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Disability Debut at New York Fashion Week
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Disability Debut at New York Fashion Week

Tall, thin, young, and feminine might be some of the words that come to mind when one thinks of a fashion model. Different, unique, and disabled are not the traditional image one might find on a high fashion catwalk until now! The first model with a disability walked the runway at the Carrie Hammer fashion show during New York Fashion Week earlier this month. The model, Danielle Sheypuk has been garnering national attention ever since!

Just like any of the other models Sheypuk shared the runway with, she was there to showcase the designer’s clothes, not her disability. In an interview with abcnews, she explained, “my wheelchair is just a part of my body – an extension of me – and I’m the main focus, not my chair.” Danielle rolled down the runway, just like any other model – she was the focus of the audience’s attention, not her ability or disability.

Some interesting facts about Sheypuk:

  • She has a form of muscular atrophy, causing her to use a wheelchair for daily mobility
  • She is a Clinical Psychologist, based in New York
  • She was Ms. Wheelchair New York in 2012

So few designers recognize the importance of featuring “models with a message,” however Carrie Hammer is not afraid of taking risks to ask unique models to participate in her shows. The next “fashion week” is coming up in London where perhaps we will see yet another celebration of differences in Hammer’s next show(s). Both she and Sheypuk will be ones to watch as they pave the way through the stereotypes and cookie-cutter images so many of us are used to seeing on the runway and in magazines.

With designers pulling out all the stops to draw positive attention to their brand, including some shows featuring elaborate stage designs, eye catching hair and makeup and even performers walking the runway next to the models, perhaps more fashion houses will look towards disability as a positive aspect to help sell their brand.

Who says models can’t come in all shapes and sizes? Models like Sheypuk are helping break down impossible standards and images that many little girls are taught to aspire to. When was the last time you opened a magazine or turned on the television to see a positive role model who was differently abled? Thanks to designers who continue to take risks, main stream media images are slowly becoming less out-of-the-ordinary and more common.

What are your thoughts about featuring disability on the runway? What advice would you share with designers to encourage them to feature more differently-abled models? Share in the comments!


*photo courtesy flickr creative commons

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