Interactive Clothing Design: Disability & Aging




Grace Jun
Faculty Research Fund

key words

Interactive Clothing Design
Disability & Aging

research summary

A research project that employs a multi-methodological approach that investigates the intersection between fashion and technology to address the needs in disability and aging.


research question

Universal design makes possible a greater degree of social inclusion for the disability population. Yet, there are few spaces for people to apply universal design methods and engage with people with disabilities in a creative way. There is opportunity to create an eco-system that takes into account disabilities and equality through fashion, design, and technology. Through an international collaboration, Open Style Lab at Parsons School of Design is partnering with Hong Kong Poly Institute (HKPolyU) for a 15-month project called “Interactive Clothing Design: Disability & Aging” from Jan 2018 – March 2019. The partnership brings faculty-led research that involves students from both schools to collaborate and design. The project was created out of a genuine need of a group of users, which both coincides with the crisis of fashion and textile industry, and also with the process of democratization of digital fabrication tools. The international collaboration opens difficult debates through a seemingly frivol field of fashion design. What is the perfect body? What are the opportunities that fashion and technology can provide for reexamining disability & aging? Can fashionable yet functional clothing transgress medical discourse? How can fashion participate to cultural equality of people with disabilities?



In both HKPolyU and Open Style Lab Parsons, we are deeply persuaded that human creativity, knowledge and technology should be used to improve everyday life of ordinary citizens, especially those with special needs. However, we notice that important social groups are marginalized and their needs are not being addressed at all or at least not in a meaningful way. One of those groups is people with physical disabilities. In Hong Kong, due to the aging population the overall prevalence rate of people with disabilities had increased from 5.2% of the general population in 2007 to 8.17% in 2013. Therefore indicating that in 2013, there were 578 600 persons with disabilities, an increase of some 60% as compared with 361 300 persons in 2007. (Census and Statistics Department HKSAR, 2015). Similarly, one out of five people in the United States identify living with a disability. Yet, they are vastly underrepresented in artistic and cultural fields such as the percentage of films made by or showing disabled people is still very low, while the percentage of custom-made fashion products for physically disabled people is equal to nothing. Thus, wearable solutions not only dramatically impact the quality of life for a single client, but elevate the surrounding community’s standard for social integration.

This collaboration will contribute to the important progress in advocating independent living, not just by rejecting the medical discourse that use to define people with disabilities but also by claiming equal rights as the rest of the population and also in the field of cultural expressions such as fashion design. To accomplish this goal, both faculties will conduct workshops in each respective school on universal design, fashion, technology, and textiles. The PI will also utilize the methodologies and practices that will be used is based on the Open Style Lab model – a curriculum that combines interdisciplinary teams to co-create with a personal with a disability through hands-on user testing using universal design principles. Open Style Lab is nonprofit organization that has developed a partnership with Parsons for the last two years. Grace Jun (PI), an Assistant Professor of Fashion whose focus is pioneering the intersection between fashion and tech for greater accessibility, directs open Style Lab at Parsons (OSL). 


expected results

Anticipated outcomes of the project can be categorized into three stages: First, an exchange in knowledge between both faculty, labs, respective school on textiles, interactive clothing design, and inclusive design space regarding disability and aging applications. Second, conducting workshops in each country (HK & USA), through participatory design that is hands-on and collaborative to discover the potentials of accessible clothing and wearable tech that is inclusive for people with disabilities. Finally, the objective is to disseminate research work into a written form that serves as discussion points for this emerging field, a discussion panel (Parsons Faculty & HK POLYU Faculty) and a showcase for designs created through this partnership to be accessible to the public. The long-term goal is to change the discussion surrounding disability and human-centered design processes through collective of knowledge gathered from this partnership. The print and/or digital dissemination serve as a basis for class curriculum for future students, researchers, and faculty to contribute "to designing for disability.