Clothing challenges and Considerations for the specially-abled population.

Clothing has long been considered a basic human need all around the world. It is one of the most intimate aspects of everyday existence. Clothes render an individual a distinct identity. These give a feeling of self-confidence and comfort and the wearer feels physically, psychologically and socially at ease. Conversely, uncomfortable clothing can diminish the joy of living. This is particularly true for specific groups who require more comfort and convenience to achieve self-sufficiency.

There are many styles and designs for normal functioning bodies which keep on changing every season but garment manufacturers and the apparel market generally do not focus on inclusivity in clothes to cater for the dressing needs of special people with varying ranges of disabilities including wheelchair users hence there are many difficulties associated with clothing for these people.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 10% of the global population has some form of disability. In India, this figure stands at 3.8% of the population. People with physical disabilities, whether due to chronic illness, aging, injury, or other reasons, often spend much of their time in a seated position. Wheelchair users, in particular, may struggle with dressing and undressing, often requiring assistance. The level of mobility and dependency varies among individuals, leading to different wardrobe needs.

Currently, Indian clothing manufacturing industries and fashion designers are not taking cognizance of the apparel needs of people with disabilities. There is the necessity of special apparel for this group. Good choice of clothes can promote independent living for people with physical challenges and can ease the process for caregivers.

The clothing issues can be alleviated for these groups of people by making appropriate outfits that complement their personalities. Special clothing with self-help elements enables children to dress and undress, allowing them to become more independent, which fosters self-confidence and makes the clothing process easier for parents. Such clothing can be appealing and fashionable, enhancing a person’s physical, psychological, and emotional well-being.

This article aims to address the current shortcomings in clothing design for individuals with disabilities. By reviewing existing research on adaptive clothing, including the problems, designs, and benefits of such garments, we hope to highlight the importance of developing clothing that meets the needs of wheelchair-bound individuals and others with physical disabilities. Considering these factors in the design and manufacture of adaptive clothing can greatly enhance the lives of people with disabilities.

Clothing Challenges

Clothing issues in people who belong to a group of locomotor disability can range from minor behavioural issues to more serious issues such as toilet training, walking, and self-dressing. These issues may arise as a result of their disability, deformity, and occasionally inappropriate attire, as well as a lack of training and the absence of appropriate apparel. Various studies shows that the basic turtle neck causes the most difficulties while dressing and wearing activities. On the other hand, the jewel shirt and dropped ‘V’ necklines are easier for donning and doffing.

In a study published on designing and construction of functional garments for physically challenged girls, to learn about the clothing issues and preferences of mothers of physically challenged girls, as well as to evaluate the comfort of specially designed functional garments, it was found that the maxi dress with elastic straps and the girls top with one side flap shoulder was the most liked and preferred in the girls’ garments. The redesigned and constructed garments made dressing and undressing easier for both the physically challenged girls and their caregivers. The developed designs for functional garments made them more appealing and fashionable.

Dressing and undressing a patient is an everyday activity of personal caregivers. With the modified apparel, which includes patternmaking improvements, materials choices, and design alterations the caregivers might also feel less exertion and shorter work time. Thus, redesigning customers’ attire can help lessen the physical workload and pressure on personal assistants.

Clothing Considerations

Adaptive clothing is tailored to meet the needs and abilities of individuals with various disabilities, including congenital, acquired (due to injury, illness, or accident), and temporary disabilities. Factors such as age, type of disability, level of independence, mobility, dexterity, and whether a person needs assistance from a caregiver influence the design of adaptive clothing. This clothing is designed for easy access to body parts without removing the entire garment, facilitating easier dressing and undressing for people with disabilities. The goal is to conceal the disability and promote independence in dressing and personal care, as well as ease the dressing process for caregivers.

Designers typically prioritize product satisfaction when creating special-needs clothing. However, a study using symbolic-interactionism theory found that the appearance of clothing is also crucial for people with disabilities, as it provides a sense of belonging.

Functional clothing for people with disabilities should emphasize desirable features and minimize limitations. Some adaptive clothing should be designed with medical applications in mind, incorporating strategically placed zippers and Velcro for easy dressing. Well-designed adaptive clothing helps maintain dignity, self-image, and confidence by allowing individuals to dress more quickly and easily. It should follow guidelines for both functionality and aesthetics, resembling everyday clothing, being durable, and available in a wide range of sizes.

Design Features

Clothing should be designed to balance function and beauty, transforming perceptions from “inconvenient” and “concealing” to “convenient,” “beautiful,” and “functional.” This approach helps individuals gain confidence and integrate more fully into society.

It’s crucial to understand measurement differences between standing and sitting postures. For example, “hip bones spread out when seated, and stomach muscles don’t work the same way, making the waistline thicker.” Additionally, fat and muscle spread at the butt and thigh regions when seated. These changes must be considered when drafting patterns.

Here are a few functional and aesthetic design suggestions for self-help garments:

Inclusive Design Principles

  • Flexibility in Use: The design should accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: It should be easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  • Perceptible Information: The design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for Error: The design should minimise hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  • Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimal fatigue.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Design Recommendations for Self-Help Garments

  • Avoid Deep Neck and Front Closures with Buttons: These may be difficult to handle due to muscle dysfunction.
  • Use Easy-Care Fabrics: Fabrics should be easy to maintain.
  • Ensure Lightweight Garments: Clothes should be lightweight to avoid excess bulk.
  • Market-Comparable Designs: Designs should resemble market-available clothes, providing a perfect fit.
  • Subtle Enhancements and Modifications: Modifications should not cause irritation or pressure on the wearer’s body.
  • Accommodate Body Variations: Clothing should account for body feature variations while appearing similar to standard clothing.
  • Create Physical and Mental Comfort: Design should promote a sense of comfort and stability.
  • Incorporate Medical Device Provisions: Designs should allow for medical devices thus requiring durable fabrics.

Ease of Movement and Access in Garment Design

When designing garments, ensuring they do not hinder bodily movement is crucial. Special consideration should be given to joint positions to facilitate easy limb mobility. Here are key features to consider for easy access:

  • Openings: Front openings make dressing and undressing easier. Properly designed openings allow individuals to get in and out of clothing with minimal difficulty. Pants with outside seam openings can be laid flat on a bed or chair, and inside seam openings facilitate personal needs without undressing or removing shoes.
  • Pocket Placements: For wheelchair users, reaching back pockets is difficult. Therefore, pockets should be positioned for easy access and usability.
  • Fasteners: Adaptive clothing should feature fasteners that enable individuals with disabilities to dress independently, boosting their confidence. Options include buttons, Velcro, zippers with large pull tabs, and snaps. Magnetic fasteners can replace difficult-to-manipulate buttons and zippers.
  • Fit: The fit of a garment is determined by the relationship between the garment’s size and the wearer’s size. For lower garments, the crotch area is a significant concern. Proper clothing ease can prevent leg movement restriction, ensuring the garment is neither too loose nor too tight.
  • Seam Placement: To avoid skin irritation and pressure ulcers, seams should be strategically located and made as flat as possible. Heavy fabrics can create thick seams, which may irritate delicate skin and cause pressure sores. Carefully placing seams can mitigate this issue.


Designing garments for individuals with disabilities requires a thoughtful approach that prioritizes both function and comfort. The integration of adaptive design principles into mainstream fashion can bridge the gap between functional needs and aesthetic appeal, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to feel comfortable and stylish. As we continue to innovate and prioritize inclusive design, we move closer to a world where clothing truly serves the diverse needs of all individuals, fostering a more inclusive society.


3 responses to “Clothing challenges and Considerations for the specially-abled population.”

  1. Ritika Avatar

    Highly informative article, very important for manufacturers and design studios to take into consideration for the betterment of society. Specially abled people require and desire better quality and attractive designs as well to feel included in society as well as confident in their own skin. Kudos to the author!

    1. Thankyou Ritika! I wanted to extend my gratitude, would be delighted to explore your perspectives further, particularly on various aspects of fashion and textiles, with the intention of featuring them on our website.

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