opinion

'I'm the woman at the centre of the Australian Fashion Week controversy. Here's what I want you to know.'

After closing the finale at AfterPay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) last Friday, a fashion journalist came rushing over to me backstage and asked, wide-eyed and breathless, how I felt about ‘the incident’.

I think she expected me to be hiding in shame somewhere and sobbing uncontrollably as I rocked back and forth reliving the seconds.

If you missed it, here’s a recap. I was the final model for the 2021 show and on my way back down the runway, some of the decorative fluff (kinda like shredded paper) got stuck in the small caster wheels at the front of my wheelchair which prevented me from moving forward as freely as I would have liked.

Designer, Camilla Franks, as in THE CAMILLA Camilla, leapt from her seat and gave me a push down the last several meters of the runway. I was most appreciative and it was fitting since I was wearing one of her gorgeous designs.

So following this very public spectacle, was I sad or embarrassed? No way! 

Instead, I couldn’t stop beaming.

Yes, there was a very obvious mistake but nothing’s perfect – even if my outfit was.

It honestly didn’t faze me because these unexpected things happen ALL. THE. TIME, and on a normal day, my internal monologue usually goes something like this:

“Oh bugger my wheels are stuck. Ah sh*t, oh well, worse things happen. Hang on… Oh sweet, I’m moving again. All good! I need a coffee.”

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When I got my wheels stuck on the runway at AAFW, my internal monologue went something like this:

“Oh bugger my wheels are stuck. Ah sh*t, oh well, worse things happen. Hang on, Camilla’s coming over. What a legend. She looks hot in that jumpsuit. Oh sweet, I’m moving again. All good! I need a champagne.”

My point is, like many wheelchair users, I get my wheels caught in or on things almost daily. It's just that usually there's not a crowd of hundreds and national media watching. Nor is there a hot blonde designer in a black leather jumpsuit to swoop in and wheel me out of the situation!

While some less reputable publications went where they could get a quick misinformed quote from someone who wasn’t actually there, Mamamia did something unthinkable and truly ground-breaking by approaching me, the woman who was physically present. I know – unbelievable, right?!

On Saturday morning, the day after 'papergate', I awoke to find that a vile little part of the internet had, as it sometimes does, lost its tiny mind.

But as we all know, sadly, that happens sometimes and this particular time I couldn’t have given a flying duck.

Was I upset? Not in the least. Mind you, I do admit to laughing very hard at one particularly misinformed article that sent coffee flying over the expensive hotel bed linen. It was a waste of perfectly good coffee for which I’ll never forgive the author and their ‘source’.

For some context, I totally geek out when it comes to the way disability is represented in mainstream popular culture – like media, social media and big industries that shape social attitudes and public perceptions like advertising, marketing, fashion and more. It’s totally my jam so I took particular interest in the way papergate was covered and being spoken about.

Mia Freedman chats to Vanessa Cranfield about parenting a child with a disability on No Filter. Post continues below. 

Here’s what piqued my interest.

Fashion publications who have never once included disability in their content suddenly found a reason to dedicate page space to papergate. If only they’d thought to highlight one of Australia’s incredible inclusive designers in the years prior.

Gossip and entertainment sites who have never spoken about disability previously (and probably never will again) were suddenly all righteous about disability access.  

Online publications who wouldn’t usually give disability issues a second thought were suddenly dedicating entire articles to it.

Podcasts who’ve previously dedicated little or no time to disability related content suddenly carved out time. 

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Influencers (I use that word with caution and scepticism) who had never posted about disability before (and probably never will again) were suddenly posting about it.

Hashtag, righteous.

It shouldn’t take a mistake like this to get people talking about accessibility and other important issues affecting a huge portion of our population.

Faux activism, in an attempt to look socially aware, is transparent and offensive. Unlike this Fashion Week story, disability affects people's lives daily, and the countless other hardships facing the disability community will not be going away at the end of the season.

When it comes to people who are genuinely invested in disability issues, Camilla Franks comes straight to mind. I’m used to seeing rubbish online and always ignore it but when I saw people pile on Camilla, that was the final straw.

Bullying is not ok. Ever. 

The producers of the runway, IMG FOCUS, have since taken full responsibility for staging a runway show that didn't adequately accommodate the needs of all participants. 

Image: Instagram, @IMGFOCUS

But ultimately this is a reminder: Disability should be seamlessly and incidentally included throughout all our popular culture - not just when something goes wrong at Fashion Week.

Feature image: Lisa Cox, Getty.