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Bridging the Divide: Aesthetics and Accessibility in Fashion and Web Design

In red text, Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program banners across the top of two pictures. The left image, A slender African American model is standing in a Manhattan street on a rock wearing sculptural wearable over her white skirt and crop top. The piece around her neck is asymmetrical and very sculptural with scalloped wool pleats dynamically moving in different directions. The piece is very structured but soft to touch. She drapes a wool scarf on each of her hands. Both scarfs are also made of undyed wool and have a dimension to them and are moving with the wind. Photo by Aida Sullova and design by Sugandha Gupta. The right image: A curly haired slim woman in black dress touching a large tactile piece on the wall with a multitude of textures. She appears to be touching with a very gentle touch. Photo by SCAD Photography and design by Sugandha Gupta.

In this era of inclusivity, the fashion industry’s landscape is witnessing a seismic shift with accessibility storming the ramp. Our client, the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program is a trailblazer in this movement, reshaping beauty standards and showcasing the power of diversity in fashion. Similarly, the web design sphere has also begun to embrace the ethos of accessibility. Unity Web Agency has been committed to this since our founding in 2016, weaving inclusivity into the fabric of our business and the websites we create.

Bold fashion designers are shattering the notion that fashion is reserved for a select few. Similarly, innovative web designers are breaking down digital barriers creating online experiences that truly welcome everyone. In both fashion and web, the essence of inclusivity lies equally in the seismic shifts of the industry as in subtle nuances of the designs.

Uniting Aesthetic Accessibility: The Parsons Program

The School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design has developed a pioneering initiative, The Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Program. This groundbreaking program offers a comprehensive curriculum featuring courses like Indigenous Fashion, Sensory Design, and Fashion and Disability Justice, specifically designed to empower aspiring fashion designers with Disabilities.

The program extends scholarships to support three incoming students in the BFA Fashion Design program, MFA Fashion Design and Society program, and the AAS Fashion Design program, facilitating their pursuit of studies without financial barriers. Notable figures have been tapped to serve as mentors:

  • Aaron Rose Philip, model
  • Sinéad Burke, model and CEO of Tilting the Lens 
  • Rachel Iseman, Head of Finance at Foundation CHANEL 
  • Sky Cubacub, creator of Rebirth Garments
  • Sugandha Gupta, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Social Justice at Parsons School of Design 
  • Andraéa LaVant, Founder & President of LaVant Consulting Inc.,

Sinéad Burke emphasizes the transformative framework this program establishes within the fashion industry. It not only aims to nurture Disabled designers but also strives to serve as a model for widespread industry transformation.  “…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 multiple-marginalized backgrounds,” Burke says. 

Unity Web Agency partnered with Parsons School of Design in 2023 to create the website for this pioneering initiative. Inspired by the initiative’s central ethos “Let access be an aesthetic,” the website itself underscores the program’s commitment to accessible design. Unity is a woman- and disability-owned Certified B Corporation that is dedicated to creating fully inclusive and accessible websites. “Having this opportunity to collaborate with Parsons to reshape the fashion industry and empower a new generation of fashion design professionals was a great honor,” expressed Unity Web Agency’s Lead Designer, Bud Northern.

Transforming Norms: Invisible Accessibility in Design

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the often-overlooked aspects of accessible design: website structure and user experience. The diverse and unique needs of Disabled users require designers to carefully plan and bring meticulous attention to detail throughout the process. Every element, from the layout of the page to the functionality of interactive elements must be carefully crafted to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. 

Meticulous Planning of Website Structure

We plan the structure and user experience of each website to ensure the digital space is not just inviting but authentically user-friendly. Keyboard navigation, contrast considerations, and font legibility are not mere checkboxes; they’re integral parts of our proficient approach to fostering inclusivity.

Typefaces for Maximum Legibility

The conscious selection of readable fonts is a powerful tool in the pursuit of accessible web design. We’ve seen a surge in the development of accessible typefaces over the past few years. These fonts that prioritize legibility are a game-changer for individuals with dyslexia and visual impairments due to the enhanced clarity of letterforms, appropriate spacing, and distinctive characters. When users can easily read the text on a website, they can better understand the information presented. Balancing aesthetics with accessibility is a key consideration to ensure that the chosen typeface contributes to the website’s visual appeal while remaining inclusive.

Alternative Formats for Carousel Information

Carousels are commonly used on websites to showcase multiple images or content in a limited space. However many carousels often automatically cycle through the content, have inconsistent layouts, and don’t provide manual control options, which can be disorienting for users who need more time to read or interact with the content. By presenting the content in alternative formats, such as static content sections, tabs or accordions, grid layouts, or vertical scrolling sections, the information can be made accessible to all users.

Parallel Perspectives: Embracing Diversity in Fashion and Web Design

It is imperative to recognize that everyone deserves to feel seen and to see themselves represented in the media they consume and in the digital spaces they inhabit. In the fashion industry, embracing diversity and inclusivity allows individuals of all backgrounds, body types, and abilities to see themselves represented in the clothing they wear. This representation promotes self-confidence and challenges societal beauty standards.

By creating accessible websites and prioritizing diverse individuals in website planning and content, we can not only create a more inclusive digital landscape but also send a compelling message of inclusivity and representation. This deliberate inclusion plays a pivotal role in breaking down barriers and nurturing a sense of belonging for all users.

At Unity Web Agency, we believe that true inclusivity goes beyond mere compliance with accessibility guidelines. It is about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all individuals. By embracing diversity and ensuring that everyone is represented, we create a more inclusive society where individuals can truly express themselves.

Our team is committed to continuously learning and evolving to better meet the needs of our clients and their communities. We understand that everyone’s needs and abilities are unique, and we strive to cater to those differences through our design choices. Let us work together to create a world where differences are embraced, and accessibility is not an afterthought but an inherent part of design. So, why not start now? We’d love to guide you on your journey towards inclusivity. Start by downloading our comprehensive Website Accessibility Checklist and let’s work together to create a digital space that truly celebrates diversity and accessibility.