Beauty to be Recognized: Opening a World of Accessibility

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Before proceeding to the article, we would like to include the land acknowledgement given at Ryerson’s Accessible Fashion Show, “The land where the Crip Fashion Show is taking place has an important history, present and future that we need to understand and acknowledge. This land is called Turtle Island, and it is the original home of many Indigenous peoples. It is the unceded traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Wendat and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. We acknowledge and respect these nations as the past, present, and future tenets of this land. Toronto is located in the Dish With One Spoon Territory. The Dish with One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Subsequent Indigenous nations and peoples, refugees, immigrants, stateless people, and settlers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship, and respect. We want to recognize that we are sharing this land on which Toronto sits with each other.” (Accessible Fashion Show, Access Guide- What is a Land Acknowledgement?)

The Ryerson School of Fashion promises a glimpse into the future to re-design the world. On the evening of Friday, November 29th, they opened an invitation into a space of inclusion and accessibility that re-designs a utopian hope on expanding the ideals of beauty that left an overwhelming feeling of joy. 

The Ryerson School of Fashion collaborated with the British Council to disrupt the typical standards of a fashion event by bringing inclusivity and accessibility with their show Beauty to be Recognized, held at Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Innovation. Joined with the Fashion Promotions and the Diversity in Fashion class, they explored the complete process and production of a fashion event and challenged these aspects through a Crip fashion show. Through the relaxed performance approach, the show is specifically designed to welcome audience members with autism spectrum disorders, sensory and communication disorders or learning disabilities.

In the midst of the chaos that is Black Friday, I was welcomed by the MA Fashion students hosting this event and they ushered me to the third floor where the show was held. The white open space is fully engulfed in bright fluorescent lights, a tunnel light to the dark gritty landscapes of the night. It distilled the standards of glamorous sets and elaborate lighting to its most simplistic and approachable form; minimal with a black curtain that divides the stage and backstage to make everyone feel comfortable and familiar. The ambiance and atmosphere created what a relaxed performance entails with ASL interpreters casually interacting on one side, a reserved wheelchair accessibility space in the other. It was hard to ignore the exuberant energy within the room as you walk in with the models’ friends and family, a faculty reunion, and students anxiously roaming around for last minute preparations; the anticipation continued. 

Roars from the audiences with applause and words of encouragement followed in a collaborative environment; the energy filled the entire room with welcoming support and love


At 7:30, following a brief introduction and land acknowledgement with two student hosts, the black curtains opened and welcomed with the opening act. Ocean Ruel with a grey sharp suit and Ella Josephine Ruel wearing a pink tulle skirt and a denim jacket joined forces to open the show with their sneakers as Ella exclaimed that her “disability is her super-power.” A cascade of models (disability-identified individuals and disability justice allies) were given the freedom and choice to be in their own fashionable garments, makeup and hair to execute their own spotlight performance. One by one, they brought their individualistic styles and characters along with the introduction of the cast provided by the hosts. From Criz’s gender fluid style, to Aggie Panda’s colourful presence, and Morgan Joy and Jessica Rotolo’s flamboyant performances, the audience received a visual decadence of personalities. Their walk,  freedom to showcase themselves, and confidence on the runway was infectious. Roars from the audience with applause and words of encouragement followed in a collaborative environment; the energy filled the entire room with welcoming support and love, and these performances were livestreamed through their Instagram, @cripfashionshow . After the models’ performances, they joined with the audiences to interact with one another.

With Daniel Drak’s direction, as well as the direction of the Fashion Promotions and Diversity in Fashion team, this event explored the accessibilities of fashion and made inclusion seamless, achievable, and brought a sense of community and love as “fashion should be,” quoted Drak. In an industry that is notoriously exclusive, Beauty to be Recognized questioned that notion and changed the dominant narratives so that disabilities can be celebratory and provided individuals living with disabilities a space at the table to access fashion events. The engagement of the models exuded optimism, the joyous sensibility of all the participants involved and the audience members highlighted their own sense of beauty. It showed that beauty is abstract,  expanding, is found within oneself and exudes empowerment; it’s here to be heard and demands recognition.

Special thanks to Daniel Drak, the MA Fashion students in Diversity of Fashion, the third-year Fashion Communications students in Fashion Promotions, the British Council and to all of those who made this event possible.

FEATURED MODELS Ocean Ruel and Ella Josephine Ruel; Akio Maroon; Criz Xtacey; Alanna Wener; Morgan Joy; Aggie Panda; Heba Fakhir; Victor Pereira; Courage, aka Natasha Bacchus; Sage Lovell; Jessica Rotolo

FEATURED STAFF Angharad Williams, Tianna Redhead, Andrianna Hreschuk, Jewelle Mckenzie-Sampson, Nevi Gaetan, Brooke Eastcott, Ainsley Sanders; Dilaksana Premananth, Ryan Chantree; Bianca Garcia, Brigid Trott, Madi Schmitt; Victoria Christensen