Today, clothing has become so diverse and widely available that it could be easy to assume that everyone can find items that suit their fashion needs. However, many people do not consider how having a disability can affect one’s access to even the most basic garments. Clothing itself can actually be a barrier that prevents people with disabilities from having equal opportunities to get jobs. Company dress codes, in particular, can sometimes exclude individuals that may not be able to wear a certain type of clothing due to their disability. Kerri McBee-Black, MS is an instructor in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management who conducts research on the social and economic impact of clothing on persons with disabilities. She took a special interest in this area once she had begun to hear the personal stories of people who were limited in their fashion choices and shopping options due to their disability.
Recently, McBee-Black was interviewed by PBS on this topic, where she discussed her research and the need for more accessible clothing. During the video, McBee-Black was able to speak on the fact that the lack of accessible clothing options combined with workplace dress codes can lead to unemployment for people who have disabilities. When discussing her passion for advocacy and outreach, McBee-Black states, “Our research doesn’t do any good if it just gets published and sits on a shelf. If there’s a way we can connect it to society where there can be some direct impact, why the heck not?” According to McBee-Black, many businesses and clothing companies are simply unaware that they are excluding people with disabilities. Kerri also stated that many people with disabilities do not have the opportunity to express themselves through fashion due to their limited amount of clothing options. Engaging the public with her research is how she brings more awareness to this issue.
McBee-Black wants to continue her research, as well as continue to be an advocate for individuals who do not have equal access to fashion and careers because of their disability. McBee-Black plans to distribute an issue brief to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce in order to outline how the local business community could be unknowingly alienating potential workers due to their dress codes. She is hopeful for the future and believes that educating the public on these issues will be essential to make progress. McBee-Black states, “I don’t want to continue to be saying in 30 years, there’s still a barrier to clothing because we’re not creating clothing for this population.”
Click here to watch the PBS interview.