Parsons Introduces Disabled Fashion Student Program

CREATING A PIPELINE: The School of Fashion at The New School’s Parsons School of Design and the accessibility-oriented consultancy Tilting the Lens have launched the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program.

Geared for disabled fashion students, especially “multiply marginalized” ones, the four-year program entails a recruitment, scholarship and mentorship program in an effort to create more equitable opportunities. Students with disabilities comprise 19 percent of the overall undergraduate population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The aim is to reshape the foundation of fashion education, and usher in a new generation of fashion and design professionals. In terms of the scholarship, three incoming students in the BFA Fashion Design program, MFA Fashion Design and Society program, and the AAS Fashion Design program will be supported with tuition, living expenses and/or access costs depending on their financial need, during their studies.

The program, which was developed with Tilting the Lens’ chief executive officer Sinéad Burke, is meant to “create systemic pathways to cultivate disabled people’s rightful place as creative directors and fashion designers in the industry,” according to Dr. Ben Barry, dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design and a disabled fashion educator. “Disabled people have always been fashion designers, making and remaking clothing to support their body-minds and express their layered identities. However, the fashion industry has reduced their roles to that of participants, testers or co-designers at best, or co-opted their ideas without design credit and compensation at worst.”

Highlighting that ableism “is a core tenet of the fashion system,” Burke said that discrimination of disabled people “presents itself in how we define beauty, how we architect retail spaces and ateliers, and how inaccessible the pathways to education and employment are, particularly for those from multiply marginalized backgrounds.”

The Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program is set up to create a framework that models new behaviors, practices and measures which the wider system can implement, Burke said.

In addition to Barry and Burke, the students will gain from the knowhow of an advisory committee that consists of executives and creatives. They include model and social justice advocate Aaron Rose Philip; the Fondation Chanel’s head of finance Rachel Iseman; Rebirth Garments’ Sky Cubacub; fashion designer and creator of Rebirth Garments, Parsons’ assistant professor of fashion design and social justice Sugandha Gupta, and LaVant Consulting’s founder and president Andraéa LaVant. Industry leaders and brands will also be invited to biweekly community activities to support the students, and encourage discussions and collaborations about disability-centered design, leadership, employment, and access.

The development of the program is being used as a national study that Barry is leading. That will include making recommendations to other schools in the U.S. about how they might recruit, retain and support disabled students and focus on disability in their school curriculum and culture.

In addition to establishing the H&M Fund for Disabled Fashion Students at Parsons, H&M has provided scholarship funding. Program and research funding for the pilot activities are also being supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

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