Disabled people have always been interested in style, fashion and having a good time. But Mik Scarlet says that it can be tricky to find a magazine showcasing what’s hot and what’s not. He meets the owner of a website which aims to change all that.
“Blue Badge Style is a Vogue/Michelin Guide for the ‘less able’. We inform via our website and mobile app where to go, what to buy and what to do if you want to maintain your sense of style,” Fiona Jarvis, the wheelchair user and face behind the website tells me. The ethos behind the site, Jarvis says, is the idea that disability and style are not mutually exclusive.
“Over the years of becoming progressively disabled and still working in high level sales, I’d collated a lot of information on where to take clients without the embarrassment of trying to get up a huge flight of stairs. I also always knew the latest cool place to go as I was, and still am, a bit of a hedonist. Friends, colleagues and family would refer to me if they wanted a good night out. Realising that 20 years worth of such information would be useful to other people, I set up the website and added extra information on disabled facilities and obstacles in the many places I’d visited.”
The site has the latest fashion reports, restaurants worth visiting, the latest in technology and events.
“We do cover campaigning issues from an apolitical standpoint but we are not really a campaigning site as there are plenty of those. We’re more about getting people to go out and have a good time!”
Jarvis is especially proud of the access information on her site.
“Our very own three tick System takes into account accessibility, disabled facilities and ambience. We don’t think anyone should have to compromise on style so we start by looking for stylish places to go and then we find out about the accessibility at those locations and share it with our community. We’ve reviewed nearly 1000 venues across Europe and warmly accept reviews from anyone in our community.”
The website also has pictorial journeys through venues to highlight the disabled facilities in public areas and rooms, as well as any potential obstacles.
Blue Badge Style also conducts surveys and recently carried one on the design and styling of equipment for disabled people.
“We found that a clear majority of people we asked thought most available products are dull, inelegant and functional to the point of feeling institutionalised. About half of our respondents spent £200-500 on home equipment a year and upwards of £1,000 on mobility equipment and almost three quarters of them felt that there is not enough choice of products.”
Does Jarvis think that the fashion and design industries take enough notice of what disabled people want or need?
“The short answer is probably no, but we try to be positive about these things so I’ll say not as often as one would like. I do think it’s getting better slowly but we need to do something to give it a bit of a jump start. I’ll occasionally see a less able model starring in a fashion campaign which is great. But the cynical side of me does always wonder if it’s just tokenism. I’ve seen certain brands using disabled models and then when you go to their shop in a wheelchair you can’t even get inside. The design world is a little bit better, or at least the designers themselves are more interested in working for and with disabled people.”
Jarvis thinks that if people were more aware of the value of the disabled pound, worth an estimated £80 billion a year, it would go a long way to giving an incentive to retailers and designers to improve accessibility in the leisure industry.
“The first people to adjust and adapt properly are going to seriously reap the rewards.”
So what does the future hold for Blue Badge Style?
“We’re really excited about the progress we’re making with our pictorial access descriptions and the future looks really bright in that area. It’s just the beginning and many more businesses have shown interest and will be signing up to the idea in the future. We’re off to Budapest to prepare for the European Social Innovation Tournament, we’re one of 15 finalists. The final is in Madrid this October and we’re hoping for the best there. Other than that, we’ll continue to review trendy venues and report on the latest developments in the world of disability, sport, events and fashion!”
Visit the Blue Badge Style website.