Will this be the season McCharen-Tran’s peers follow her lead? “I’d love to see more disabled people on the runways and in campaigns, and more plus-size models,” she says. “Designers have gotten the memo about casting racially diverse models, but that’s not where it ends—there’s age, gender, ability… And the harder question is who are the designers, who are the owners of the brands? Are they diverse, too? That’s when we will really see true change.”
On that note, Mallon pointed out that even in the adaptive market, few brands are actually designed by someone with a disability. It’s an issue that ultimately comes down to access to education: “The fashion schools aren’t accessible,” she says. “We have to democratize fashion design and make sure we’re thinking about accessibility at every point if we want to see disabled designers at Fashion Week.”
Adaptista is sponsoring a disabled student to complete a degree in fashion design next year, and O’Sullivan-Abeyratne has two adaptive collections of her own in the works: a wedding collection, inspired by her own struggle to find a wedding dress that worked for her, as well as a fetish and bondage line, “because people just don’t think that anyone with a disability has a sex life!” she says.
Beyond what we see on the runways next month, Sinéad Burke, CEO of Tilting the Lens and a frequent Fashion Week attendee, hopes the shows themselves will become more welcoming to disabled guests, too. “Every designer and PR agency should be asking their design team, production team, models, and attendees, ‘Do you have any accessibility requirements?’ and have resources available to them,” she says. “This might reveal that the physical space the brand has used every season is inaccessible to those who are wheelchair users, or that the flashing lights provide overstimulation for autistic people, or that having access to a mental health professional backstage [would be] a support for the busiest part of the fashion calendar.”
O’Sullivan-Abeyratne adds that press materials could be printed in braille, and there are small tweaks in music, seating, walkways, and transportation that should be considered. “It’s not going to change overnight,” adds. “But even if one of these small ideas sticks with someone, they will accumulate and help shape the future.”