On the eve of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, team GB Paralympian and Ambassador of The British Polio Fellowship, Anne Wafula-Strike MBE, donned a dress with a difference. Thanks to a little help and the small matter of 3,500 train tickets courtesy of Virgin Trains, Anne is bidding to raise awareness of Polio, Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) and the access needs of wheelchair users in general.
On 17th July Anne literally put on a world first in Kensington, by wearing the first designer dress created not just for a wheelchair user, but designed to cover the entire wheelchair itself, too. The dress was designed by up and coming British Fashion designer Aleah Leigh. In addition to supplying the train tickets the dress was made of, Virgin Trains kindly allowed Anne use of the first class lounge at Euston station, to enable hair and make up to be applied prior to the big shoot in Kensington.
“We would like to give a big thank you to all the Virgin Trains staff at Euston who made us all so welcome,” said Ted Hill MBE, CEO of The British Polio Fellowship. “Arranging an event like this with such a dress is a real logistical challenge, so Virgin allowing us use of the lounge, providing refreshments for all out team was a big help and their fantastic support made the day run smoothly.”
When Virgin Trains heard about the event, they liked the idea of supporting The British Polio Fellowship in the charity’s 75th Anniversary year and thought it a timely event on the eve of the Glasgow Games, so agreed to supply the tickets to enable the dress to be created, plus the invaluable ‘behind the scenes’ support. Anne and the Virgin Trains team ultimately posed in front of the 8.30 Euston to Glasgow Express, with all in agreement that it was an incredible dress, providing a creative and unusual way of drawing attention to Polio and PPS.
“We’re delighted to support this initiative by The British Polio Fellowship to help highlight the effects of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome,” said Damien Henderson, Communications Manager, Scotland and North England for Virgin Trains. It’s a fantastic design and Anne looks fantastic in the dress.”
Conceived by cutting edge designer Aleah Leigh, the ticket dress is part of a campaign designed to help raise awareness of the late effects of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), and is believed to be the first of its kind in the world and is all part of breaking down barriers with regard to disability.
Disabled people have the same rights, dreams and aspirations as everyone else and should have the same opportunities; Anne is keen to put this mantra into practice – by wearing the latest in catwalk haute couture for the cause – just the ticket!
Anne said: “I am a big believer that disability is no bar to anything, and the greatest disability of all is in fact how some people think. Polio and PPS has not stopped me fulfilling my sporting or career ambitions and it should not stop people looking good.
“Just because you use a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy and glamorous and this designer dress is a great way to get that message across. It was a wonderful, liberating feeling to turn a few heads and challenge some misconceptions about disability, Polio and PPS along the way.” The dress took designer Aleah Leigh 21 days to produce. She was challenged to deliver a great look, with a ‘wheelchair friendly’ dress and to do this using an unusual material to promote disability and PPS in a new and positive way.
“I like to take things that people would not usually want to look at and turn them into something that they do want to look at,” said Aleah Leigh. “Making a dress out of train tickets was a challenge, but one I have thoroughly enjoyed,” said Aleah. “Anne is right, of course. People in wheelchairs can have designer dresses too.”
The intention is not that everyone should be seen necessarily wearing such creations – but to highlight the serious lack of fashion choices out there for those living with disability caused by Polio and PPS and indeed the less able community generally. While some bold innovators are striving to deliver something desirable rather than dowdy, Anne and Aleah are trailblazing for a real change in attitudes and to challenge misconceptions.
Clothing has been produced to suit every conceivable person, working environment and situation – wetsuits, climbing gear, sportswear, spacesuits, you name it – the only thing you will draw a blank on is the disabled. Has ever one group been so completely ignored? When normal clothing (especially for wheelchair users) is not always suitable, it’s time to set things right and not with just functional clothes – it’s time to put the glamour the style and the sex into disabled fashion.
As one of the 120,000 people in the UK living with Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) and an ambassador for the charity, the former Paralympian and Team GB legend Anne Wafula-Strike (just made an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours) was the perfect choice to wear a designer dress for wheelchair users. Anne has been tireless in her support of The British Polio Fellowship, its members and messages.
The British Polio Fellowship is a charity dedicated to helping, supporting and empowering those in the UK living with the late effects of Polio and PPS. For more details or information on The British Polio Fellowship, call us on 0800 043 1935, email at email@example.com or visit the website at www.britishpolio.org.uk