As a disabled woman, writer, and a mom of two, I take every opportunity to normalize disability to children. Educating people about disability and showing that we are neighbors, classmates, parents, peers and indeed friends takes us out of the awareness workshop, week, month or ‘very special’ episode, and taking away the sense of otherness. So when I got the chance to create a workshop about disability and adapting design for Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian, It was a no-brainer. I’m the Content Development and Engagement Manager at Open Style Lab and my co-presenter and partner-in-brilliance Chau Nguyen is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist at IHope. As lovers of fashion who are not designers we put our heads together and created a project for two workshops that would be engage kids of mixed abilities and sensory experiences.
We chose to have the children create bags that were specific for the way they needed and used bags and stressed that adapting garments and accessories could be as simple as rolling up a sleeve or as complex as placing a strap or fastener or working with a wearers’ sensory or posturing needs. Our first workshop was part of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Mornings at the Museum a monthly program for children who have autism. These program veterans were focused, zealous and got started without needing to much guidance. A 9-year-old girl was passionate about color and explained that her favorite color changed annually on her birthday. Another participant utilized our stencils to trace and cut out the most intricate designs out of fabric to glue onto her bag. A fashion girl through and through her colors and patterns blended naturally into each other. Kids and parents alike had messy creative fun and some stayed into our mixed abilities program.
During our second workshop, kids of all abilities filled the room. We introduced ourselves, Open Style Lab (OSL), what our organization does, and spoke about how everyone’s body is different and needs and uses clothing and accessories in different ways. We shared pictures of prior Open Style Lab clients who made garments (with their teams) that worked for how they lived and would use them. Also the notion that adapting items is something everyone does and can do. The power to change clothing and accessories for the better, easier, and more useful is with them. Hands raced to the air when I asked how they adapted their clothes, and how they used their bags. Canvas, felt, and cotton, Oh My! The bags were made of different combinations of fabrics thread and embellishments ranged from sharpie to stenciled fabric, buttons and beyond. But the real most important component was the kids. Their energy buzzed. The children sparked ideas and their parents executed or helped executed based on their progeny’s age and abilities. With a variety of techniques and materials to draw from including fabric punching, gluing, sewing, embroidery, floss, yarn, and lanyard, there was no “wrong” way to construct these bags couldn’t as long as long as it worked for the kids (and some adults) using them. Chau and I saw tote bags, wristlets, shoulder bags, backpacks and more. There was no limit to innovation in style fastening and the way it was used on the body. One sassy teen girl, a wheelchair user who is a student of Chau’s created a cute fabric wristlet with a whale on it. Her speech output device punctuated the hum of the crowd with “Duh Chau”.
Words like adaptive buzz around without making a meaningful connection for kids. Chau and my goal of this workshop was to give kids an understanding of adapting clothing and accessories, a brief introduction to disabled young people who OSL has created adapted garments for and the opportunity to brainstorm and create accessories that were adapted for their needs and uses.
- Kieran Kern
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