What do your clothes tell people about you? That answer is often strongest during youth. I believe that clothes won’t tell everything about who you are. But if you have options like everyone else, it can certainly reflect your attitude about yourself. When I was a child, it was important for me to feel I was part of a community. My friends and I liked to have similar t-shirts, or longed to look like a popular movie star we admired. But for me, wearing just anything wasn’t always an option.
This is because that I “walk this earth” rolling– in a wheelchair. I’ve never experienced life any differently, because I had a birth injury due to a doctor’s mistake. Never having been able to walk, I didn’t need to think about adapting to my situation, it’s simply been my life. I am fortunate to have two supportive parents, who instilled in me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to, despite accessibility challenges in my home country of Ukraine. My circumstances shaped my character: I was faced with a world in which I could not navigate without assistance, and it made me open-minded, communicative and resourceful, which allowed me to achieve success in spite of my difficulties. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have had, but always believed in the possibility of a better world, a place where independence was easier to achieve for everyone, not only in terms of transportation or physical access to public buildings, but psychologically and emotionally: being able to feel included socially, or performing simple tasks, like getting dressed by myself. I personally know how much remains to be done in terms of shifting attitudes: in the past I met strangers who assumed I could not be independently traveling, and tried to offer me help or even financial assistance just because I was in a wheelchair on the street. While I understand that these people generally are coming from a supportive place, I feel that many people are still overly reliant on stereotypes which tell us that disabled people can’t be fully independent and successful, and what they wear is an essential part of this. Runway of Dreams is a step forward for people who want their image to move away from these expectations.
Just like when I was young, children want to be independent—just like everyone else. Until very recently it was almost impossible. However, thanks to Runway of Dreams, I feel the tide is starting to turn. Beyond providing a new opportunity, Runway of Dreams empowers people with disabilities to feel included in the fashion world, and have new role models. Although my own disability does not impact the dexterity of my hands, I’ve had to struggle with coats that haven’t been easy to put on independently from a seated position, and it fills me with a sense of pride and optimism for the future. I look forward to having access to new design trends, spearheaded by Runway of Dreams, that empower both children and adults like me, which I am positive will help change the fashion world and us all for the better. I am so hopeful for so many. For example, my friend Andrew is 8 years old and lives in an orphanage. Andrew’s challenges are beyond not having a mom or dad, because he is also in a wheelchair. Most importantly though, thanks to Runway of Dreams, Andrew won’t need nearly as much help every morning when he gets ready to go to school. I am so thrilled to think that with access to adaptive clothing, Andrew is going to be able to fit in and feel not left out socially or when he travels around outside the orphanage.
Fast forward, I am now an adult and am Ukraine’s first model in a wheelchair. I fell in love with the process of photography, and the feeling of being able to express myself through the camera. This led to a deep appreciation for the wider world of fashion, which for me is fundamentally about this self-expression: whether modeling or simply wearing clothes, fashion helps us say who we are. In my own life, I always felt that accessible clothing should feel inclusive. I have seen both how difficult it is to break the mold, but at the same time, how every social or cultural step forward can make a big difference in perception of people with disabilities, both for others and among themselves. To me, Runway of Dreams is about recognition: the idea that people like me have as a new and unforeseen potential to be just as fashionable as everyone else.
I believe in the spirit of Runway of Dreams, because it moves beyond the tradition of adaptive clothes and offers clothes that anyone, with disabilities or otherwise, would proudly and more easily wear. The only limit remaining is one’s own personal sense of style.