To coincide with Disability Awareness Day on Sunday who better than artist, designer, presenter — and may we add, the impeccably stylish — Sophie Morgan to talk about her personal experience as a wheelchair user and paraplegic. Following a car accident Sophie was paralysed from her chest down and has since gone above and beyond to challenge the preconceptions of people living with a disability. Whether it’s presenting last year’s Paralympics for Channel 4 or getting creative in her Brighton art studio, Sophie has brought her unique viewpoint and unique charm to every role. After seeing a gap in the market for mannequins that’s relate to people with a disability Sophie turned her hand to product design and launched Mannequal, producing the world’s first and only wheelchair for a mannequin. The sometime-model and relentless activist talked to us about her first Topshop memory, Disability Awareness Day and the importance of role models.
How can retailers work to be more inclusive of people with disabilities?
To start with I believe that one of the most important changes that needs to be made is a shift in how retailers value disabled people as customers. There are over eleven million disabled people in the UK, which makes up twenty percent of our population. Accordingly as a demographic we have an enormous potential spending power, which retailers should want to tap into. My dream would be for retailers to recognise that disabled people ought to be included, not only for corporate social responsibility but for good business and financial benefit. On a practical level its very important that shops are accessible, of course.
What is your first memory of Topshop?
Weirdly, I didn’t shop in Topshop until I was about nineteen. I had been in a wheelchair for about a year at that point, and was out shopping for a dress. I wandered into Topshop nervously and I not only found a dress I loved, but to my delight discovered that there was a wheelchair accessible changing room! It has been my favorite place to shop ever since.
What does Disability Awareness Day mean to you?
Disability Awareness Day (14th July) was established twenty one years ago and is Europe’s – and possibly even the World’s – largest voluntary led disability event. It promotes the idea of a ‘can do’ culture, so focuses entirely on what disabled people can do, not what they can’t. The day inspires disabled people to ‘fulfill their potential’ in work and in life, which is something I have as a bit of a mantra in my own life! It’s so important to see the opportunity in adversity, and I think D.A.D reminds us all that we can achieve anything we put our mind to.
Do you think that young people with disabilities need role models?
Absolutely! Adjusting to my life as a disabled person was made a lot harder in not having someone in my situation to which I could look to for inspiration. I didn’t have any friends in wheelchairs, so I was completely unaware of what I could expect for myself. I believe having a role model is important for every young person, but for those of us with a disability it is even more empowering. Role models show you what you’re capable of, and therefore what you can aspire to be.
How would you describe your style and what piece of clothing couldn’t you live without?
My style varies all the time! One of my friends jokingly calls me a “high street hippy”, as I love bohemian, colourful, festival clothes. Although it’s hard to tell as I’m always sat down, I’m actually pretty tall (about 5 ft 10) so I often shop in Topshop’s Tall section, and couldn’t live without the skinny black Jaime jeans – I have two pairs in case I lose one!