Accessibility in Fashion: Runway of Dreams Continues to Bring Adaptive Clothing to One of Fashion’s Biggest Weeks

Photo courtesy of Dustin Giannelli.

09/06/2023 By Nia Harmon

On September 13th, The Runway of Dreams Foundation will host its 7th show at New York Fashion Week. Founded in 2014 by former member of INC Collection design team and stylist for Saks Fifth Avenue, Mindy Scheier, the organization hosts fashion shows with clothing brand’s adaptive clothing lines. 

Dedicated to spreading awareness and education on accessibility for people who are disabled, the nonprofit also has scholarship programs, hosts programming throughout the year, and has clubs on college campuses.

Modeling in this year’s show, Dustin Giannelli works across the New England region providing education on and advocacy for people who are hard of hearing.

Diagnosed with moderately-severe hearing loss at age five, Giannelli had wise counsel from a close family member who helped shape his outlook on life. 

“My grandfather, who was a double amputee, instilled this positive mental attitude and the ability to accommodate for yourself in me at a very young age,” Giannelli said. “So, when I was diagnosed, hearing aids were always just something that helped me hear just like glasses help you see. It was normal and I got acquainted to them very early in my age.” 

Through his childhood into adolescence, Giannelli had a consistent support system led by his parents and older brother that helped him receive accommodations at school. 

When entering his freshman year of college at The University of New Hampshire, Giannelli found himself having to relearn his motto to “be on offense”. He struggled to navigate how to adapt to a new environment without the familiarity of his educational experience back home. 

“I started off college just so overwhelmed, but excited to be part of this new community,” Giannelli said. “Next thing you know, I’m feeling overwhelmed to the point that I feel like I can’t do it. I got into this mental state of ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it’, and I drove myself into a confusion-depression.”

After visiting his university’s student accessibility office and having a close friend become his notetaker, Giannelli began feeling more comfortable navigating his academic journey.

“It reminded me how much support I have and how easy it should be for a new college student to ask for help, but not everybody realizes that,” Giannelli said. “As a former college student, I know what it’s like for those students today to feel uncertain, to feel a bit lost, but there’s a ton of resources out there.” 

Since graduating from The University of New Hampshire, Giannelli has partnered with notable organizations, companies, and higher education institutions-including Princeton University, Peloton, and Lululemon-in leading conversations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. 

At this year’s show, Giannelli and other Runway of Dreams models will showcase adaptive clothing with pieces from nine mainstream clothing brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden, Kohl’s, and Victoria Secret’s and PINK’s first line of Adaptive intimates. 

“Being part of the Runway of Dreams is just going to be an amazing feeling and experience. At the end of the day, people with disabilities are people first,” Giannelli said. “What that really means is we’re looking out for each other to help give us all the best experience possible, no matter what we’re doing.” 

For Runway of Dreams, promoting inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities and their caregivers at every stage of life is at the forefront of their mission. This relationship is showcased on the runway, as both people with disabilities and their caregivers model these lines. 

“To know that these brands are creating new departments and teams and finding expertise around adaptive clothing, it gives us that sense of overwhelming inclusion and belonging because they’re thinking of us when they create their new line of clothing,” Giannelli said.  “They’re going above and beyond to learn from us and listen to us. That means a lot.” 

The show will be available for viewing on the Runway of Dreams YouTube Channel on Wednesday, September 13th at 7:00 p.m. EST. 

This story has been updated since its original post.