At Paraquad, we are often asked how people with disabilities adapt and do things differently to accomplish everyday tasks independently or with assistance. The Lens of Ability hopes to answer those questions through firsthand accounts of people living with a disability.
One of the questions we’re often asked at Paraquad is, “How do people with visual impairments match their clothes?” Stephanie McDowell, Youth and Family Education Specialist, and her guide dog, Japan, showed us a couple of ways a person with a visual impairment might accomplish this task.
The metal tag has a notch at the top so Stephanie is not trying to read it upside down. This tag has “WT” printed in braille, which stands for the color white.
This is what a tag looks like on a T-shirt. In the picture, the tag is backwards but the braille letters read “PP” for purple.
Stephanie attaches the tag to the tag of the garment. The tag is safe for washing machines, so all of her clothes get washed with the metal tag attached. Once Stephanie’s clothes are clean, the tags assist her with putting things away. Stephanie says she keeps her closet organized by color for easy access when choosing what to wear.
Stephanie says that she is just like any other person and sometimes she wants to wear one thing while other days she is in the mood to wear something else. When she chooses what she wants to wear, she takes the tag off because it can be uncomfortable to wear all day.
At the end of the day, Stephanie reattaches the tag so that she knows what color it is when it comes out of the laundry. She says Japan, her guide dog, doesn’t help with the laundry, so laundry baskets or hampers that are divided into three sections are very helpful for sorting clothes (whites in one, colors in another and darks in the third).
Pictured above is a matching outfit — a pink pair of pants and a pink and gray sweater — with their tags. If a garment is multiple colors, Stephanie will sometimes attach more than one color tag, but generally she attaches the tag of the most prominent color. For example, the sweater above is pink and gray, but the color tag says “PK” for pink. Because of the sweater’s unique zipper, Stephanie knows what color it is without using the tags. She also uses the texture and feel of the clothing to discern garments.
At one point in her life, Stephanie was sighted, so she says it’s easy for her to match clothing because she knows what the colors look like. She says that it would be more difficult for a person who has never had vision. The person would have to memorize which colors match with other colors with the help of an independent living skills teacher.
Another tool Stephanie and many others with visual impairments use to determine the color of clothing and what matches, or to get a more detailed description of the color, is a color reader.
Stephanie holds the top button down while holding the end with the sensor to a piece of clothing. Because the shirt pictured below is the same as the purple one above except for the color, the color reader and tags come in handy for Stephanie to figure out which color she is wearing.
The color reader read this shirt as “blue or deep lavender.” Stephanie says she’s not sure where the lavender comes in, but she knows that this shirt is blue. If the same button is held down on the color reader and run back and forth across a garment, the color reader will make a constant sound that changes when it senses a print.
Stephanie has a box full of the color tags with different abbreviations for colors that she attaches to new clothing. She says getting new clothing is tricky because it obviously doesn’t come with braille color tags already attached. She takes someone she trusts and someone who knows what she likes shopping with her — usually her sister.
Stephanie told me a story about her independent living skills teacher and the teacher’s husband, who are both blind. The teacher’s husband was a business man and needed a new sport coat. He went to a men’s store and told the salesperson what he was looking for. When he came home, he showed it to his daughter, who was sighted, and she told him it was a hideous orange color. Stephanie says this is why it is so important to be able to trust the person with whom you are shopping.
A “trick” for matching socks is to pin them together after they are taken off so they go through the wash together and do not need to be matched up when they come out of the dryer. Stephanie says she knows men who will pin blue socks in one place, black socks in another and brown socks in another so they know which color socks they are holding without having to affix a metal tag to them. For example, the men might pin blue socks together at the cuff, black socks together at the toe and brown socks together at the heal. She says this comes in particularly handy with dress socks.
These are just a few of the ways someone with a visual impairment accomplishes the task of picking out and matching clothes. There are many other ways people with visual impairments accomplish the same task. These are what work for Stephanie. Often times the adaptations are as unique as the individual who uses them.
Alyssa Schafer is the Consumer Directed Services (CDS) Timesheet Compliance Manager at Paraquad. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Alyssa Schafer/Ladybug Photography LLC