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Parsons teams up with Tilting the Lens to support disabled students

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Programme Credits: Parsons School of Design

The School of Fashion at The New School’s Parsons School in New York has announced a partnership with Tilting the Lens, an accessibility consultancy led by Sinéad Burke, to support disabled students in fashion.

The partnership will launch the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Programme, a new four-year pilot combining recruitment, scholarship and mentorship initiatives for disabled fashion students and specifically those who are multiply-marginalised.

The programme will aim to develop “an accessible and equitable pipeline” for disabled students to enter the fashion industry by intentionally building pathways to the world-class education offered at Parsons School of Design.

Parsons and Tilting the Lens said in a statement that they hope to “reshape the foundation of fashion education and welcome a new generation of fashion and design professionals who will bring a broader range of experiences, perspectives and practices to transform the industry”.

The scholarship will support three incoming students in the BFA Fashion Design program, MFA Fashion Design and Society program, and the AAS Fashion Design program for the duration of their studies. The first students will receive scholarship funding from H&M, which will go towards tuition and living and/or access costs.

Parsons in New York launch scholarship and mentorship initiatives for disabled fashion students

Dr Ben Barry, dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design and a disabled fashion educator, said: “Disabled people have always been fashion designers, making and remaking clothing to support their body-minds and express their layered identities. However, the fashion industry has reduced their roles to that of participants, testers, or co-designers at best, or co-opted their ideas without design credit and compensation at worst.

“The Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Programme exists to recognise the fashion creativity and wisdom that comes from the disability experience and to create systemic pathways to cultivate disabled people’s rightful place as creative directors and fashion designers in the industry.”

Sinéad Burke, chief executive of Tilting the Lens Credits: Tilting the Lens

Sinéad Burke, chief executive of Tilting the Lens, added: “Ableism is a core tenet of the fashion system. This 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 multiply-marginalised backgrounds.

“We know that there is great ambition to change, but many don’t know where to start, how to build momentum, and what the value metrics could be. With the Parsons Disabled Fashion Student Programme, we are explicitly creating a framework that models new behaviours, practices and measures which the wider system can implement. This programme is about setting disabled designers up for long-term success, and supporting the fashion industry to be more fair, equitable and agile.”

Parsons School of Design teams up with Sinéad Burke’s accessibility consultancy Tilting the Lens

As part of the partnership, Barry and Burke will serve as co-conveyors of the programme’s advisory committee and mentors for the disabled students. The programme’s advisors and mentors are a group of disabled creatives and professionals in the fashion, design and creative industries, including Aaron Rose Philip, fashion model and social justice advocate; Rachel Iseman, head of finance, Foundation Chanel; Sky Cubacub, fashion designer and creator of Rebirth Garments; Sugandha Gupta, assistant professor of fashion design and social justice at Parsons School of Design; and Andraéa LaVant, founder and president of LaVant Consulting.

The advisors and mentors will facilitate regular sessions to support and foster community among the students. In addition, leaders and brands will be invited to participate in bi-weekly community activities for supported students, opening the door to dialogues and collaborations centred around disability-conscious design, leadership, employment, and access.

The development of the programme has also been guided by a US national study of disabled students’ experiences in fashion school and their recommendations to make fashion education inclusive of disability experiences and cultures for disabled fashion students to thrive. The research is being led by Barry and the findings will help recruit, support, mentor and build a community among disabled fashion students at Parsons. It will also be shared with other fashion schools that want to meaningfully engage disabled students and cultivate disability in their curriculum and culture to scale the programme at Parsons and in other schools.

Dr Ben Barry, dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design and a disabled fashion educator Credits: Parsons School of Design
Parsons School of Design
Sinéad Burke
Tilting the Lens