Seated Body vs. Wheelchair User: Using the Correct Terminology
May 20th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day
As a wheelchair user and a fashion designer, I know how hard it is to find jeans that fit and feel comfortable. The fly often is too long cutting into my stomach, and I am constantly reaching back to pull up my pants and make sure my bum is covered. In the adaptive fashion space, designers recognized a need for a pant that would comfortably fit a wheelchair user and such the seated-fit jean was born. The pattern of the jean was curved by lowering the front rise and raising the back rise to accommodate someone who is sitting down. “Seated-fit” references the fit of the jean as would “boot cut” or “flared.”
Yarrow’s Kaycee Ultra Stretch Skinny Jean - Seated Fit has a lengthened back rise and shortened front rise to make this pant ideal for wheelchair users.
However, as language has evolved in this mostly non-disabled dominating space “seated” has begun to inaccurately replace the word “wheelchair” and even worse “seated body” has replaced the phrase “wheelchair user.” There are a few problems with these phrases, but from “differently-abled” to “special needs,” people without disabilities fumble to replace the word “disabled” and other terms that they deem as shameful.
I am proud to be a disabled woman and even from a young age, I loved dressing to impress.
People without disabilities can often view disabled people as tropes and harmful stereotypes. They may view disabled people as somehow lesser or burdens, and on the opposite end of the spectrum– That we are superhuman and inspirational for simply existing with a disability. Stereotypes within the fashion industry include that disabled people are not models, or that we are apathetic and don’t care how we dress.
I am proud to be a disabled woman and even from a young age, I loved dressing to impress. The misconceptions in society that using a wheelchair is somehow a bad thing or limiting, creates this need to erase the word. I have to say I am so grateful for my wheelchair. My wheelchair is my independence and my freedom. It’s an important tool to get me where I need to go. You wouldn’t pity someone who is near-sighted for using eyeglasses, so why do people pity me for using a mobility device?
The phrase “seated body” cannot replace the phrase “wheelchair user.” If you are reading this sitting on your couch or in your bed, then right now you are a seated body. Some adaptive clothing like the seated-fit jean or the FFORA Wheelchair Attachment System is specially designed for wheelchair users and eliminating “wheelchair” from the product description will only confuse consumers. “Seated body” or “seated body user” are not accepted or accurate terms within the community.
Wheelchair users are a very diverse demographic. Some people use their wheelchairs only part-time on bad pain days or for long distances. Some wheelchair users can walk a few steps, and some need the use of other mobility aids, which means throughout the day they may not remain in a seated position. If a product is compatible with consumers who use other mobility aids such as canes, crutches, or walkers then the term “seated” may not be appropriate as the user would be using those mobility aids to assist with walking.
Seated pants have a pattern that is curved to fit someone’s body who would be sitting for the entire time they are wearing the pants. If the wearer, stood up the crotch may be too low, or the back rise may scrunch up as it is not designed to wear standing. I am a wheelchair user who wears seated fit jeans, but I am NOT a seated body.
Seated-fit jeans work best for my body as standard jeans tend to sag and not cover my bum. I am constantly pulling up my pants to remain modest. The seated-fit jean covers my bum and is more comfortable. I would avoid using “seated body” as a noun, however, “seated” as an adjective is appropriate. Calling a wheelchair user a “seated body” is like calling an apple a “round red fruit” while technically a correct description so is a cherry and a pomegranate. Anyone sitting down could be a “seated body.” A “wheelchair user” is more specific.
Yarrow’s Kaycee Ultra Stretch Skinny Jean - Seated Fit has a discreet lower pocket large enough to keep your phone or keys safe.
As a designer, I strive to create products that serve my community’s needs but are also fashionable. At Juniper Unlimited, we include the disability community in every step of product development from fit models to designers to create worthwhile products.
Disabled people should be leading in spaces that focus on OUR community.
The adaptive market, as a whole, designs for disabled people, but some of the major players in the industry are nondisabled. The language surrounding products for the disabled community should echo the voice of the community. The only way to ensure the disability community is empowered within the industry is to hire them and include them as part of the process.
Disabled people should be leading in spaces that focus on OUR community. “Nothing about us without us” applies to adaptive fashion and the designers, models, media, and the language surrounding the product. Who would know how to design for the disabled community better? The struggle to find clothing is our reality and we should be a vital part of finding the solution. Disabled people are natural innovators as we are used to adapting to a world that wasn’t built for us.
Designers should not be afraid of taking a plunge into the adaptive market. We need more products that specifically cater to our needs and our community. It is just important to approach adaptive design with authenticity and in a way that will empower and uplift members of the disability community. Our voices should be amplified in this space not talked over. The innovation of the seated-fit jean would not have been possible without hearing the feedback from wheelchair users.