THE INNOVATIVE EDGE
Ranil Vitarana and Muditha Ferdinando emphasise the need to rethink, rewrite and reshape the narrative around persons with disabilities
Almost 9 percent of people in Sri Lanka live with some form of disability. But they are often under the shadow of the dark umbrella of wrongful and discriminative terminology that prevents them from leading their lives the way they would like.
Disabilities can vary from physically visible disabilities such as the loss or malfunctioning of a body part to invisible disabilities that impact a person’s cognitive or emotive state. Wrongful terminology such as invalid, crippled, special, differently-abled, handicapped, impaired etc. not only discriminates against these individuals but also creates social boundaries, taboos and myths that limit their capacity.
“Changing the terminology around disabilities and shifting the narrative to empower disability and diversity, and ensure inclusivity, is crucial,” says CEO of Twinery – Innovations by MAS Ranil Vitarana. He adds that “Sri Lanka needs to be a change maker.”
According to the UN, the correct terminology is ‘persons with disabilities.’
CEO of Linea Aqua Muditha Ferdinando explains: “What happens is that society, due to a lack of awareness, education and a fear of the unknown, decides the narrative. And more often than not, it’s the wrong one.” He says: “Sri Lanka needs to go through an unlearning curve. It’s a long journey but it begins with understanding and setting the right narrative, and breaking cultural and social taboos.”
Taking the example of countries such as Sweden where the employment rate among persons with disabilities was 67 percent in 2020, Vitarana notes: “We need to progress to a higher level as a society. To do this, we need to start understanding the narrative of where we are at, and then, we must unlearn to help us undo the prevailing wrongs.”
He says that it is vital for individuals, organisations, the government and society to work towards getting persons with disabilities exposed to education, employment and empowerment.
Vitarana adds that many large brands haven’t focussed on inclusivity when they go to market, and says that inclusivity can be brought into every product without having an impact on how it does its job. “It’s important for us to drive and help the industry empower customers by bringing in inclusivity,” he says.
Ferdinando shared his views on the need to start this journey and take the first step, in every field and sector.
He explains: “In apparel, it’s about combining manufacturing and innovation to create clothes that go beyond the norm. If we take the example of older adults or persons with a physical disability, they may find it difficult to wear clothes that are typically designed for those without a disability. Or perhaps clothes that fit someone who can stand won’t fit a person in a wheelchair.”
And adds: “So we need to push the industry towards innovations such as ‘easy on and off’ techniques, which can be used for any garment from sports bras to pants, to accommodate persons with disabilities and others too.”
Vitarana emphasises the need to take the first step locally and says: “We are very committed to changing the narrative surrounding disability in Sri Lanka because the journey starts here. We must come together to create new avenues to initiate better and more powerful conversations beginning with the right narrative and terminology.”
– Compiled by Ruwandi Perera
Armed with the clout of over 100,000 people, MAS is passionate and geared to change the narrative around persons with disabilities. Positioned as change makers who push boundaries and reinvent fashion, the company has developed its pillar of adaptive clothing, which was launched last year with the unveiling of Lable>.
“With Lable>, we want to be the go to adaptive manufacturer in the world, and it starts with changing the narrative in Sri Lanka,” says Ranil Vitarana. Starting with simple steps such as moving beyond ‘Small, Medium and Large’ sizes to adopting ‘Standing and Seated’ as measurements for clothing fits, Lable> now offers easy on and off garments across intimate wear, swimwear, activewear and loungewear for customers.
The brand and the team behind Lable> are dedicated to breaking boundaries and elevating the environment around disability, locally and globally. This urge and passion are engraved in the brand, starting with its name, which is spelt ‘Lable’ instead of ‘Label’ to signify the shedding of old and unkind tags surrounding disability.
“MAS has always been an equal opportunity provider, employing over 400 persons with disabilities,” says Muditha Ferdinando. He explains how the 35-year-old company is rethinking and reinvesting, to become inclusive and empower all diversity, starting from factory floors to apparel designs. “We are committed to reinvesting because changing the narrative starts within,” he adds.
“Changing the terminology around disabilities and shifting the narrative to empower disability and diversity, and ensure inclusivity, is crucial”
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