Back To Career News

Lack of Work-Appropriate Adaptive Clothing Prevents Americans With Disabilities From Entering the Workforce

Topics: Current Events
Image Credit: Pexels / Sabeel Ahmmed

For the nearly 20 million people of working age living with disabilities in the US, not having a choice of clothes appropriate to wear at work can be a serious obstacle in their career.

“Dress for success.”

“Dress for the job you want.”

We’ve likely all heard maxims like these applied to our choice of work attire. In fact, in some cases, like at organizations with strict dress codes, our choice of clothing is effectively made for us.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

But what if there aren’t clothes available for you that fit comfortably and are also appropriate for a professional environment? What if you literally cannot find clothes that meet dress code standards for your place of work?

Many of us are never faced with this dilemma, but for the nearly 20 million people of working age living with a disability in the US, not having a choice of clothes appropriate to wear to work can be a serious obstacle in their career.

A study undertaken by professors at the University of Missouri (MU) found that in addition to other barriers to employment faced by people with disabilities, “a common theme among all participants, regardless of the disability, was the lack of appropriate clothing options that would be sufficient in the workplace.”

According to the University of Missouri:

One participant of the study who is living with multiple sclerosis told the researchers that after a surgery, she had to look for adaptive clothing that would accommodate her colostomy bag. She struggled finding options that made her feel attractive, which impacted her overall confidence. Other participants reported similar problems finding professional clothes that were appropriate for work. In many cases, the researchers found that people with disabilities weren’t even applying for jobs because they believed they couldn’t meet the expectations associated with the office dress code.

Authors of the study are now focused on “relaying the importance of offering inclusive and adaptive apparel to future designers.”

According to Caring Village, the family caregiving app:

Adaptive clothing is designed with the dressing needs of the elderly and disabled in mind. It’s also important to mention that there are styles and designs unique to each of the challenges someone may face. However, adaptive clothing is most commonly associated with those in wheelchairs. Typically, the adapted features include:

  • Velcro-type closures instead of buttons
  • Open-back blouses, shirts, and dresses with Velcro-type closures that still retain the traditional button styling on the front
  • Lap-over back-style garments with snaps for the individual who cannot raise their arms
  • Zippers with easy-to-grasp pull tabs
  • Pants with side zippers
  • Seatless pants to help with incontinence
  • Shoes with Velcro-type closures instead of shoelaces
  • Slippers that adjust in width to accommodate swollen feet and ankles

“Consumers want clothing that expresses their sense of style. They want clothing that makes them feel confident,” said Kerri McBee Black, instructor and doctoral candidate in textile and apparel management at the University of Missouri. “Unfortunately, the apparel industry has yet to sufficiently meet the demand for this population.”

That said, some apparel companies are starting to offer adaptive professional apparel.

As reported in Moneyish:

In 2016, Tommy Hilfiger introduced an adaptive line driven by its “commitment to innovation and modern style,” that includes styles for men, women and children. Their men’s shorts feature adjustable waists, Velcro closures and a magnetic fly, while women’s dresses have hidden magnetic closures at the shoulders to allow for easy dressing. Other companies are also beginning to recognize the need to incorporate adaptive garments: Zappos has a department dedicated to selling adaptive shoes and Nike’s FlyEase line offers athletic shoes that boast a zipper and a strap for easy dressing.

“Throughout the interviews we heard from participants that people living with disabilities want to work; yet, they experience public and self-stigma, both of which undermine their confidence,” McBee Black said in the MU press release. “Making sure that everyone has access to attractive, professional clothing will help people living with disabilities feel welcome in the workplace.”


Are you a professional with a disability who struggles to find work-appropriate adaptive clothing? We want to hear from you. Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter.


Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.