Designing clothes for disabled people

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, August 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: clothing for the disabled. 

Now, your morning routine is probably like mine. You really don’t think twice about it: get a shower, do something with your hair, brush your teeth, and get dressed. 

But for people with disabilities, getting ready in the morning can be a very long, very tiring process.

EICHER: One of the most difficult steps can actually be that last part, getting dressed. Muscle weakness, paralysis, limited mobility—these things can make what seems like a simple act a time-consuming process, even with a caregiver. And sometimes, it can be painful. 

One Canadian woman decided she was going to do something about it. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg met up with her in Calgary, Alberta, to see how she’s helping people with disabilities dress for success.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Jacqueline Cameron has always loved clothes. 

CAMERON: I can’t wait to go shopping when I have money. (laughs) 

She learned how to make her own clothes by watching her mother sew.

CAMERON: My mom would take my grandparents clothes and take them all apart.

Today, at her apartment,Cameron still dresses well. She’s wearing a wrinkless black pant suit with her short gray hair neatly swept back. But with the pull of a zipper her outfit is about to transform. 

Cameron pulls on a zipper around the left shoulder of her blazer. The jacket’s left sleeve falls down over her arm. 

CAMERON: So there we go! 

Same with the right sleeve. Now they’re attached to the blazer only under her arms. 

CAMERON: And then reverse to put it back on.

ThenCameron pulls on two zippers sewn into the back of the blazer that move up from the bottom towards the collar. Now, she can take the jacket off without lifting her arms above her shoulders or stretching them behind her back.  

Next, she reaches for two zippers running down the front length of her black pants. When she pulls the zippers down to her ankles, the pants fall off! The pants zippers allow the pants to unfasten around a person’s legs—instead of being pulled up like regular pants.

The clothing is designed for people with limited mobility. The zippers help eliminate painful movements and much of the time it takes to dress. 

CAMERON: It’s five minutes.

Jacqeline Cameron calls her design Superfly

CAMERON: Like this is a fly, but this is a super fly. (laughs)

Her husband inspired the idea. 30 years ago, doctors diagnosed him with a degenerative muscle disease. He spent the last five years of his life in a wheelchair. Dressing him became an exhausting task.

CAMERON: He was tall. I could get him up and then sit him on the counter, put the legs in, and then have him lie against me and then put the rest of his pants up. But this was a slow, slow step by step and hopefully we wouldn’t both fall. 

One day, both Cameron and her husband had had enough. 

CAMERON: He was so frustrated and he was so upset. And so I went and got the scissors. I just cut. And that’s when he said those were my favorite shorts. And so the next day I had the zipper in.

Cameron could unzip the shorts and lay them on the bed. Then lay her husband on top of the shorts and zip them around his legs. That plaid pair of shorts still hang from a nail on the wall. 

SCHWEINSBERG: That’s the original pair you cut? 

CAMERON: Yeah. And of course I, you know, I just cut him up to here and uh, it worked.

Cameron started sewing zippers into all her husbands pants and shirts and even on the tongues of his shoes. 

CAMERON: I just went cutting crazy.

Her husband’s occupational therapist spread the word about her cut-up clothes. Others with disabilities began requesting Superfly clothes. 

CAMERON:  I received a call from an occupational therapist and she said, uh, we have a little boy who got a jacket for Christmas and it’s so very hard to get it on. I brought the jacket home and the next day by 12 I had the little jacket back. He was just thrilled about it. 

Cameron’s husband died three years ago. The day before he died he made her promise to keep up the business.  

CAMERON: We were sitting facing each other and he said, whatever you do, keep Superfly going. And I said to him, we’ll keep Superfly going. 

Today, she’s is 81-years-old, and isn’t slowing down. But she says trying to grow an entrepreneurial business at her age often feels impossible.  

CAMERON: If somebody said, we’ll take this and run with it, I would be happy.  

Until the right investors come, Cameron spends all she can buying kids and adult clothes and shoes and adapting them with zippers. Her spare bedroom is full of items waiting to be sold.

CAMERON: And this is a very popular jacket and it, it looks so nice. Once we cut it, it looks like it was meant to be, right.

So far, she has 60 clients in the Calgary area. 

CAMERON: It’s a little big on you. If you just move forward a little bit. 

Sean Crump is one of them. Today, Crump is at his office where he runs a disability advocacy group. Jacqeline Cameron helps him put on a light gray jacket that she “Superflied.” 

CRUMP: If we didn’t have the zippers to get the second arm in, I wouldn’t be able to reach far enough behind to do that. 

13 years ago he broke his neck. He’s been in a wheelchair ever since with limited use of his arms. Crump says even with a caregiver, getting ready for work used to take him two hours. Thanks to Jacqueline Cameron’s shirts and pants, his routine is down to 90 minutes. 

CRUMPS: I don’t go to work earlier, but I certainly enjoy the morning a little more.

Crumps says another perk of the clothes is that they actually fit. He used to buy clothes that were too big in order to get them on and off easier. 

CRUMPS: So if you look good, feel good—that again adds to that confidence. You’re probably more likely to then participate in things you otherwise maybe wouldn’t. 

Jacqueline Cameron says although her business has grown slowly, what keeps her motivated is people like Sean Crump and the memory of her husband. And the knowledge that she was able to give him the dignity of getting dressed each day. 

CAMERON: I kept thinking I’m doing it for him. I’m doing it in his memory. And something good comes out of everything. And so that’s what kept me doing it.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

(Photo/Sarah Schweinsberg) Jacqueline Cameron and Sean Crump.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Designing clothes for disabled people

  1. Kendra Kroll says:

    bless Jacqueline’s heart! what a wonderful human being…and a wonderful purpose. you GO girl! Bet she’d get along spectacularly with my 88 yr old mom (Rosamond Brenner), a pianist & composer who just put out her 5th CD and is working on a book, too. There’s so much to share no matter one’s age. I’ve got a little thing that may help your folks too. it’s a way to add pockets to any outfit and can be worn almost anywhere on the body so it’s very adaptable. PortaPocket has been very helpful in giving folks a safe & hands-free way to carry their cells (etc) while using wheelchairs…and without bending, sitting & sweating on their stuff, either! 😉
    So pleased to (virtually) meet you :))

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