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The Magic of Magnets and More: Adaptive Clothing Designs for Disabilities

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“Snaps at night are a terrible experience,” my friend said recently about changing the clothes and diapers on her newborn baby. Anyone who has been a caretaker for another human being knows that some clothing items are easier than others to manage.

Likewise, people with disabilities find certain clothing styles more or less appropriate to their needs. For example, buttons can pose a challenge for someone with fine motor limitations, and the thick seams on many denim jeans can grow uncomfortable for someone who sits in a wheelchair. Fortunately, clothing designers are aware of the need for fashion without obstacles, and a growing number have created product lines for women and children with disabilities. 

One such brand is Ashley by Design, produced by Ashley DeRamus, an Alabama woman with Down syndrome, and her mother, Connie. Together they established a non-profit foundation to raise awareness about Down syndrome, and they designed their own clothing to flatter the specific shapes and sizes of Down syndrome women. The brand started small, as a traveling boutique peddling wares at events, but now the line offers leggings, stylish tunic tops and flared dresses that are available for purchase online. They have been featured in California Apparel News and other fashion media sources. 

Another brand that produces quality adaptive clothing is PATTI + RICKY, a marketplace offering the creations of over 70 designers who have close connections to people with disabilities. The PATTI + RICKY women’s line offers a wide range of clothing such as dresses with hidden hook-and-loop closures, blouses that tear away at the shoulders for easier surgery recovery, and lingerie with side or front closures. It also features pants with front zip closures and skirts specifically tailored for wheelchair users. 

PATTI + RICKY not only offers clothing, but also sells dozens of accessories such as insulin pump belts, ear cuffs for hearing aids, decorative arm slings or wrist brace covers and walking canes. One category of the website is dedicated to chewelry, or jewelry made with large pendants or beads of medical-grade silicone that are meant to be chewed on when the wearer needs a sensory experience to help curtail anxiety. There is also a fascinating selection of fidget jewelry, mostly in the form of rings with sliding beads to give the wearer a discreet activity while she concentrates. Products are available for purchase online. 

There are also fashionable solutions for women and children who need calming sensory input such as weighted vests or the soothing pressure of a compression shirt or pants. Therapro, which describes itself as “the therapy resource for families and professionals,” offers these items and chewelry designed with bright colors and patterns to appeal to children. 

For those with sensory sensitivities who lose focus when they feel bumps and seams in their clothing, SmartKnitKIDS® uses a patented technology to manufacture totally seamless undergarments. These are designed to provide a smooth wearing experience with no irritation. The line includes seamless socks, underwear for boys and girls, and undershirts. For girls, there’s a bralette in a super-soft fabric free of hooks, tags and underwires. Size Large fits up to 120 pounds and could be suitable for a slim adult woman.

Tommy Hilfiger makes a Tommy Adaptive line, which includes clothing for people who need innovative closures, comfort for sitting down, extra freedom of movement or special fits for prosthetics. For example, adaptive blouses are secured with hidden magnetic closures at the back of the neck to make them easy to put on. Slim-fit jeans for prosthetics include adjustable-length hems, double openings at the front for easy dressing and an extra internal button-and-loop closure to make the waistband easy to adjust. The Essentials Shop for women includes plenty of sweatshirts, blouses and even a puffer vest with a magnetic zipper that connects itself at the base so it can easily be zipped with one hand. 

For adults with disabilities who wear especially small sizes, Zappos has a curated fashion guide including clothing items that come in child or infant sizes but are stylish and accessible enough for adults to wear. In particular, the è Ispirante™ wheelchair-friendly gathered skirts are crafted from a lightweight and breathable cotton fabric with colorful, stylish prints and secure at the side, perfect for independent dressing. The collection even has shoes in children’s sizes that run wide enough to fit adult women. In addition, Zappos organizes all its adult-sized shoes by function including easy on/off, diabetic approved, compatible with orthotics or bungee cord closures. 

Whatever the challenge, there’s adaptive clothing to mitigate it. All it takes is a little exploration of the designer products that are available. Whether you have sensitivities, need a special shape or just don’t want to deal with snaps any more, there are innovative solutions for your own clothing needs.

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