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Thursday, 23 February 2012

The challenge of finding suitable clothing for a wheelchair user

I have decided to write a post related to the issues around disabled people getting suitable clothing, as this is something I find very difficult due to my shape and size. I have a very short body and broad shoulders (that is a very simplistic description) on top of this I struggle with my weight and so this also doesn't help when finding clothes as I need slightly larger than average clothes to start with anyway.

I am sure I am not the first and definitely wont be the last who have had this problem. I have had massive issues finding a coat that is suitable for my needs. One problem I have is finding clothes that are suitable for the top half of my body. I have very broad shoulders as mentioned above and although I might be a certain size everywhere else I always have to get larger than I would like when  buying clothing to make sure I can fit my shoulders in.

I searched on the internet for coats suitable for wheelchair users and as you can imagine it came up with all sorts of unsuitable suggestions, including a cape that goes over a wheelchair. For some, this would be exactly what they are looking for but for me I want something that is fashionable, that looks like what my able bodied friends would wear. I want a coat that looks 'normal'. Now in theory that is what I have got, but it is not a great fit, it is  'best fit'. This could lead onto a whole new discussion about what is best fit, or fit for purpose as I am sure many of you have lives where much of the equipment or system that you have to use are not fit for purpose and are having to use a best fit approach which is not always appropriate for individuals needs. I will leave that discussion there for now but feel free to comment about this issue.

This is what happened when attempting to get a coat. My previous coat that I had, was completely past it and should have been replaced ages ago, but I just couldn't do it. Now this wasn't just because it was a nice coat, but because of the wider issue of knowing that trying to find something that was suitable was going to be a challenge to say the least. Every piece of clothing that I have is not the perfect fit, it is the best I could find. If I had a lot of money I could spend money on a personal tailor etc, but I haven't got that sort of money so I can't.

I finally got to the point I couldn't ignore the condition of my coat and got rid of it due to the lining being ripped and went out to get another one thinking it wouldn't be that much of a challenge to get one. Then it dawned on me, stock was low due to it being the end of season. So I persevered and tried to find a coat that was suitable.

 In every shop I went there was a billion size 8 coats (are people really that size anymore?) I then gave up going around all the shops as this provides challenges in itself, not just simply how tired I become but also how inaccessible many can be, against my better judgement I looked online for a coat. I found a coat that was my size (or so it should be) and so went ahead and ordered it. When it arrived I found that I should have trusted my instincts and not brought one over the internet, because you guessed it; it was too small!

 I as so many other disabled people do much of their shopping online now as it makes their life so much easier, but unfortunately there is no comparison to be able to go and see the items in the flesh. Although there are many times I have done that, I often come away feeling like I might as well just looked online. This is because even when I have found something I haven't necessarily been able to try the items on, due to inaccessible changing rooms and unhelpful staff making me feel like I shouldn't be in their shop anyway.

So the saga continued, I decided to take another look around the shops before giving up for this year and in turn becoming very down beat about the experience, fashion is something I have struggled with like most women out there but I always feel that there is such a bigger issue because I am disabled and it is made so much harder to be fashionable and when you try you are made to feel like you shouldn't (this could have been a very different post if I had been unsuccessful in my search).

 I finally found one in a shop and there was one in a size that would fit (as mentioned above this was not a perfect size). It was actually a great find in the end as it was cheap and also because there was a small amount of damage I got an even bigger discount which was even better. It isn't the best coat but at least it will do me for now. This is just one example, but I regularly end up getting clothing that isn't a perfect fit for the reasons already mentioned and wonder whether this will ever change. Is it so wrong for disabled people to want to be fashionable?

I hope that this post has helped you to realise it isn't just you who have these dilemmas and that in turn we can learn from each others experiences. I hope it leads to a further discussion from people who read this post. I would like to know what you do? and what problems you have finding items that are suitable for your needs? be it, clothing or other such items. I look forward to hearing about your experiences and hope you have enjoyed hearing about mine.


  1. You might enjoy this article on the F-Word

    The world's crying out for some kind of disabled-friendly fashion shop. As it is, we tend to order via the net, but get more than one size at a time. Of course, that only works if you are happy with a big credit card bill to begin with and can wait for the credit back from the company after you've returned the wrong size.

  2. Yes, I've had the exact same thought. The problems with 'normal' clothes is they don't allow for the wider hip area we have when sitting in a w/chair, trouser legs riding up, trousers coming down in the lower back area (danger of butt crack showing lol), fitting rooms too teeny. I could go on...
    I get most of my clothes made now or I use Ezibuy cos it's easy to return them. I have been thinking about starting up a NZ website for clothes for wheelchair users, what do you think? Clothes from other countries cost so much.

  3. Hi all, I'm a t-4 para, I too struggle with all of the above. Great idea about starting a new company or web-site for wheelchair clothing. You might want to get a garment maker in the Philippines to help you with your designs. Very affordable prices there.

    Take a look at this great ebook that i found online. Everything you want to know about Social Security Disability.

  4. I agree with your idea of clothing for disabled people. These people require comfortable clothing that helps them in mobility. Clothes should be easy to wear and open otherwise they can be suffocating for the person.

    Leed Solutions

  5. I'm very encouraged to hear about this blog, there should be more opportunities out there for those that are less able. Companies should think of the needs and others and install facilities such as disabled toilets, workstations that will accommodate wheelchairs and also Wheel Chair Stair Lifts