Earlier this year, actress Selma Blair revealed she had multiple sclerosis, and that she struggled with putting on the kinds of everyday items most of us take for granted: blouses with buttons, sneakers with laces and pants with zippers. For an Oscars afterparty, she donned a gorgeous gown — accessorized with a cane to help her make her way down the red carpet.
It was the first time many people thought about adaptive fashion, or clothes that disabled people can don without assistance. Yet, it’s a huge market. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in four Americans has a disability, while the American Institutes for Research estimates their disposable income adds up to $490 billion combined.
“People with disabilities represent the largest minority on our planet,” says Mindy Scheier, founder of Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit devoted to making the fashion industry more friendly toward those with disabilities. “They should have access to mainstream fashion that excites, empowers and includes.”
Things are slowly changing. Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos and Nike have all launched adaptive lines. Schools like Parsons and MIT have opened labs devoted to adaptive design solutions. And more and more disabled people — such as these six stylish locals — are making waves in the industry through advocacy, social media and more.
They’re also happy a Hollywood star is bringing them into the spotlight.
“I think it’s beautiful that someone with Selma’s reach and fan base is being honest about the challenges inherent to traditional clothes,” says Xian Horn, a motivational speaker who has cerebral palsy. “Because it is raising awareness for all.”
Marketing exec Lauren Ruotolo has used crutches since she was 4, but that doesn’t stop her from donning the spikiest 4-inch stilettos.
“When I walk down the street, people don’t say anything to me about being physically handicapped,” says the 4-foot-2-inch redhead, who has McCune-Albright syndrome, a rare bone disease that leads to irregular growth and has left one leg shorter than the other. “They’re like, ‘Where did you get those awesome shoes?’ ”
As a child, Ruotolo wore orthopedic footwear. She remembers getting a fancy frock for her bat mitzvah — custom-made to fit over her neck brace — and feeling crushed when she couldn’t find pumps to accommodate her tiny, size 4 ¹/₂ feet.
“It was a special day in my life, and I just really wanted heels,” the 42-year-old Gramercy resident tells The Post.
Now, she has 75 pairs of high-end heels and is even launching her own shoe line this spring, with styles available in sizes 3 to 13.
“Only high-end designers make shoes small enough for my feet,” says Ruotolo. “I had to make my own line, otherwise I’d spend $800 on every pair!”
Xian Horn grew up around glamour. Her art director mom went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, while her dad “was the first metrosexual who ever lived,” she says.
But Horn — who has cerebral palsy and has to walk with crutches — lived in ripped jeans and sneakers, until she was invited to visit Parsons Design Lab three years ago, where students custom made a sleek, gray coat for her.
“Instead of buttons, it had metal flaps so I could open and close it without using both hands,” says the 30-something Upper East Sider. “The experience was more than just about fashion. It made me feel cared for and loved.”
Now, the grant-writer-turned-motivational-speaker demands clothes that “fit me and my amazing life,” such as flowing dresses and retro jumpsuits — sans buttons or fussy closures — online at Zulily or Etsy.
He means business
Quemuel Arroyo is an accessibility analyst for the Department of Transportation. But don’t expect him to dress like a square government employee.
“I’m a three-button-opened-shirt guy,” says the 29-year-old.
Arroyo suffered a spinal cord injury while mountain biking his senior year of high school. And after 10 months of rehab, the newly wheelchair-bound teen had to reassess his wardrobe.
“I did not want to be tethered to the stereotype of a sedentary, disabled old person,” says the West Village resident, describing his style as “hip, young and sexy.”
Fortunately, that sleek style fits his needs: His slim-cut jackets don’t bunch up in his wheelchair or get caught in the spokes, and he’s able to sit in his sturdy high-rise, dark, Gap skinny jeans for long periods of time.
“I’m an athlete, dancer, public servant and adrenaline junkie,” says Arroyo, who, despite his wheelchair, skydives, scubas and skis. “I want to make sure my style reflects that.”
Right to bare arms
Christina Mallon wanted a sleeveless dress for her wedding last year. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to get one.
“A lot of designers pushed me to wear long sleeves,” says the 30-year-old Tribeca resident, whose arms are very thin due to a rare neuron disease that has left them completely paralyzed. “But why hide something that I’m not ashamed of?”
Mallon, who works in advertising, first started losing mobility in her arms eight years ago. But she didn’t want to give up her “chic, classic” wardrobe because she couldn’t dress herself. She had a tailor add strings to the waistbands of her trousers so she could loop them onto a doorknob or bedpost and pull them up or down. She wears loose silk slip dresses and cocoon-shaped coats that she can shake easily on and off.
As for her nuptials, she ended up buying a sleeveless Oscar de la Renta gown off the rack, asking designers at Parsons Open Style Lab — where Mallon’s a consultant — to add pockets to it, which keep her arms from hanging loosely by her side (which can be painful due to her dislocated shoulder joints).
“Not hiding my disability is very important to me,” she says. “I want to show that disabled people can be successful and stylish and have the same options as everyone else.”
Jerron Herman spent his childhood in the Bay Area in leg braces, headgear and orthopedic shoes, but the dancer, who has cerebral palsy, always looked snazzy.
“My mom’s a seamstress, and my dad’s a tailor,” says the 28-year-old member of the Heidi Latsky Dance Company. “So they would have my older brother and I in the most amazing outfits.”
Herman describes his style as “funky classic,” a combination of Fred Astaire elegance and comfy streetwear — mixing Nike with vintage Brooks Brothers, a turtleneck with slacks and a beanie.
The East Village resident no longer uses assistive devices but says that dressing his body has its challenges. His left leg sometimes drags, so he needs shoes with reinforced soles. His left arm is prone to spasms, so he has to choose clothes that he can get on with just one hand — trousers that don’t require a belt, or baggy tops he can sloppily tuck in — as well as materials such as scuba, wool and denim that retain their shape or won’t tear. And because he keeps his left hand in his pocket, he has a tailor reinforce that, too.
“I have to dress for the unexpected,” Herman says.
The girl with the golden arm
Most people have two arms. Caitlin Baird has about seven.
“For me, it’s like another pair of shoes,” says the middle school teacher of her collection of prosthetic hands and arms, which come in various colors and patterns. “It’s a statement piece.”
Baird didn’t always flaunt her synthetic arm. “My parents wanted to help me fit in,” says the 27-year-old, who has had her disability since birth. “So they made me wear a prosthetic that looked like a mannequin.”
Then in college, she decided to get a decorative sleeve, like a tattoo, added to her arm. It was freeing.
“My body has long told a story of tragedy — against my will,” she says. “Now, it’s my form of self-expression.” She has prosthetics decorated with flowers, stripes and abstract squiggles, which she gets from a Dutch startup called Glaze Prosthetics.
“I’ve learned to accept the fact that people are gonna stare at me no matter what,” she says. “So I started to embrace it: If you’re going to stare at me anyway, let me make it worth it!”
By Raquel Laneri