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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Adaptive clothing opens up doors

    Dave Stevens interviews Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, in April at Miami Marlins game. (Submitted Photo/Dave Stevens)
    Dave Stevens at the Easter seals gala in May in Connecticut. (Submitted Photo/Dave Stevens)
    Sports Agent Leigh Steinberg helps Dave Stevens tie a tie in September of 2021 before he won award for runway of dreams. (Submitted Photo/Dave Stevens)

    Dave Stevens said his whole life has been about overcoming obstacles and beating the odds.

    Stevens, 57, of Bristol, said he was born without legs and was adopted by two loving parents who instilled in him that he could do anything in life that he wanted to do.

    And Stevens has achieved much: He’s an athlete, has won seven Emmy awards during a career at ESPN and now, is an influencer for adaptive clothing, which has changed his life.

    He wants more people to know about adaptive clothing. He shares with people the message about adaptive clothing, which can help parents save time in the morning as their kids get dressed or help kids wear the clothing they like.

    He said there are all types of adaptive clothing, from clothing for people in wheelchairs to clothing for people who have catheters.

    Stevens, who uses a wheelchair, said people tend to stare at him, and he said it’s hard for him to feel confident with all eyes on him, if his shirt doesn’t fit right or is bunched, or he’s not wearing the same clothes as everyone else. But with adaptive clothing, the clothing fits him, is the style he likes, and makes him feel confident.

    “It’s about that confidence because once you get that confidence it changes your demeanor as far as how you act, how you feel,” he said.

    He played sports in high school and got a scholarship to Augsburg University where he played college football. His love for sports landed him a television job locally, and he fulfilled his dream of playing professional baseball when he got to play for the St. Paul Saints in Minnesota and was teammates with Darryl Strawberry.

    Stevens worked locally in television in Minnesota for a decade and then 20 years at ESPN, winning seven Emmy’s. He now is a professor, teaching television and media at Quinnipiac University and helped create Ability Media, which is television and media for people with disabilities.

    Stevens, a father of three teenage boys, has a charity that runs baseball camps for kids with disabilities. Stevens, a board member of Easterseals Capital Region and Eastern Connecticut, teaches veterans and their families how to do television and media through an Easterseals program in Norwich.

    Stevens also is an influencer hired by companies to wear adaptive clothing designed for people with disabilities, and is helping others by spreading awareness about adaptive clothing. He serves on the board of the Runway of Dreams Foundation, an organization working to make the fashion and beauty industry more inclusive.

    He has modeled adaptive clothing on The View. He hosted the Runway of Dreams event at Fashion Week in a suit Tommy Hilfiger created for him and got to go on the runway and model the suit.

    Stevens said while many companies may worry that there’s not a market for adaptive clothing, there’s actually a huge niche and market for adaptive clothing.

    About one in four people in the United States have a disability ― with mobility, cognition, living independently, hearing, seeing, or dressing or bathing ― according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Stevens said he loves seeing more and more people with seen and unseen disabilities in print advertisements and commercials.

    He said companies now create adaptive clothing, from athletic wear, to dress-up clothing for events and weddings that people with disabilities often had a tough time finding : “Now it just opens up so much,” he said.

    He said there are companies, such as Silverts, that have adaptive clothing, and companies, such as Kohl’s and Target, that have created adaptive clothing lines.

    Most of the adaptive clothing is available online, but Stevens hopes in the future that companies will carry adaptive clothing in stores and have adaptive dressing rooms for people to try the clothing on.

    Stevens said Mindy Scheier, the founder and CEO of the Runway of Dreams Foundation, opened up his eyes to adaptive clothing.

    Scheier, a fashion designer by trade, said she loves getting dressed every day in the morning. But she learned early on that for her son, now 18, who has muscular dystrophy, everyday tasks such as getting dressed — using buttons and zippers, putting pants over leg braces and putting on shoes — would be a struggle.

    Runway of Dreams Foundation

    She decided to play a role in making the fashion and beauty industry more inclusive.

    She started the Runway of Dreams Foundation in 2014 to help the industry understand the power and importance of people with disabilities and to empower the next generation of designers. The organization is based outside of New York City but has a virtual reach across the country. Runway of Dreams’ sister company, GAMUT Management, represents people with disabilities globally.

    Scheier said Runway of Dreams partnered with Tommy Hilfiger to make fashion history by developing the first mainstream adaptive clothing line.

    Now, adaptive clothing from multiple mainstream brands — including Tommy Hilfiger, Target, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Steve Madden, Stride Rite, French Toast, and Zappos— will be on the runway in Runway of Dream’s upcoming show in September in New York City. There also are Runway of Dreams clubs at more than 20 college campuses across the country that hold runway shows and spread awareness.

    Scheier said adaptive products or universal products give people the same clothing options as people without disabilities. Universal products are items that weren’t necessarily developed specifically for people with disabilities but that make dressing a lot easier for them, such as sneakers with fabric fasteners or clothes with elastic waistbands.

    Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive clothes are Tommy Hilfiger products that have been modified to make them easier for people with disabilities to wear, for example, by adding magnets behind buttons to make it easier to open and close or having clothing options that open and close in the back, so someone doesn’t have to negotiate pulling the clothing item over their head.

    “Making those modifications of existing product makes it something that this population feels and realizes that they’re wearing the same product as everybody else,” she said.

    Scheier said during the try-on sessions for the show, people have put on a shirt for the first time by themselves because it has magnets or velcro and people have gone down the runway and shown their prosthetic or limb difference that they have never shown publicly.

    “The confidence and empowerment that I get to witness of that experience is just extraordinary, and that Runway of Dreams has become a vehicle for that experience is one of the greatest joys of my life,” she said.

    Laura Mauldin, associate professor and disability scholar at the University of Connecticut, created a project Disability at Home, a website available at https://www.disabilityathome.org, in which she interviewed 44 spousal caregivers, and when possible their partners, who are ill or have disabilities, to document the ways in which people creatively and inventively make life accessible in the intimacy of their home.

    She said clothing items that snap down the side help people reach catheters more easily, and button up shirts help people who might not be able to lift their arms over their head.

    Mauldin said she has seen more awareness— for example, British Vogue dedicated an issue of the magazine to stars with disabilities, with the words: “Reframing Fashion Dynamic, Daring and Disabled” on the cover, and mainstream brands like Target have adaptive clothing — but it is still not widespread, and people would like to see more.

    Scheier said adaptive clothing is becoming a category in the fashion industry that every single brand should be a part of. She sees a lot of opportunity and a lot of work to be done.

    “It should be no different than plus size, petite, maternity (sizing),” she said. “It should be a category that any person with a disability or in the aging population should be able to go to any brand and look for the adaptive collection.”

    More information on Runway of Dreams is available at runwayofdreams.org. More information is available at Easterseals Capital Region & Eastern Connecticut at easterseals.com/hartford/.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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