Living Beauty: (dis)ABLED BEAUTY brings faculty, students together to talk about disability


Stacey Lim was born with profound hearing loss. She’s used hearing aids her whole life. When she turned 18 she received a cochlear implant.  

Her hearing loss is what inspired her to become an audiologist, but when she attended an audiology conference early in her career — everything changed.

Itinerary of Events — Feb. 8:

8:00 a.m. - 7:29 p.m. - Voting for Design Competition

7:00 p.m. - Speaker Heidi McKenzie

7:40 p.m. - Alexis Jones Fashion Presentation

8:00 p.m. - Design Competition Awards

Reception to follow

“The speaker at the conference basically said kids who are born profoundly deaf will never learn to speak or hear,” Lim said. “I thought ‘Wait a second, that’s not exactly true,’ because it is possible.”  

Lim wanted to find a way to blend assistive devices with fashion. Lim, along with Kent State University fashion professor Tameka Ellington, created an exhibit to showcase when fashion meets function.

“(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability,” required collaboration between seemingly unrelated departments — audiology, history and fashion — to create a discussion about disability.

The exhibit will be open from Feb. 8 until August in the Clarke Historical Library.

The project was originally created by Lim, now a Central Michigan University audiology professor, and Ellington. Lim met Ellington at Kent State when she started graduate school, and they became friends soon after. They co-authored a study about the perception deaf or hard-of-hearing teenagers have about their hearing devices in 2014, then decided to work on another project. 

The exhibit was first displayed at the Kent State University Museum from July 2016 to March 2017. 

Nicole Lenz | Staff Photographer
Clothes designed to be both fashionable and to fit the needs of those with disabilities on display at the as part of the (dis)ABLED BEAUTY exhibit in the University's Clarke Historical Library

Lim joined CMU in 2013 and has been working to bring the exhibit here since. She worked with Ian Mull, fashion merchandising professor and Threads Fashion Show faculty adviser, and Brittany Fremion, history professor and oral historian, to put the exhibit together.

“The great thing about this project is that it is so collaborative,” Mull said. “I’m working with so many people from so many different departments to make this happen, and people are really interested, which is very exciting and motivating.”

The purpose of the exhibit is to encourage those who use assistive devices to use their devices as a fashion statement and not as something to be ashamed of. 

Lim took visitor surveys at Kent State during the exhibit and collected data and comments to refine the showcase before establishing it at CMU.

One comment said, “having a disability shouldn’t limit how fashionable a person should be.”

The exhibit will include a mix of commercially available items and one-of-a-kind concept pieces. 

Adaptive clothing pieces from IZ Collection, ABL Denim and Alter Ur Ego are all commercially available. There will also be a pair of Nike LeBron FlyEase sneakers, which were designed for disabled athletes. The shoes feature a zipper and Velcro strap instead of shoelaces, which make the shoes easier to get on and off. The shoes are available for purchase on Nike.com.

“People don’t know they’re out there,” Lim said. “We took visitor surveys at Kent State and most people didn’t know there was a need or a market for these types of products.”

The exhibit will also include concept pieces like University of Minnesota fashion student Lexine Schumm’s dress. Adorned with copper wire and hearing aid batteries of various sizes, the dress includes a wood hearing aid prototype with silver wings attached, which was designed by Ashley Temudo at University of Brighton in the U.K.

The exhibition will also feature designs from nine CMU students. 

“This is a great opportunity for our students at CMU to look at this idea of celebrating diversity,” Mull said. “We should not try to hide what we consider a disability, but instead, celebrate our uniqueness.”

Nicole Lenz | Staff Photographer
Decorated prosthetic leg-cast as part of the (dis)ABLED BEAUTY exhibit which will be opening Feb. 8th at the University's Clarke Historical Library

Eight students embellished prosthetic limbs that were donated by Springer Prosthetic and Orthotic Services, which will be judged by five judges and viewers, with a chance to win a cash prize. The judges will choose the top three designs, which will be announced at 8 p.m. Feb. 8. 

There will also be a viewer’s choice award. Voting for viewer’s choice will be from 8 a.m. to 7:29 p.m. The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Michigan State University donated $700 to be used as prize money for the competition.

Graduate student Alexis Jones will also have her designs featured in the exhibition. She won the 2017 “Concept 2 Consumer” Merchandising Competition, which is put on by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. 

Jones’ clothing line, Moxie, was designed for children with tactile issues and sensitive skin conditions. Jones will give a brief presentation of her concept at 7:40 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium.

The grand opening of the exhibition will begin with a speech from adaptive fashion designer Heidi McKenzie, the designer behind Alter Ur Ego, which provides clothing adapted for wheelchair users. McKenzie is a wheelchair user.

The history department became involved in the exhibit by creating an oral history project for students. Every other year, Fremion teaches an oral history class to undergraduate and graduate students. This fall, she had her class interview CMU students and alumni with disabilities. The interviews were audio or video recorded and then transcribed by the students. Wall panels in the exhibit include excerpts from these interviews.

“The social justice and activist roots of (oral history) are highlighted in this project,” Fremion said. “It’s activism by giving voice to those who may have been omitted from the historical record, whether intentional or not.” 

Students compiled research materials, their transcription, and the audio or video files into portfolios which will be preserved and kept in the CMU Museum of Cultural and Natural History. The public will be able to access these portfolios by the end of the Spring 2018 semester.

Other related events this semester include a speech from Jane Hash and KT Maviglia. Hash is the founder of Classy Little Fashions, a company that designs clothing for non-standard body types. She will speak March 15. Time and place are not determined yet. Maviglia will speak at 6:30 p.m. March 21. Maviglia was crowned Miss Michigan in 2014 and was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss in the fourth grade. 

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