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Inclusion is in Fashion: New exhibit celebrates the beauty in those with disabilities

Updated: Mar 26, 2018

Written by: India Ambrose

Photos by: Marissa Maldonado-Hammond

Central Michigan students can now get a taste of inclusivity with the (dis)ABLED Beauty: the evolution of beauty, disability, and ability exhibit. Clarke Historical Library, located in the Park Library, opened up a space to celebrate the beauty of people with disabilities.

The (dis)Abled collection features a collection of hearing devices, canes, prosthetics, apparel and other assistive devices which make their wearer “fashionable, abled and to some degree… superhuman.” It states that this exhibition showcases “the innovative ideas and designs of apparel, prostheses, and assistive devices that contribute to the stigmatization of disability.”

With help from CMU's Threads Fashion show, the Fashion Merchandising and Design department and the department of Communication Sciences Disorders, the debut event also featured a competition to display the student designers’ “aesthetically enhancing” prosthetics.

This opportunity gave students a chance to showcase their ideas of beauty, disability and ability. “We wanted to start a conversation about conventional beauty and what that means,” Ian Mull, professor and advisor for Threads, said.

Lauren Agnew (pictured right), a contestant at the (dis)ABLED event competition, displayed her vision that women can be strong and feminine at the same time.

“I wanted to show that femininity can still be powerful. I kinda use the adjective sharp and cold and aggressive cause you can be beautiful and be a badass bitch. It’s kinda my goal in life,” said the first year graduate student.

Agnew felt that if she were to ever “have to lose a limb or be disabled in any form of way, I’d want to feminine and girly. But, I’d still want that edge. So that’s kinda how I wanted to make the leg; beautiful but tough and can handle anything.”

Nicholas Harrier, one of the judges for the competition, brought an interesting perspective to the table. “It was extremely difficult trying to judge them,” said Harrier. “As a prothestitic technician my job is to make something fit. So, when I see something that is designed for beauty and not function, my brain has to stop itself and halt function.”

However, Harrier felt that “opening a dialogue” and normalizing disability and fashion was a great thing to do and he was all for it. It showed that “culture is changing.”

Aside from the exhibit itself, Heidi McKenzie, owner and designer for the clothing brand Alter Ego, gave an inspirational speech about her clothing business being geared towards serving wheelchair-bound customers.

Although starting out college as a fashion major, McKenzie did not feel she could fit into the world of fashion and decided to get a small business degree. After meeting and talking to other women and people who use wheelchairs, she realized they all struggled to find functional but fashionable clothing. From there, she created Alter Ur Ego.

She used inspiration from adaptable clothing made for elderly people to make items for people like her. McKenzie started with jeans that were made with accessible pockets, an elastic waistband and a high rise back. However aside from selling jeans, the vision behind Alter Ur Ego is about breaking down social barriers.

“I’m exactly who I was before my accident,” McKenzie said, “But I’m almost louder now because I have a position where I need to stand, or sit, for more causes; for people who can’t speak up for themselves.”

The beauty of those with disabilities, and supporting them with products that enhance it, are often not given a spotlight. CMU is changing that with the (dis)ABLED exhibit. It is open and free to all students, located in the Clarke Historical Library. The exhibit will be open until August 2018.

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