Kelly in the Media

Adelaide Fashion Show Aims to Change Views on People with Disabilities

Adelaide fashion show aims to change views on people with disabilities
891 ABC Adelaide – Eloise Fuss

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Van Theresa smiles in her wheelchair, as she moves down the audience-lined catwalk
Photo “From my situation, I know all the women want to be beautiful. Most fashion is made for the normal body, the beautiful body, and not the very different body. I want to change this mindset,” Van Theresa said.

An Adelaide catwalk event has aimed to change the way people view those with a disability by showing that all body types are beautiful, but Dignity for Disability representative Kelly Vincent says even more needs to be done.

I’m Beautiful – Why Not? was the title of a recent first-of-its-kind fashion parade for South Australian women with disabilities.

South Australian MLC Kelly Vincent speaking on the ABC 891 Adelaide radio
Photo South Australian MLC Kelly Vincent is a passionate and regular advocate for the rights and needs of people with disabilities.

891 ABC Adelaide: Eloise Fuss

Kelly Vincent, Australia’s first politician permanently using a wheelchair for mobility, said this was just one of many steps needed to make the broader society recognise that people with disabilities were also attractive and capable individuals.

“We people with disabilities are beautiful in that we are part of the human population, and we are just as diverse and as varied in our abilities, opinions and in our appearances … diversity is beautiful,” Ms Vincent said.

“The stereotypical ideal of beauty – that is a blond, six-foot, white non-disabled woman – there are plenty of people who don’t necessarily find that attractive. Beauty is very subjective.”

Despite one in five Australians having a disability of some kind, Ms Vincent said they rarely see themselves accurately reflected in news or entertainment media, from current affairs programs to television dramas and films.

“We’re often portrayed as sad, tragic and often quite ugly individuals and many of us know the truth is something quite different,” she said.

“This might come as a shock to some people, but we don’t all want to wear hoodies, track pants, crocs and a lap rug all the time.”

She said this image affected both the confidence of people with disabilities and the expectations of the wider population.

“When we actually come against those stereotypes and present ourselves as attractive, strong, capable people, people who don’t have disabilities find that hard to swallow,” Ms Vincent said.

“Often we even see people saying to those with disabilities ‘well, clearly you’re not that disabled because you present well or because you’re quite physically attractive’, so it actually does damage the perceptions of people with disabilities.”

Legally blind woman, Joanne Chua, beams as she walks along the catwalk.
Photo “I know a lot of my friends with vision impairments – blind or legally blind or whatnot – they really like to dress up, feel good,” Joanne Chua said.

891 ABC Adelaide: Eloise Fuss

She said this ignorance did not just see people with disabilities face subtle day-to-day discrimination, but largely excluded them from sectors such as the retail and fashion industries.

“The accessibility of shops is certainly one thing – all too often we see large council areas that aren’t accessible to people with disabilities,” Ms Vincent said.

“But we’ve also got to talk about what’s in the stock, what’s in the shop, what’s available for people to buy.”

Disability parade Aimee and Caroline
Photo Aimee Crathern and Caroline Hardy have a passion for fashion. “People with a disability can wear nice clothing,” Caroline said. And Aimee agrees, “I love wearing dresses and skirts, something that makes you feel beautiful, because you are. And you need to believe in that, if you don’t believe in that it’s just nonsense”.

891 ABC Adelaide: Eloise Fuss

Even though a large percentage of people live with disabilities, she said they were rarely considered in this market.

“If we have a disability that means we have to be mindful of the types of clothing we have to buy,” Ms Vincent said.

“If it has to be easy for us to get on and off for example, then often there’s not a wide range of options available for us.

“We want to have the same range of colours and styles that are available to any other shopper, and I think there is a great market out there for retailers to take advantage of and start tapping into.”

Ms Vincent said even though events like the recent parade helped to increase awareness of these issues, there is a long way still to go.

“The next step will be ensuring we don’t just have to have shows where the models specifically have disabilities,” she said.

“It would be great to see so-called mainstream fashion shows where a woman or man with a disability could be a model in that show, alongside models without disabilities, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

She said for people with disabilities, having themselves and their stories properly represented can foster a sense of identity and encourages strength.

“I think it’s very important for young people with disabilities to have accurate portrayals of disability, that shows the struggles and challenges we can face, but also shows that we are well equipped and confident to overcome those,” Ms Vincent said.

“It’s not only that we’re excluded and that shouldn’t be acceptable, but it’s that we are missing.”