When asked “How do you put on pants?” Air Force veteran Judy McCombs laughed. “In bed with a lot of wiggling. It’s like putting on skinny jeans.” Erika Morales, a Technical Design student at Fashion Institute of Technology, listened carefully and took notes. McCombs, a patient at the Veterans Affairs St. Albans Community Living Center, has multiple medical problems and is wheelchair-bound. In the spring, Morales and four classmates worked to engineer clothing that is comfortable, stylish, and easy to put on for veterans who use a wheelchair or prosthesis. Nastaran Rivera worked with Army vet Pamela Winfield, who lost her left hand shielding an elderly woman in her neighborhood from a sword-wielding assailant. Rivera said, “Most people take fastening zippers and buttons for granted, but amputees have to overcome these challenges every day.” The assignment, said their professor, Luz Pascal, was “to engineer garments that will improve someone’s life.”
At the VA center, students met with an occupational therapist and prosthetic technologists, and chose fabrics least likely to snag on prosthetics. Magnets or Velcro replaced buttons and special pleating let a skirt expand to be put on easily and then contract for a slim look; a tailored jacket has an open sleeve that clips and snaps together, and pant hems adjust with magnets.
Morales’s outfit for Air Force vet Anna Smith, who uses a wheelchair, needed four separate fittings until the cape, pants, jacket, and top were perfect. Regular pants tend to cut in at the waist and ride up, but Morales’s design didn’t. The inside seams were covered with fabric so they didn’t rub and cause blisters. Smith was delighted with the outfit. “It should be available for all people with disabilities,” she said.
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