Saturday, July 24

Rediscovering the joys of looking good again

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I LIKE to look good. Yes, there is a vain man hidden inside me somewhere.

I feel that I should be presentable doing the things that I am doing now, especially when conducting workshops and giving presentations at conferences.

A sloppily dressed speaker certainly would not come across as confident and convincing to the audience no matter what.

After all, Shakespeare did give sound advice on this matter in ‘Hamlet’ when he wrote: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

Buying nice clothes that fit may be a simple task for many but it is a challenge for me. I am lanky.

My limbs are long. Most ready-to-wear clothes do not fit me one way or another, especially long-sleeved shirts.

Those that are well-fitting at the shoulders have cuffs that end short before the wrists, making it appear like they were a couple of sizes too small.

On the other hand, I am unwilling to pay premium prices for tailor-made ones. That is the why I stopped wearing long-sleeved shirts a while ago.

Having said that, the words ‘fashionable’ and ‘wheelchair user’ also do not go hand in hand for a number of other reasons.

There was a time when I was using an external catheter and a urine bag.

I had to wear baggy pants to ensure that the catheter or urine bag tube did not get kinked every time I went out.

The catheter leaked often anyway, soaking my pants and leaving me reeking of the unmistakeable odour.

Those were utterly embarrassing episodes.

I only went out when it was absolutely necessary, until I discovered adult diapers.

That coupled with intermittent catheterisation where I empty my bladder every few hours keep me dry throughout the day.

The feeling of not having to carry a urine bag with me wherever I go and the thought of not having to wear pants that make me look like a rag doll is psychologically liberating to say the least.

But the real issue for me when shopping for clothes was the lack of accessible fitting rooms in stores.

The rooms that were available were mostly tiny cubicles with insufficient space to accommodate even a single wheelchair.

For shirts, I would just quickly try them on where I found them in full view of other shoppers.

Some privacy to check if they really fitted me would have been nice.

I still do get gawked at occasionally for doing that but I have outgrown the embarrassment after all these years.

As for trousers, I would buy one and try it at home. If it fit, I would get more of the same. One thing about being seated all the time is that the pants tend to hike up the legs, gather at the crotch and create an unsightly bulge.

The right fabric and cutting can prevent that.

That is why I have stuck with one brand of pants for the past 10 years.

The fabrics, cutting and styles of this particular brand are consistent with my taste.

I have been gradually replacing all the baggy and ill-fitting trousers in my wardrobe with them.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for female wheelchair users when they need to try out blouses, dresses and skirts.

We surely cannot expect them to throw their modesty to the wind like I do when buying shirts. It is disappointing to note that most clothing stores prefer to maximise floor space for their merchandise rather than accommodate the needs of a segment of their customers who require larger fitting rooms.

Recently, while my wife and I were out shopping, she received an SMS informing her that a relative from her hometown had passed away. We decided to make the two-hour journey there to attend the wake on the same day.

As I was improperly attired for a solemn occasion, we went hunting for a white shirt at a large clothing chain store. I found one in long sleeves that I liked and at a price that was reasonable.

We took the shirt and went looking for a fitting room as I wanted to be sure that the sleeves were long enough. To our surprise and delight, they have a room that is large enough to accommodate us both and has manoeuvrable space to spare.

And the best of it all was that the shirt fitted me to a T. Needless to say, I will be visiting this store again should I need new clothes.

My wife later discovered that another international clothing chain also has not one but two similar fitting rooms in one of their stores.

It looks like these newer chain stores that are aggressively opening up in the major cities are rising up to the demand of making their stores inclusive to the diverse needs of their customers.

Such accessible facilities do not only benefit disabled people. They are also convenient for parents with prams and senior citizens with mobility issues.

I could not find specific information pertaining to the suggested dimensions for fitting rooms, or for that matter, making retail establishments accessible, in the Malaysian code of practice on access for disabled persons to public buildings.

There are however a wealth of guidelines on this subject as required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) available on the Internet.

The basic principles to make these establishments accessible are to ensure that all customers are accorded equal access to services and facilities as far as possible.

These include unimpeded pathways, amenities that are functional to people with differing needs, clear and appropriate signage, and staff that are properly trained to handle each and every customer with respect and dignity.

Businesses are becoming aware that disabled people have families that are potential customers too.

It therefore makes good business sense to provide accessibility in their establishments to tap into this segment and maintain them as loyal customers.

Buying clothes used to be a tedious affair.

I have almost forgotten how fun it can be to try them in front of a full length mirror.

With this recent discovery of accessible fitting rooms, I can foresee that the next time I step into one of these stores it will be enjoyable.

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