Open Style Lab: Bringing Fashion to the Disabled Community

The accessible fashion nonprofit proves that clothes are more than just looking pretty

 

Image of a young man using a power wheelchair. He is wearing a zip-back jacket that is a multi-season jacket that offers the possibility of independent donning and doffing.

This zip-back jacket is a multi-season jacket that offers the possibility of independent donning and doffing to former OSL client Justin, a high schooler with muscular dystrophy and scoliosis.

March 23, 2018 | Irene Park

Fashion is a lot like cooking or engineering: Most people assume that if you want to say you’re “in” any of those fields, you have to be really, really good.

But if you crack an egg in a pan and fry it, you’re cooking. If you place a rubber band around your thumb and index finger and use it as a slingshot, you’re engineering.

And if you put on clothing in any meaningful way — heck, if you’ve ever just put on clothing — guess what? That’s fashion.

The misconception that fashion is only for the most dedicated of designer chasers is why fashion often ranks low on the list of concerns for people with disabilities. After all, people will say, what’s looking pretty compared to getting a properly configured wheelchair or making sure my insurance covers my medications?

Such thinking quickly goes to the wayside when you consider the often considerable dressing challenges experienced by people with disabilities. It’s tricky to pull on pants without standing up, or button a shirt with limited mobility in your hands.

Throw in all those functions of life that require you to not just having any clothing on, but being properly dressed — like job interviews, weddings, and funerals — and you can easily understand how not having many sartorial options negatively impacts one’s self-confidence, social and professional success, and sense of self.

“I’ve always wanted a business suit as part of my professional wardrobe, but I’ve never been able to find one that I could wear,” says Emily Ladau, an OSL fall 2017 client. “Traditional suit jackets and the physical limitations of my disability don’t mix.”

Open Style Lab (OSL) at Parsons School of Design in New York City is actively striving to change this. Led by executive director and Parsons assistant professor of fashion Grace Jun, the nonprofit pairs design and tech students to create unique wearables for clients with disabilities. Not only do these articles of clothing and accessories represent one’s personality and taste, but they also actually function in a way that fits and even improves the individual’s lifestyle.

“Fashion provides a space for the self and ownership of the body,” Jun says. And that’s paramount for people with disabilities, especially those who are self-conscious about their bodies and disabilities.

Another key aspect of OSL’s model: clients are actively involved in the design process. This is a key difference from most mass-produced accessible fashion, where products are created without consulting the disabled clientele they seek to serve. This too often results in a severe disconnect between how nondisabled people perceive accessibility needs, and what disabled individuals actually need.

“That smile we show when we look into a mirror and see a piece of garment that illustrates our individuality — Open Style Lab is breaking down the barriers that have kept those smiles from the faces of millions of people with different qualities and abilities,” says Quemuel Arroyo, an OSL Summer 2017 client.

OSL’s work doesn’t stop with just making the clothing. It’s laying the foundation for the kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary design that accessible fashion — and really, any accessibility-related service — needs to truly meet client needs. It does so by bringing in top players in accessible design, technology, and healthcare to collectively provide their expertise to the student designers.

In related fashion, OSL is also conducting valuable accessible design research, collecting data both on individual garments created and the design process itself. Such research lays the foundation for future work in accessible services at large, not just by fashion brands, but even companies like Lufthansa.

“Overall, Open Style Lab is a thought leader on raising awareness for the lack of functional yet stylish clothing,” Jun says. “We are an inclusive team from all disciplines and walks of life. From disability activists like Christina Mallon to a managing partner of an architecture design firm, the people who shape OSL are truly diverse. In partnership with Parsons School of Design, we see a future that is accessible.”

If you have a disability and you’re interested in volunteering as a client, visit the website at http://www.openstylelab.com to find out more details about OSL’s yearlong programs. Designers who are not Parsons students can become involved by applying for the more intensive Summer Fellowship iteration of OSL’s fall and spring offerings.

 

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Irene Park is a freelance writer and graphic designer, producing content for clients including Open Style Lab at Parsons School of Design.

Connected Technologies Help People with Disabilities Transcend Barriers – Is Unemployment Next?

March 19, 2018 | Susan Diegelman, AAPD Board Member

Over the past few years, the promise of connected technology for people with disabilities has developed into an expectation. Now that the deployment of 5G networks — the next generation of wireless Internet — has truly begun, the Internet will increasingly support more sensors and devices, which will help bring this promise to bear in amazing ways.

We are already seeing connected technologies help people with disabilities accomplish a wide range of essential daily tasks like starting the dishwasher, boarding a city bus, or remembering to take medication on time. And as the new 5G network delivers lower latency and better battery life, devices for independent living will become invaluable tools to enable an even-further expanded range of activity.

As important as these types of 5G-powered devices will be, they only represent a start to the innovative possibilities and problem-solving that high-speed wireless broadband can unlock. Could 5G-connected cars mean a driverless future where blind people can drive independently? Could connected technologies be used to solve complex problems for people with disabilities like unemployment?

Employment, as we know, goes hand-in-hand with independence. Too often people with disabilities who don’t have the assistance they need are put at a disadvantage in the job market. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind estimates that almost 70% of people who are blind or low vision are unemployed. That’s unacceptable. And with new connected technology, we can do more than ever before to chip away at a deficit like that. Can you imagine, a connected technology company directing resources and using novel approaches to tackle this issue?

Now, there’s no need to imagine. Aira, a rapidly growing assistive technology subscription service, has recently announced the Aira Employment Program, a free service for job seekers already subscribed to Aria who are blind or low vision to use as they navigate the employment process. Aira uses smart glasses to stream live video — as well as GPS and web data — to a remote, human agent who then offers real-time, on-demand assistance.

People use Aira not only to complete a variety of daily tasks but to work toward the employment they deserve by searching online job postings, filling out applications, and updating resumes. The service even helps job seekers travel to and from interviews and pick out what to wear, with any cost for service minutes used on these activities covered by Aira.

As the 5G wireless Internet is deployed to more people, assistive technologies will become more integral to addressing boundaries to visual information and transportation. Let’s applaud Aira and encourage more companies like them to invest in the communities they serve.

 

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Susan Diegelman is Director of Public Affairs at AT&T and Secretary of the AAPD Board of Directors. She works with advocates across all areas of disability to understand how technology can support independent living and improve lives.

Congress just voted – now it’s OUR TURN to vote!

February 15, 2018

Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620) by a 225-192 vote. We are extremely disappointed and downright angry to see this blatant attack on the civil rights of people with disabilities to access places of public accommodation and now look to our allies in the Senate to prevent a companion bill from passing.

We are grateful to all of you who called, tweeted, emailed, and met with your Members of Congress over the past few weeks to advocate against this bill and hope we can count on you again when this fight moves to the Senate. AAPD will continue our advocacy alongside you and our allies to protect the Americans with Disabilities Act and the rights of people with disabilities.

The surest way to protect our rights is to vote! With the 2018 midterm election coming up on November 6, now is the time to make sure that every candidate is concerned about the rights of people with disabilities. Join AAPD’s REV UP Campaign to get more people with disabilities registered to vote, educated, and engaged in the political process.

Visit www.aapd.com/REVUP for voter registration, education, and engagement resources. We’re organizing a network of REV UP State Disability Voting Coalitions – contact programs@aapd.com to launch a coalition in your state or get connected with advocates already organizing in your state.

Let’s make the disability vote count in 2018!

 

Photo of Justin Dart with text: "VOTE as if your life depends on it - Because it DOES!

“VOTE as if your life depends on it – Because it DOES!”

URGENT ACTION! Don’t Let Congress Chip Away at the ADA!

[UPDATE: February 15, 2018]

H.R. 620 will be voted on this morning somewhere between 11:30am and 12:30pm ET (House Majority Leader schedule). Until then, please continue to contact your Representative and the Congressional Targets listed below.

The message for contacting offices is as follows:

We urge you to vote “no” on H.R. 620. We support the Langevin/Harper amendment to eliminate the “notice and cure” provisions from the bill. We do not support any of the other amendments, as none address the fundamental problem with the bill.

 

[UPDATE: February 12, 2018]

HR 620 is expected to come to a vote on the House floor this Thursday (2/15)! We need all hands on deck to educate Members of Congress on why this bill will harm people with disabilities. If you haven’t called, tweeted, or emailed your Representative yet, please take a few minutes to do so NOW! If you have already reached out, thank you – please reach out again.

Please join us in participating in the following days of action:

Monday, February 12

  • Email Representatives urging them to VOTE NO on HR 620
  • Save the ADA Call-In Day – Call your Representative

Tuesday, February 13

  • Social media opposition to HR 620 – #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA
  • Continue calling and emailing Members to urge them to vote no

Wednesday, February 14

  • Call your Representatives
  • Tweet your Representatives
  • Attend rallies and protests (if you are in the DC area)

Thursday, February 15 (HR 620 scheduled for a vote)

  • Call your Representatives
  • Tweet your Representatives

 

Messages and counter messages:

  • H.R. 620 removes the civil rights of all citizens with disabilities; it causes people with disabilities to wait for their right to access and services that all citizens have access to immediately. H.R. 620 asks people with disabilities to wait months, and in some cases, years, to be able to enter a restaurant, hotel, store, or theater. This would never be asked of any other group.
  • If businesses are concerned about bad actor lawyers, then stop the bad behavior of the lawyers; don’t eliminate the rights of 57 million Americans because there are a handful of dispicable attorneys.
  • Amendments to HR 620 will not fix the problems with this bill, it must be stopped outright to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. Only except the Langevin Amendment, which entirely removes the notice and cure provisions from the bill, is acceptable. Removing notice and cure provisions means removing the requirement that a person who claims discrimination must first provide written notice that allows 60 days for an owner to acknowledge receipt of the complaint and 120 days to demonstrate substantial progress in removing the barrier before legal action may be pursued.
  • If the civil rights of 57 million Americans can be eliminated, then the civil rights of other groups can as well.
  • Vote NO on H.R. 620.

 

CCD HR 620 Toolkit

In addition to the resources listed in the full alert below, you can utilize this HR 620 Toolkit developed by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD). In this Toolkit, you will find:Sample email/letter template

  • Sample call script
  • Sample social media posts

 

Thank you for your efforts to PROTECT the ADA and the RIGHTS of people with disabilities!


 

February 8, 2018

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last year, clearing the way for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, which is expected sometime next week (February 12-16, 2018). This bill would seriously weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by delaying requirements that businesses be accessible to people with disabilities.

The proposed legislation requires a person with a disability to provide inaccessible businesses with a written notice of the barrier, after which the business has 60 days to even acknowledge there is a problem, and then another 120 days to begin to fix it. No other civil rights group is forced to wait 180 days to enforce their civil rights!

This bill has bipartisan support with 108 co-sponsors (97 Republicans and 12 Democrats).

The House Rules Committee is likely to set the process for consideration of the bill on Tuesday, February 13th. This means a vote on the full House floor is possible by Wednesday (2/14) or Thursday (2/15). The time to act is now!

 

We urge you to contact your Representatives and tell them to vote no on H.R. 620!

Don’t let this bill weaken the ADA and the rights of people with disabilities!

 

Take Action

All Members of the House of Representatives need to hear from the disability community. Make them aware of this ill-advised and damaging bill.

Congressional Target List

The Members below could be particularly influential on whether this bill passes or not (updated 2/14/18):

Co-Sponsors

  • Rep. Bill Foster — 202-225-3515
  • Rep. Kathleen Rice — 202-225-5516
  • Rep. Jim Costa — 202-225-3341
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar — 202-225-1640
  • Rep. Krysten Sinema — 202-225-9888
  • Rep. Luis Correa — 202-225-2965
  • Rep. Jackie Speier — 202-225-3531
  • Rep. Scott Peters — 202-225-0508
  • Rep. Pete Aguilar — 202-225-3201
  • Rep. Ami Bera — 202-225-5716

 

Judiciary

  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren — 202-225-3072
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez — 202-225-8203

 

Nevada

  • Rep. Jacky Rosen — 202-225-3252
  • Rep. Ruben Kihuen — 202-225-9894

Oregon

  • Rep. Kurt Schrader — 202-225-5711

California

  • Rep. Ro Khanna — 202-225-2631
  • Rep. Mike Thompson — 202-225-3311
  • Rep. Judy Chu — 202-225-5464
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney — 202-225-1947
  • Rep. Adam Schiff — 202-225-4176
  • Rep. Juan Vargas — 202-225-8045
  • Rep. Jimmy Panetta — 202-225-2861
  • Rep. Raul Ruiz — 202-225-5330
  • Rep. Nanette Barragan — 202-225-8220
  • Rep. Doug LaMalfa — 202-225-3076

Florida

  • Rep. Stephanie Murphy — 202-225-4035
  • Rep. Charlie Crist — 202-225-5961
  • Rep. Kathy Castor — 202-225-3376
  • Rep. Val Demings — 202-225-2176

Minnesota

  • Rep. Collin Peterson — 202-225-2165

New Jersey

  • Rep. Josh Gottheimer — 202-225-4465

Tennessee

  • Rep. Jim Cooper — 202-225-4311

Maryland

  • Rep. Anthony Brown — 202-225-8699

New Mexico

  • Rep. Ben Ray Lujan — 202-225-6190

Pennsylvania

  • Rep. Dwight Evans — 202-225-4001
  • Rep. Mike Doyle — 202-225-2135

 

Message / Talking Points

  • Vote “NO” on H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.
  • The ADA Education and Reform Act would seriously weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act and would turn people with disabilities into second-class citizens.
  • H.R. 620 would require a person with a disability who encounters an access barrier to send an exactly written notice and gives the business owner 60 days to even acknowledge that there is a problem – and then another 120 days to begin to fix it. No other civil rights group is forced to wait 180 days to enforce their civil rights.
  • The ADA is already very carefully crafted to take the needs of business owners into account. Compliance is simply not burdensome – existing businesses are only required to provide access when doing so is readily achievable. But this bill would remove any reason for businesses to comply. Instead, they can take a “wait and see” attitude, and do nothing until they happen to be sued or sent a notice letter. This shifts the burden of enforcing the ADA onto individuals with disabilities.
  • Title III regulations of the ADA went into effect in 1992, providing accessibility standards for private businesses (also known as public accommodations). Businesses have had over 25 years to comply with these regulations.
  • H.R. 620 calls for education by the Department of Justice (DOJ). But there are already extensive federal efforts to educate business owners about their ADA obligations, including the in-depth DOJ ADA website (ADA.gov), which received 30 million visits in 2016 and 2017, the DOJ ADA hotline, which received over 97,000 calls, extensive DOJ technical assistance materials, etc., and by the 10 federally-funded regional ADA Centers (ADATA.org) that provide in-depth resources and training in every state.
  • Proponents of this bill have raised concerns about monetary damage awards. But that has nothing to do with the ADA, since the ADA does not allow money damages. Such damages are only available under a handful of state laws. This bill will do nothing to prevent damage awards under state laws.
  • It is troubling that this bill blames people with disabilities for public accommodations’ failure to comply with the ADA. Why should disabled people pay the price of an inaccessible environment, where we cannot live our lives like everyone else?

 

Meet with your Representatives

You can arrange a meeting in Washington, DC or in your home state, depending on when Congress is in session. Contacting Congress allows you to request a meeting with your Member of Congress. You can also check the Town Hall Project for congressional events in your area.

 

Call your Representatives

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or (202) 224-3091 (TTY) and ask to be connected to your Representative.

 

Email your Representatives

Contacting Congress provides unique links to email your Representative directly.

 

Tweet your Representatives

Twitter has become a powerful tool to communicate with elected officials directly. Find your Representative on Twitter and tell them to oppose this bill. Use the hashtags #StopHR620 and #HandsOffMyADA. Some sample tweets are included below:

  • Tell Congress to stop chipping away at the #ADA – Vote “NO” on #HR620. #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA https://goo.gl/3SdLHc
  • #HR620 would force people w/ disabilities to wait 180 days to enforce their civil rights – Vote “NO” on H.R. 620. #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA https://goo.gl/3SdLHc
  • Businesses have had nearly 3 decades to comply with the #ADA – no more excuses! Vote “NO” on #HR620. #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA https://goo.gl/3SdLHc
  • #HR620 won’t stop “drive by” #ADA lawsuits, but it will strip civil rights from people with disabilities. #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA https://goo.gl/3SdLHc
  • [insert Representative handle] protect the #ADA and the rights of people with disabilities – Vote “NO” on #HR620! #StopHR620 #HandsOffMyADA https://goo.gl/3SdLHc

 

Additional Resources

 

We cannot allow Congress to chip away at the ADA and deny the civil rights of people with disabilities – tell your Representative to vote NO on HR 620.

Nothing about us, without us!

Implementing Universal Design in the Workplace

November 12, 2017 | Ariel Carlin, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is a federal agency devoted to supporting people with disabilities and the aging population in our country. The administration, like many, have had changes this past summer including new leadership which has welcomed Melissa Ortiz as Commissioner. The Administration for Community Living deserves praise for their work and commitment to the American citizens.

What I found striking when interning with ACL was not only the diversity among cohorts but the workplace itself was inclusive and cognitive of Universal Design. Universal Design (UD) is a design concept that creates access to all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design in regards to products and environments. For example, all doors opened with the touch of a button, creating an overall ease of access throughout the workplace whether you were a wheelchair user or running from one meeting to another with full hands. Individual’s cubicles were designed for that specific employee. Some aspects of an individual’s cubicle that varied included lighting, desk height, number of computer screens, chair type, and or any assisted technology to effectively participate in daily work functions. It was evident that the ACL administration looked for optimal inclusion in all breadths of the work environment.

Interning with the Policy and Evaluation team was a very unique experience. Each day I gained more knowledge on federal policies regarding things such as housing or healthcare but more importantly I gained a greater understanding of the importance of diversity within the workplace. Seeing and working alongside individuals of varying abilities, race, religion, age, gender, sexuality or otherwise benefited the quality of work we produced. The varying perspectives and character strengths are vital in this field of work. To best serve and protect the American people through these areas of policy, the diverse cohort and inclusive, universal environment are necessary for success. ACL is a federal agency that models an inclusive workspace.

Experiencing this atmosphere this past summer was a privilege.

 

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Ariel Carlin is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer she interned with the Administration for Community Living within the Department of Health and Human Services.

GraceBrace – Give your Medical Equipment New Purpose

November 8, 2017 | Candice Tsegga Wallace

GraceBrace is a new online marketplace built on giving medical devices and equipment renewed life.

Users of the GraceBrace community have the ability to donate and sell new and gently used medical devices and equipment. Often times, when medical devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, etc. are replaced, the former equipment is stashed away and rarely unearthed again. Similarly, after recovery from an injury requiring a medical appliance such as crutches or a leg boot, the equipment is simply discarded in many cases. With GraceBrace, proprietors of these medical devices can grant them new purpose through exchange on our website.

GraceBrace sellers simply post a listing of their available medical equipment or device as for sale or as a donation. Buyers can easily search for equipment, specify their delivery method, and pay for their device through the website. The “invite new members” function also lets users help build our network. I am seeking your collaboration in being some of the first users of the exciting new website.

Over 8 million people in the United States depend on a wheelchair, use a cane, a walker, or crutches to assist with their mobility. My quest with GraceBrace is to abate waste and foster support for those with a medical device need.

Please share the news and join the community at https://gracebrace.sharetribe.com. You can also connect with GraceBrace on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GraceBraceMarketplace.

 

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Candice Tsegga Wallace is the Founder of GraceBrace. She resigned from her nine-year career in health care to fully nurture the vision of GraceBrace and continue her medical care work in a new impactful direction.

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