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University of Missouri


Students create adaptive clothing for people with disabilities.

Elena Ibarra designed dresses made with light, airy fabrics. Sketches courtesy Elena Ibarra.

Freshman Elena Ibarra designed dresses made with light, airy fabrics. Sketches courtesy Elena Ibarra.

When freshman Elena Ibarra read the assignment in her textile and apparel management class — design a functional and fashionable clothing line to accommodate young girls with disabilities who require the use of a wheelchair — she was apprehensive.

At first I thought, ‘This wasn’t what I had in mind. I’m not qualified. They don’t even wear anything different,’ ” recalls the Kansas City, Mo., native.

But after hearing comments from a focus group with the Services for Independent Living and conducting market research, Ibarra says the ideas started coming, from dresses made with light, breathable fabrics to shirts with multiple access points for medical devices.

Since researchers Kerri McBee‐Black, an instructor in textile and apparel management, and Allison Kabel, an assistant professor of health sciences, started this project two years ago, more than 80 students have designed adaptive clothing for individuals with disabilities. What they’re finding is that many times a simple change to an existing garment makes a big difference. For example, for someone with autism who has sensory sensitivity, a tag‐less shirt becomes an asset. For someone who has had a stroke and lost mobility in one hand or had a hand amputated, UnderArmour’s new zipper that allows the wearer to zip with just one hand becomes a blessing.

There are so many opportunities to make a change to an existing thing applying this principle of universal design or inclusive design that could improve the clothing for everyone,” Kabel says.

When McBee‐Black first introduced students to this assignment, many were disappointed to not be designing high‐end couture wedding dresses. But now, she has students who want to design for this target market.

Everyone can relate to wanting to feel good and feel confident,” says Ibarra, whose group named the clothing line No Limits. “This project opened my eyes. For a lot of kids with disabilities, their parents are making them clothes and cutting out access points. There is a market for people with disabilities, and where there is a market, there’s room for success.”