We no longer need to hide in the shadows and as more and more people with disabilities are seen in fashionable apparel, the more the industry is responding.

We are out, proud and fabulous. It was back in the late 1990s while working for Nordstrom that I developed a seminar on disability awareness. The point of my class was simply, nobody is guaranteed that they wont become disabled at some point in their life. I am proud to see that Nordstrom now uses persons with disabilities in their catalogs and although I’d like to take credit, the fact is it’s now in vogue to be disabled. There were several disabled models, including those with Down Syndrome, on the catwalks at Fashion Week 2016. Obviously, this is a huge improvement and beneficial to those with disabilities, giving those that may not have had any job opportunities the chance to become successful and self-sufficient, these models you are seeing on these catwalks could have been people that were previously claiming on some Long term disability insurance in order to keep financially stable through life.

Why Market to this Segment of the Population

Marketing to this segment of the population makes good business sense. As of 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation found that there are 51.2 million people with disabilities in the United States. In other words, more than one in six Americans have some form of a disability. That’s nearly 18.1% which is larger than the Hispanic population which is roughly 13%. It is projected that by 2030, there will be 69 million people with disabilities over the age of 65. That is 20% of the total population in the U.S. alone and not counting people under retirement age. The aggregate income of people with disabilities tops $1 trillion. This includes $220 billion in discretionary income. No wonder Fashion brands are clambering to appeal to this one time overlooked segment of the population.

The word disability suggests that someone whos moves differently is unable and that is simply not the case. We all have something to offer and people with disabilities are no different. I will use myself as an example. After spending nearly 10 years with Nordstrom, I left to pursue my dream of being a fashion writer. After 15 years in the field, I have built a large clientele and have a relatively successful business. However, it was while at Nordstrom that I learned the power of fashion. I learned that you get more respect if you dress fashionable and maintaining an aura of elegance has become a way of life for myself.

Models with Disabilities Are Walking the Runways

There is now a push to incorporate models with disabilities into high end shows. Shaholly Ayers was born without her right arm. Despite her differences she pursued her career as a model and has now been in the field for ten years. She walked the runway at New York Fashion Week during the FTL Moda Show for the third time. Madeline Stuart has been in high demand since she began modeling last April. The Australian born 19 year old, who has Down syndrome, also appeared at the FTL Moda show. Personal trainer Jack Dorset was handpicked by celebrity fashion designer, Antonio Urzi, whose creations have been worn by the likes of Beyonc and Lady Gaga. Jack became an amputee at the age of 16 due to a condition called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency which left his right leg withered. He was the first male amputee to appear at New York Fashion Week. In the adult industries, there has been a growing acceptance of disabled people in sexual content as well. Sites like Sex Free HD pave the way for the sexual celebration of all, regardless of ability.

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Advertising to persons with disabilities has also seen a rise in popularity and leading the way is model Jillian Mercado. Her first campaign was for Diesel which lead to a modeling contract with IMG. Since then, she has appeared in Nordstrom spreads as well as in Carine Roitfelds CR Fashion Book. The 28 year old was just tapped to appear in Beyonces clothing line campaign and recently bared all (almost) in a lingerie spread for Thistle & Spire.

While people with disabilities have come a long way in the fashion biz, we still have a long way to go. Have you ever seen a person with a disability working the floor at Macy’s or Nordstrom? The more we normalize diversity, the more opportunities within the fashion industry will open up to us.