Sewcialist Spotlight on Accessibility

We’re so excited to announce The Sewcialists’ next focus: Accessibility! 

For the next three weeks we’ll be looking at sewing through the lens of who can access it and how. We’ll hear from sewers with atypical circumstances and learn what sewing looks like for them. We’re interested in discussing how accessible the sewing community is currently, as well as hearing from individuals about what accommodations they make in order to sew.

Graphic with the word "Accessibility" and the Sewcialists logo.

Screen Graphic featuring symbols for cognition, hearing, sign language interpretation, vision, closed captioning and wheelchair use.

So what is accessibility? And how does it relate to sewing?

Accessibility refers to the ways in which organizations, communities, and systems are set up to determine how someone participates in or benefits from said entity. While access can relate to all kinds of factors and circumstances (including but not limited to: finances, education, gender, race, age, size) this month we’ll be focusing on sewing with disabilities and neurodivergence. We’d love to invite both disabled and non-disabled folks into the conversation!

As Sewcialists we believe that who we are is always reflected in our sewing practice. Just like other identifiers influence all aspects of life, sewing is both informed and impacted by living with disability and/or neurodiversity. In these next few weeks, our aim is to celebrate disabled and neurodiverse sewcialists, hear their struggles and work to improve the sewing community.

Some examples of accessibility within the sewing community could include:

  • Sewing machines with start/stop buttons for folks who can’t use a foot pedal,
  • Pattern designers using clearly defined size lines and layering for sewers with low vision or triggerable neurological conditions,
  • Audio and video resources including accurate captions and/or transcripts,
  • Online communities and businesses that use clear, readable fonts with minimal animations or flashing pop-ups and parts.

What is accomodation? How does it affect sewing?

Accessibility and accommodation are often discussed together, but they’re not quite the same. We can think of accessibility as a predetermined or proactive element of access and accommodation as the reactive element. Accessibility is for the group, whereas accommodations are made for the individual. Accommodations are vital because they are more flexible and can be tailored to an individual’s specific circumstances. 

Sewists of varying conditions make accommodations to make sewing possible. Some examples of individual accommodation could be:

  • Utilizing timers for pain or energy management,
  • Altering patterns for movement, size fluctuation or sensory issues,
  • Reimaging pattern construction instructions according to capacity,
  • Using unconventional tools to ease routine tasks.

Defining Disability and Neurodiversity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. This definition encourages us to broaden our view of disability. Though we may think most of mobility differences, this definition also includes chronic illness, mental illness, and hearing or vision difficulties. Neurodivergence (including conditions such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD) can also fall under the umbrella term of disability, since a result of these conditions is often that folks do have difficulties with certain activities and/or participating in their world. 

For as often as disability and neurodivergence are in the spotlight, one might assume that it only affects a select few people. That’s simply not true. According to the CDC, approximately 26% of Americans are disabled (1). The WHO also estimates more than 466 million people, or 5% of the population, have a disabling hearing loss (2). It’s estimated that 1 in 8 people are neurodivergent, but up to 50% of them may not even know it (3). 

Disabled people are one of the largest marginalized groups with some of the lowest representation. As we consider the ways sewing can be impacted and informed by differences in vision, hearing, sensitivity, mobility, focus, and energy, we must also discuss society’s impact on people with disabilities and neurodivergence. The lack of accessibility and accommodation in spaces and systems can do more to limit a disabled or neurodivergent person than their condition. It’s imperative that we discuss accessibility and accommodation, and bring stories of sewists with disability and neurodivergence into the spotlight.

A note on identifying/not identifying as disabled

While the CDC’s definition of “disabled” is inclusive and helpful, many dictionary definitions are harmful, hurtful descriptions that are often untrue and work to limit folks with physical or mental conditions. Because of this, some folks with varying conditions reject the term “disabled.” However, many people have worked hard to reclaim the term “disabled” as an honest way to discuss difference, fight systematic oppression and gain rights. We’re not interested in gate-keeping or determining who should or shouldn’t identify as disabled.

As we enter this series please refrain from challenging any contributor’s identification. Unless you’re the person’s doctor, you are neither qualified nor welcome to comment on whether another person is or isn’t disabled. Please refrain from phrases like “you should/shouldn’t consider yourself disabled”, “you’re not disabled, you’re differently abled”, “Everyone gets distracted sometimes”, “Maybe you just need to work on your social skills”, or “You’re handi-capable.” As well intended as they may be, these types of comments are not welcome in this space. Thank you for respecting these boundaries and we look forward to these conversations.

We’re so excited to highlight disabled and neurodiverse sewists this month! If you identify as disabled or neurodiverse, we’d love to hear from you ‐ we’re excited to learn together!