Lack of representation of disability in the fashion industry

Guest post from Chelsey Jay – model and ambassador for Models With A Disability.

People often say to me –

“Chelsey, what is the hardest part of being disabled?”

They imagine me to answer with what you may think is the obvious – how hard it was to give up my career, or how hard it was to have to leave my house behind and move into a bungalow and a whirlwind of ramps and wide doors.

But in fact, even though these things did cause significant heartbreak and anguish, the hardest part of becoming disabled, for me, was the fact that, at age 20, not only was a wheelchair thrust upon me, but so was a sudden eternity of exclusion.

It wasn’t just my mobility that I lost back in November 2012, but unbeknown to me, my significance as an individual would be stripped away too. Not through my own choice or decision. But by those that believe a disability is you and not just a part of you.

The Fashion Industry is a powerful, powerful industry.

It instructs us on what we should/shouldn’t be wearing that season, the latest era to be revisiting, whom from an array of famous faces we should be inspired by, what staples we all need in our closets, but most of all, and by far most important of all, it gives every single person who follows it, the vital sense of belonging.

That is however, unless you are disabled.

Through Models Of Diversity, a Campaigning Group that contacted me almost a year ago, I now am the Ambassador For Models With A Disability and I strive to change the aforementioned.

I will not have the fact that I essentially ‘stay sitting down’ stop me from being reflected in mainstream media – and on the larger scale, I am fighting for all the other 11million disabled people in the UK too. Not for special treatment, but the same treatment.

We may have missing limbs, or suffer with debilitating conditions, due to circumstance or just purely our bodies own choosing, but to have that as our definition! I don’t think so!

I challenge the Fashion Industry to include and not exclude people with disabilities and to realise that they are orchestrating an old fashioned and out dated version of ‘reality’. People want what I like to call the Next Generation Models, people that are not perfect but are an actual illustration of real life! This ‘out of sight, out of mind’ illusion that the Fashion Industry projects on to us, where no disabled people are represented, is just utterly preposterous and an awful, a somewhat bitter reflection of times past when black people were shunned from the world as though they too, did not exist.

In a bewildering puzzle of blame – the industry manages to get away with this clear discrimination. Brands that I pled with blame the Modeling Agencies for not supplying Disabled Models to castings, the Agencies blame the Brands for their non-existent demand for Disabled Models in the first place.

Fundamentally. They all need to be held accountable as they are all to blame.

Along this journey we are gaining incredible support, not just here in the UK but across the pond! LA Talk Radio favourites Dr Estelle Snider and John Johnson, modeling elite such as the likes of Christie Brinkley and other ends of the spectrum, that being, Members Of Parliament such as the Minister For Disabled People Kate Green – we really are gaining incredible momentum.

If the Fashion Industry is so concerned with Disabled People’s ability to model then they seriously need to wake up! Disabled people are attractive too – who knew!

Even though I too am struck with the industries banish, I am taking the power back, and not just for myself, but every other person forced to hide, in the shadow of their disability.

Visit Chelsey’s website and follow her on Twitter.