Last Updated on November 17, 2021
The fashion industry is working hard to be more inclusive, but there are many ways in which it’s failing – particularly for people with disabilities.
While the buzz word inclusivity is now thrown around more than ever, it often appears like an exercise in box ticking rather than genuine interest and care for marginalised communities.
It is undoubtedly positive that a conscious effort is being made to make fashion more accessible to everybody, but it often feels as though people with disabilities are still not being represented as much as they should.
While it’s easy to think disability is a minority issue, it definitely isn’t.
According to the World Health Organisation, people with disabilities make up 10 per cent of the world’s population – that’s 650 million people across the globe. In Europe, 39 million people are living with disabilities.
Can you remember the last fashion campaign you saw that featured a person with a disability? It probably sticks out in your mind because seeing people with disabilities represented is still uncommon, but the easiest way to change what you consume is by choosing it yourself.
We have social media to thank for many things – good and bad. But on the plus side, it gives us the ability to pick and choose who and what we follow.
We should all work hard to understand more about disability and to offer easy and comfortable fashion solutions for those who are disabled – also known as adaptive fashion.
There are so many incredible fashion influencers on Instagram, offering up outfit inspiration as well as an important insight into what it’s like living with a disability.
So here, I’m listing some of the most stylish women on Instagram that I recommend following.
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If you don’t follow Bernadette yet, why not?
The ELLE Bulgaria cover star shares cute outfits on Instagram, and more importantly helps to raise awareness of cancer and disability on her platform.
The Miss Northern Island star was diagnosed with a rare form of joint and tendon cancer in 2018. She had her right leg amputated to remove the cancer, known as synovial sarcoma, and continues to work with children’s cancer charity Young Lives vs Cancer to support young people suffering with the disease.
Bernadette opened up about her story in a BBC documentary Our Lives: The Girl With The Colourful Leg last month, which can be found on iPlayer.
Ellie Goldstein needs no introduction.
At just 18, she’s achieved more than most of us could dream of. The British model, who has Down Syndrome, shot to fame when she was scouted by Gucci and chosen to model for their digital editorial Unconventional Beauty – making her the first model with a disability to represent the designer label.
Since then, Ellie has been a cover star for magazines Allure, Glamour, ELLE, Euphoria and Mission Magazine and continues to pursue her dreams through her Performing Arts studies.
I have a feeling we’re about to see a lot more of Ellie.
Cherie Louise is a model from New Zealand, who shares stunning lingerie pictures that will leave you desperate to level up your underwear game.
Cherie was diagnosed with bone cancer Osteosarcoma at six years old, which led to her having her left leg and half of her pelvis amputated in a procedure called an external hemipelvectomy. Now she uses her platform for advocating for people with disabilities.
She told The Sun, “I know that the easiest way I can do that is by spreading my own image and pushing accurate representation of disabled people.
“I hope to be seen by disabled children who aren’t sure what the future has in store for them. I want to break into the industries that have forever made up stories for us, instead of letting us tell them.”
On top of her disability advocacy, Cherie has modelled for lingerie brands including Bluebella and Modibodi.
Clara Holmes, also known as @rollinfunky on Instagram, is a fashion influencer who gives us serious outfit envy.
Clara, a wheelchair user and model, isn’t afraid to wear bright colours, bold patterns and killer heels. She’s been featured in Vogue Portugal and boasts a community of followers totalling over 30k.
Kelly Knox, a British model represented by MiLK Model Management, won Britain’s Next Top Model in 2008.
Since then, she’s built an incredible modelling career and has walked the runway for Teatum Jones at London Fashion Week, worked with brands including Primark and Debenhams, and has starred in magazines including Marie Claire, Vogue and Diva.
Kelly was born without a left forearm and decided not to wear a prosthetic arm from the age of seven. She uses her platform to raise awareness of her disability and to share her wonderfully colourful outfits, as well as snaps of her adorable kids.
Sophie Butler describes herself as an ‘Unapologetic Disabled Queer Queen’ – and we couldn’t agree more.
Sophie, who won Cosmopolitan’s Influencer of the Year in 2021, uses her platform to raise awareness of queer experiences, sexism, albeism, workouts and a selection of insane outfits.
During a session in the gym, she was left temporarily paralysed and suffered a broken back when 70kg of weights fell on her at the age of 21. She now uses a wheelchair but is determined to walk again.
It’s ridiculously hard to summarise everything she fights for in just one sentence, but she’s both an empowered and empowering woman that will bring so much to your feed.
Jilian Mercado is one of the very few actresses and models from the US with a visible disability, but is hasn’t held her back.
Jilian, a queer wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, has modelled for campaigns for Diesel, Tommy Hilfiger and Nordstorm, as well as Beyoncé’s official website in 2016 when she modelled merchandise for her Formation world tour.
In 2019, the actress joined the cast of The L Word: Generation Q, in which she plays Maribel.
She’s a passionate advocate for the disabled community, which led her to launch Black Disabled Creative – an online database for creative people of colour and people with disabilities.