more inclusive. However, I have often wondered where I fit into the conversation, as the focus was mostly only on the design of the clothes. While I 100 percent agree that clothing needs to be more accessible to people of all abilities, I am hesitant to talk about it as I don’t struggle to put on clothes myself. But then I started looking at my shopping experience as a person who identifies as blind. I started having a lot of discussions with other blind people and the feedback was always the same – that it can be very frustrating. The current online and in-store shopping system is not designed to enable people with disabilities to successfully shop independently.
The current online and in-store shopping system is not designed to enable people with disabilities to successfully shop independently.
Shopping online has grown in popularity over the years, especially recently due to the global pandemic. For a blind person using a screen reader, shopping online can be extremely stressful as most websites are incompatible with assistive technologies. For example, images are usually not described on a website page. The word “picture” is often read to someone who uses a screen reader. This does not tell a blind person anything about the product or what was displayed on the page. We call descriptions like this alternate or “alt” text. Alt-Text breaks down the image and provides screen reader users with detailed facts about the photo. It is extremely important for brands to incorporate alt text into their website as it, if done correctly, will help improve their SEO on Google. Another problem is that buttons and links on websites are usually not labeled. This can be confusing to a blind person navigating a website, as it often reads “button”, “button”, “button-link”, “link”, “link”. Imagine that you are a consumer of the website and you do not know anything about the product; You probably won’t be particularly motivated to buy from this brand. “I want to support new brands and follow the latest trends,” said Timbher Lomax, A Blindness Rehabilitation Professional for New Jersey State. “Detailed descriptions are not consistent across websites. Parts of a description may appear in the thumbnail of the product image, but written descriptions for products leave something to the blind imagination.”
I do want to mention, however, that web developers like Shopify and WordPress have a lot of the responsibility for accessibility. It’s up to them to make sure that accessibility plug-ins are actually accessible and that they are doing real user testing in the process. It is also up to you to provide detailed instructions on how to use the plug-ins successfully. Alex Herold is the founder and CEO of Patti and Ricky, an adaptive fashion marketplace for people with disabilities. She has consistently advocated curating more inclusive shopping experiences, but says she struggles to navigate the accessibility overlays that are offered for websites. “I found it really difficult to find where to put my alt text,” said Herold. “Accessibility shouldn’t be a stressful process and website builders need to better guide brands on how to use the features. I’m paying for a feature I can’t use, and that’s a problem. ”Tackling accessibility for a brand can be a little intimidating if you’re not familiar with how it works. I highly recommend working with an accessibility advisor if you are a brand to make sure your website is truly accessible. However, if you work with a consultant, you will want
Make sure it is a disabled person. It makes a lot more sense to consult with someone who has experience and can talk about the accessibility issues on your website. But if you’re a new brand just getting started, I know that hiring a consultant may not always be on budget. There are a few more things you can do to become a more inclusive brand. For example, social media is a great way to practice better accessibility habits. Instagram has become very popular for brands to market and sell products. The cool thing about Instagram is that the alt text option is already included in the application. Every time a brand releases a new product, they can go to additional options, select alt text, and write a description of the item they are sharing. This then invites the blind community in
the shopping experience at no cost to the brand. It’s also helpful to include image descriptions in the caption, especially when sharing videos.
“When you don’t rely on a mirror every day to look at yourself or to put your makeup on, the beauty of the touch, the smell and the emotions really determine 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, a UK-based blind broadcaster, youtuber and disability activist. “I think they need more than an average website because we need to visualize the garment in our head. Anything brands can come up with to help us paint a mental picture in our heads would be great. The more creative the better “Don’t rely on a mirror every day to look at yourself or apply your makeup, the beauty of the touch, the smell and the emotions really determine how I want to spend my money.” Brands are missing out on large numbers of consumers because they are unreachable. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, one in four people has some form of disability. Hence, excluding people with disabilities hurts market share and the bottom line of brands. Mainly because, according to research by Diversity magazine, The total disposable income for adults with disabilities in the United States is approximately $ 490 billion.
The fashion industry has the potential to lead the way in true inclusion. Fashion has always had a major impact on culture and continues to shape the way we express ourselves through our appearance. My hope is that they will take the opportunity to move towards accessibility in such a way that it is included from the start rather than being considered after the fact. Lucy Edwards shared the same opinion: “I know for a fact that we would see a more inclusive world if more brands heard about Universal Design every day in product development meetings. I always say that I didn’t know anything about disability until I became a disabled person myself. For the first time, I’m having conversations with brands I would never have had a few years ago, but this is just the beginning – and if you are reading this, your business must be inclusive today, not tomorrow! “
Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Eric Helgas