“Self-Help Clothing,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 55
As a home economist, I am painfully aware of the problems and frustrations the disabled face in dressing and grooming. You may consider dressing a fairly trivial matter, but you quickly discover it is not an easy task when the process is complicated by braces, crutches, casts, a wheelchair, limited arm or hand movement, or blindness.
I remember an eight-year-old boy with a withered right hand who found manipulating small buttons impossible. In desperation he finally pulled to get the shirt open, and of course the buttons always popped off.
The boy’s mother was advised to select shirts with front openings and to permanently attach the buttons on the outside of the clothing. Velcro nylon tape fasteners were stitched to the inside of the closure, just behind the button positions. The task was not difficult or time-consuming for mom, the appearance of the shirt was not changed and, best of all, the fastener was quick and easy for the child to pull open. He felt a sense of satisfaction at being able to accomplish the task himself and with buttons still intact!
Finding or creating clothing that meets special needs in a world which relies on mass production and standardization is a difficult and frustrating challenge. Yet it can be done. Many ready-to-wear clothes actually incorporate features required for certain disabilities. Garments with large neck openings, raglan sleeves, larger buttons, and ring-pull type zippers are easier to put on and take off Wrap-around slacks, skirts, and shirts also lend themselves to ease dressing. Wise selection is essential.
Ready-to-wear clothing may also be successfully adapted or altered, and home-sewn clothing may be designed to meet special needs. These may include dresses with detachable or bib-type front panels, shirts with velcro or snap shoulder openings, slips with a front zipper, and slacks with a seat flap.
I’ll never forget a former student, Melanie Anderson, who, following a serious motorcycle accident, found herself forced to wear leg braces. Like most teenagers, she wanted to wear slacks to school, not just for the sake of fashion, but because they hid braces from view. Her problem centered on the difficulty of getting her slacks on and off.
The solution involved inserting two-way zippers in the side seams from hem to hip. Not only were they totally functional, but the top stitching took on an added decorative effect. She looked and felt terrific.
Medical and technical advances have led several small businesses to begin manufacturing clothing and grooming aids for the disabled persons. The solutions to many problems may be found in mail order catalogs which will allow “shopping” at home.
If and when you need help, you might contact home economics teachers, state extension offices, fabric stores staffed with professionals who know about fibers, fabrics, design, and clothing construction. You’ll find helpful information, too, in the following references which may be obtained through your local library or bookstore: Clothing Designs for the Handicapped (University of Alberta Press, 1978); Independent Living for the Handicapped and the Elderly (Houghton Mifflin Co, 1974), and Clothing for Handicapped People, (University of Arizona Division of Clothing, Textiles and Interior Design, 1979). Judith Rasband, Provo, Utah