Conversations of Hope, Heart, and the Human Spirit
with Mindy Scheier
Hummingbird Humanity videos now with captioning.
In this episode, Brian and Mindy cover. . .
- What is adaptive apparel & why does it matter?
- Addressing both visible and invisible disabilities
- Learning to be an ally for people living with disabilities
What is adaptive apparel?
Adaptive apparel is clothing produced for people living with disabilities and the elderly who struggle with self-dressing because of buttons, zippers, and/or restrictive clothes that require specific, complicated maneuverings to wear that may be outside of someone’s range of motion. Adaptive apparel is easy to put on and to take off, fits to meet a person’s body, and is stylish. Adaptive apparel removes one more obstacle for a population that experiences an 80% unemployment rate.
Creating and distributing adaptive apparel involves communicating with the communities that need it. Empowering the narratives of people with disabilities begets innovation. Because so many systems and structures are not built for them, people with disabilities have to rely on innovation every day to navigate the world. Bringing people in to create structures with this innovation can create lasting, meaningful change in the workplace, systems, and society. As an example of a structure that can and should be changed to include people with disabilities, does your company’s dress code include adaptive apparel?
How organizations can responsibly support people with disabilities
Many organizations ruminate on how to responsibly enact disability initiatives both internally within their staff, and externally for clients and potential consumers. Their questions include where do we start? Should we focus on disabilities that others can see? How do we show that we care?
Mindy advises against thinking about the disability community with a zero-sum-game mentality. There are a plethora of disabilities and some are visible, and others are not until disclosed. Being intentional and respectful of disability communities is to honor and highlight all disabilities. Programs and policies should encourage environments where people can come out about their hidden disabilities without shame or stigma. Critically, promote programming year round and do not limit yourself to awareness days and months. People with disabilities live with those disabilities year-round, and they deserve to feel seen every day of the year.
There are many other things companies can do to commit to lasting support. Sponsor employees with disabilities through funded employee resource groups to serve as brave spaces for them to come together and share. Examine processes that may allow for biased hiring. Give employees with disabilities the authority to critique and advise on systemic change. Compensate and give credit to employees with disabilities for contributing their innovation for the company to execute disability-related initiatives. Most importantly, set pathways of upward mobility and leadership opportunities for employees with disabilities. This is where the work starts. Respecting the humanity of people with disabilities is always the best place to start.
Key actions to be an ally to people with disabilties
- Be aware of your language. Stay away from words like disabled, handicapped, differently-abled, and physically challenged unless someone with a disability asks you to refer to them as such. Many within the disability community differ on how they identify language-wise, and it is important to honor them. Simply ask.
- Tweak hiring practices and job postings to reach people with disabilities. Insperity and SHRM present helpful tactics to reaching this goal.
- Engage with leaders in the disability community to influence company strategy through company talks and advisory councils. Gamut Management is a great resource to connect with these leaders.
- Value people with disabilities as humans. Remove your fear and hesitation of saying or doing the wrong thing. And ask a person with disabilities how they want to be referred to and treated.
Motherhood can lead to many paths. For Mindy Scheier, that path was becoming a champion for clothing brands to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Mindy’s son, Oliver, lives with a rare type of muscular dystrophy-and his disability forever changed Mindy’s relationship with clothing. Mindy originally fell in love with the confidence and comfortability that fashion brought her, so much so that she dedicated her career to designing clothes so that others could feel the same joy. Because of the fashion industry’s inability to accommodate people with disabilities, Oliver was more often than not excluded from this joy.
Instead of accepting a world where Mindy couldn’t share what she loved with who she loved, Mindy fought for her child to be included as a valuable customer in the fashion market. This fight for clothing inclusivity introduced Mindy to a global community of more than 1 billion humans who self-identify as a person with a disability. Listening to the disability community prepared Mindy to start Runway Of Dreams, a foundation advocating for clothing companies to create and distribute adaptive apparel for customers with disabilities. She currently manages her talent agency, Gamut Management, to represent talent with disabilities. Exposure of these individuals provides public role models for children living with disabilities.