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Can Kohl’s Dress Oprah’s New Wheelchair Travel Star?

September 1 2011 | by

Zach Anner and a backdrop for his new TV Show "Rollin' Around the World with Zach Anner"

Recently, on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), the Queen of talk shows crowned not one, but two winners in her reality-show competition, “Your Own TV Show.” The winners are Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco and Zach Anner.

Anner is a comedian and writer who has cerebral palsy, a condition involving the brain and nervous system.. His show, “Rollin’ Around the World with Zach Anner,” which will premiere this summer, will be a game-changer in the fight for equality among people with disabilities. Having lived with cerebral palsy for his whole life, the 26-year-old Anner, who uses a power wheelchair for mobility, will focus his show on how he manages unexpected challenges when traveling.

Sparse selections for wheelchair users
As part of their prize, Kuzmic-Crocco and Anner each received $100,00 from Kohl’s, which sponsored the contest.

I’m hoping that this “prize” will bring attention to the plight of fashion consumers with disabilities. While Kuzmic-Crocco, who is not disabled, can shop to her heart’s delight on a new wardrobe for her show if she wants, Anner is not so lucky.

Currently, there are no department stores or popular retailers that make fashion for the seated figure. While Anner can still shop at Kohl’s, the clothes he purchases will have been made for a standing figure, and will need to be altered. For Anner, without proper alterations his suit and tie can look messy. Pants can look as if they are sliding off of his body. His suit jacket can overwhelm his frame. The length of his button-down shirts can be too long, and the buttons might not center on his chest.

It’s exasperating that designers make clothing for dogs, but there’s nothing out there for Anner and others who happen to use wheelchairs for mobility.

Riding the Oprah Effect
To Kohl’s credit, until a few years ago, some stores featured mannequins in wheelchairs. Kudos to Kohl’s for being visionaries! This begs the question: Will Kohl’s be the first store to carry a line of clothing designed for the seated figure? I think that would be a great idea, and why not? Fashion experts for the seated figure, including me, can give Kohl’s some great ideas.

The best part about Anner winning his own show hopefully will be what’s known as the Oprah Effect. Whatever Oprah likes seems to become instantly popular. By acknowledging Anner’s immense talent and potential for success, Oprah is helping to put old stereotypes to bed. It was only 39 years ago that the Ugly Law, passed in several states, made it illegal for persons with unsightly disabilities to be seen in public. (Check out the 2007 movie “Music Within,” where The Ugly Law is put into action.)

With the Oprah Effect, it may mean that, as “Disability Is Natural” author Kathie Snow says, “People with disabilities are people first.” It may mean that Anner will inspire designers and retailers to watch his show and begin to see him as a legitimate fashion consumer, one who should be marketed to like everyone else.

I’m grateful that we’ll soon see a funny, smart and talented person living with cerebral palsy travel the world and share exciting travel stories with us each week on the OWN network. “Rollin’ Around the World” is creating a new normal in show business, is debunking stereotypes about people with disabilities, and perhaps will encourage more companies, including Kohl’s, to take a closer look at this community’s wants and needs — like pants that fit.

Related article: Fashion That Caters To Seated Clientele

Related article: Proud to Be Token Wheelchair Girl

Related article: Sizing Up Disability In The Media

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