Even though people with physical disabilities constitute 10% of Europe’s population they are hardly represented in the cultural arena. Most clothes and accessories on the market do not adapt to disabled users or are conceived merely as medical aids. Fashion is a characteristically urban expression of individuality, but far from accessible to many people with physical disabilities.

The DESIGN (DIS)ABILITY platform is a catalyst for creative design, walking the line between the playful, interdisciplinary exploration of cultural, environmental and physical limitations, and the testing of functional and aesthetic solutions. We address niche needs, giving way to fresh ideas and new products.

The challenge set by the platform DESIGN (DIS)ABILITY is to establish collaboration between the fashion industry – which all too often subscribes to and promotes the ideology of the perfect body and glamour – and physical disability. The platform re-examines the common values associated with disability and questions the established design methods that derive from them. For instance, should a physical disability be discretely disguised or should it be seen as a personal characteristic and as such, be integrated into the design process? How do people with physical disabilities perceive physical disability and how should their personal perception be incorporated into design? Can we integrate these numerous and diverse needs and challenges into viable business models that require a certain level of standardisation?

The idea to develop a brand that would speak to this community is the result of a comprehensive process conceived by RogLab (Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana) and Culturemaker Institute. In spring 2014 we announced an international creative challenge we called DESIGN (DIS)ABILITY. The results of the competition provided valuable feedback on design for users with physical disabilities and produced two outstanding prototypes. Given that the professionals invested in these various efforts are scattered around the world we decided early on to develop the project in an international context. We turned to the Open Style Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In collaboration with our American colleagues we created the concept for a collaborative product workshop. In the course of the resulting workshop we developed, in close cooperation with users, concrete products that serve as telling examples of the challenges that come with attempts to integrate design, physical disabilities and advanced assistive technologies, and showed how they can be addressed creatively.

Our goal is to improve access to attractive and wearable clothes and accessories for users with physical disabilities, to offer them items that not only represent a certain cultural value, but for some also a sense of enhanced independence.