What is Adaptive Fashion? And Why Everyone Needs To Know About It.

By Laura Perna, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities

Working at the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) for the past decade, it’s become impossible not to see inaccessible design, even as someone without a disability. Not only do I see barriers in buildings, sidewalks, and websites. But also at the movies (ever try using a closed caption machine?), in game shows (lightning rounds get dicey when participants have a speech impairment)... 

…and with clothing.

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities is spotlighting adaptive fashion at their annual film festival.

When we asked our members about clothing and shoe difficulties, all kinds of things came up that able-bodied fashionistas (and the companies that design for them) simply don’t have to deal with:

  • Clothing doesn’t stay in place while I am sitting in my wheelchair. I find that it’s always bunching or riding up, no matter what I wear.

  • I wish I could find pants that are easy to put on and take off that aren’t dance wear or leggings. It’s hard enough getting my spasticity to cooperate long enough to get in a position to dress myself. Some clothing materials are so unforgiving it takes an act of Congress to get them on, but I do it because an outfit is cute. I don’t like pants with elastic waistbands, but I like how they go on. A woman can only own so many jeggings.

  • I have really bad arthritis in my feet and ankles, so my feet swell. For once, I would love to wear a shoe with a dress that doesn’t look like a gym shoe, but is comfortable like a gym shoe, so I can still walk.

  • Jeans (specifically skinny jeans) are a challenge. If there was some sort of discrete zipper along the inseam of my pant leg that would be amazing! It would also be helpful to have access to my prosthetic because throughout the day the volume in my leg changes depending on the type of activity I am doing and it is a pain to have to go to the bathroom and fumble with my pants in order to add socks.

  • I can’t find the perfect height of heels that will allow me to walk with my guide dog comfortably.

Plus this observation: When we think about fashion or how clothing fits, many people think about waist, bust, hip, and inseam measurements. We also consider whether a body is tall, short, petite, etc. For people with disabilities, fashion needs to go deeper and consider skeletal differences like pelvis and rib cage rotation; internally or externally rotated hips; muscle contractures, etc.

If you’re reading Raquel’s blog, I don’t need to convince you that clothing is not only a thing all of us have to think about everyday; it’s also an opportunity to express who we are and even feel good about the body we inhabit. This begs the questions: how do people with disabilities access this means of expression and comfort/confidence when clothing is rarely created to work on or with their bodies? How is the industry addressing this, and what are individuals with disabilities already doing to adapt and create?

At CTD, we’re diving into these questions at our annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. We’re beyond thrilled that this year’s Fest guests include:

  • Mindy Scheier, founder of Runway of Dreams, an essential organization in the adaptive fashion movement;

  • our guest host, RJ Mitte of AMC’s Breaking Bad, one of the more visible actors with a disability working in Hollywood today, who also has more than a few ties to the fashion industry;

  • Stephanie Thomas, Disability Fashion Styling Expert and founder of Cur8able, a disability fashion and lifestyle blog-turned-company. Stephanie is literally writing the book on the subject, releasing the world’s first textbook on disability and fashion next spring.

Additionally, we’ll debut designs from our own CTDFF Adaptive Design Challenge. We brought together 5 models with disabilities and Austin-based Ronkita Design and an engineer from UTMB’s MakerHealth Space in Galveston to tackle a series of adaptive clothing and shoe challenges. To give more of the story, we’ll screen a locally produced documentary short on the Design Challenge, as well as host an Adaptive Fashion Panel.

Greer Image Consulting features a post about adaptive fashion from Laura Perna of The Coalition for Texans with Disabilities that makes it easier for disabled people to express their creativity and style.


The 16th annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18-19, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Tickets and more at CTDFilmFest.org. Note, $10 tickets can be redeemed for $10 worth of Drafthouse food and drink.

Join CTDFF and Art Spark Texas for an Adaptive Fashion Panel Sunday, Oct. 20, at Art Spark Texas. Stephanie Thomas joins CTDFF Adaptive Fashion Challenge designers Vanessa Villalva (Ronkita Design) and Aisen Chacin (UTMB MakerHealth Space) and model Mimi Hau for a discussion on the adaptive fashion movement and how designers and individuals with disabilities can work together to solve fashion problems. Admission is free, please RSVP.

More on this…

CTD is not the first, by far, to think about adaptive fashion. If this is the first time you’ve encountered this phrase, I suggest: