At the age of five, I started falling over at school. My parents were worried and confused, so they took me to countless doctor’s appointments and hospital visits for answers.
What followed was several surgical operations and at times a very medicalised upbringing. I remember once being asked to walk in front of a group of doctors while they studied me, they began murmuring to themselves, ‘never seen this before. Looks like weakness in the hips, lower legs, high arches, and weakness in the hands.’
As they were taking notes, I noticed how they never used my name, instead, I felt like a doll they were studying.
These experiences happen regularly for disabled people, where we feel disempowered; silenced and invisible.
After years of medical appointments, I was finally diagnosed with ‘Charcot Marie Tooth’ disorder, which affects the way I walk. I fall over a lot and find it almost impossible to get upstairs. For a long time I hid my disability. I now know this was because I had experienced so many people seeing my disability as a deficit instead of neutral. Or - shock horror - as something to be celebrated.
Growing up there definitely wasn’t enough representation of disability and, if there was, it was often portrayed as a tragedy. I remember my favourite show growing up was Home and Away (don’t judge me!) My favourite character, Angel played by Melissa George, suddenly became a wheelchair user. At the time, I was also a wheelchair user. I felt seen! It was so incredible to feel like someone I admired was validating who I was. But when Melissa finally could walk, everyone was ecstatic that she was fixed, and all the other characters started clapping and celebrating as she walked down the aisle to marry her love. This kind of narrative just affirmed what I was already feeling: that disability is a deficit. That disability is something I should fear and hide from, something to make go away. I am a musical artist and for a long time I would hide getting up onto the stage because I had to have my bandmates lift me up. I would listen to music producers who would advise me not to walk in my music videos or nobody would listen to my music.
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly began to accept myself. I realised that if I wanted to model authenticity for my kids, then I needed to be truly accepting of myself. I discovered the social model of disability which shows me that the world is disabling and it’s not up to me to be fixed, it’s up to the world to be more inclusive and accessible.
The thing is, disability is the one group that anyone can join at any time. We make up twenty percent of the population and yet we are often underrepresented, underemployed, and silenced.
Still today, we are often left behind in the fashion industry. There are some fantastic inclusive brands making waves, yet unfortunately, they are still few and far between.
By chance, I met Kelly the founder of ‘Underwear for Humanity’ through Visibility Co. We were part of incredible workshops that support people with leadership, strategy, and communications, to help us unleash our potential so we can make more impact where it matters. I knew right from the beginning that Kelly and I were very aligned with our values. We want to challenge the status quo, support marginalised communities, give back where we can, amplify and celebrate diversity and difference.
When Kelly came to me with the idea to create an adaptive underwear brief, I was thrilled. Too often disabled people are left behind, especially when it comes to fashion.
The new brief has undergone testing from disabled people and is aimed at people with potential dexterity access requirements and/or limited function.
The underwear has velcro on either side so that you can put them on either standing, sitting or in a lying position. This increases independence. I also think this feature would be wonderful for many non-disabled people as well including during pregnancy or for elderly people.
My disability is degenerative. Over time, my disability will change, and my mobility will decrease. For me that means various things, and it can change day to day!
Last week I had trouble buttoning up my son’s top, for the first time. Jars of sauce can be difficult or, at times, impossible to open. It depends on how tired I am, what kind of pain I am dealing with, or whether I have eaten enough!
Adaptive clothing, including adaptive underwear can and will change lives of disabled people. It empowers us!
For too long we as disabled people have faced countless challenges in finding clothing that accommodates our diverse needs, let alone how we are treated by the brand or shop!!
For this reason, adaptive clothing aligns with the social model of disability, it removes the barriers that we face, it doesn’t try and change us or fix us!!
One of the primary concerns for disabled people regarding conventional underwear is lack of accessibility. For those with physical disability or limited mobility, dressing and undressing can become a daunting task. Adaptive underwear addresses this by incorporating thoughtful features such as easy-open velcro closures, and fabric that is cotton based so that people can use continence products. This enhances confidence, independence, and autonomy.
The wonderful thing about this range is that it’s also made for people with sensory sensitivities. There are no fabrics that you may find in regular underwear which can be a source of discomfort or irritation.
This adaptive range also embraces body diversity, acknowledging that disabled people come in all shapes and sizes. We are seen, valued, and celebrated as we are. This is a powerful message for a disabled person.
Adaptive fashion has the power to influence how we feel about ourselves. It can be hard to find clothes that give us independence and empower us. Adaptive ranges affirm our disabled identity. They allow us to celebrate who we are, providing us with the ability to be active participants in the fashion industry.
As consumers, we must actively support and advocate for brands and labels that champion diversity and accessibility, and Underwear for Humanity is one of those brands. That’s why I’m so proud to launch this adaptive underwear range, where every individual can confidently express themselves through the clothing and underwear they wear. Disabled people exist and we have a right to be comfortable, thought of, and fashionable!
Eliza Hull is a disabled person, advocate, writer, and musician. She is the creator and editor of the book ‘We’ve Got This – Stories by disabled parents’ and the children’s book ‘Come Over To My House’ which authentically represents various families with disability.
Find her Instagram @elizahull
Follow her on Spotify