Research Project (II):
Fashion for deafblind people

fashion experience / deafblind people / sensory engagement / co-creation / inclusive design


Research Project (II) was developed in partnership with Sense, the UK charity for the deafblind under SKIP – an AHRC-funded collaborative skills development programme for researchers in design practice.

The challenge

Sense had an interest in extending the experiential awareness of their user group – people with visual and auditory impairment who want to go shopping for clothes, but are currently excluded from the high street fashion market.  The researcher approached Sense with a view to employing the T-shirt as a probe to study the potential experience of fashion by deafblind people.

The proposition referenced the compensation theory of sensory impairment (Lahtinen, Palmer and Ojala, 2012), which postulated that the loss, or severe damage, of hearing and sight would lead to an enhanced role of touch and tactile memory.  From this the researcher extrapolated that the enhanced sense of touch developed by this user group could form the basis of a more sensitive engagement with fabrics, and clothing, and inadvertently fashion in this user group.

While there has been research in the areas of multisensory environments for people with sensory and / or cognitive disabilities, and the role of art for personal development and wellbeing (Thiele and Marsden, 2003; Vogelpoel and Gattenhoff, 2012), the literature demonstrates little consideration of fashion as a potential medium aimed at enabling deafblind people in the areas of personal development and engagement, including:

  • Learn new skills;
  • Rebuild confidence;
  • Communicate with others and make friends;
  • Communicate to others and change people’s attitudes;
  • Live full and active lives.

Research in Practice:
‘Sense in Textiles’ workshop

‘Sense in Textiles’ was a participatory workshop designed to study how deafblind people may be enabled to engage in a fashion experience by:

  1. Exploring a range of materials for clothing;
  2. Engaging in the design and making of a T-shirt to best express personal aspects of participants, e.g. individual characteristics, feelings, personal meaning, and “making sense of the world”.

Location:  Sense’s Anne Wall Community Resource Centre (AWC), London (currently TouchBase South East)

Participants:  6 deafblind participants (5 female / 1 male) with varying degrees of visual and auditory impairment, recruited from the Community Centre

Communication guides:  6 members of the support staff at the AWC were allocated to the participants individually in order to:

  • Facilitate the communication between the participants and the researcher;
  • Support participants in executing workshop activities;
  • Ensure the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of the participants during the study.

Research findings

In this case the T-probe was used as a centrepiece to the project.  In this study each T-shirt provided insights into:

  • The creative processes and levels of engagement expressed by deafblind participants;
  • The type of participant engagement, e.g. artistic creativity, personal self-expression and sensory engagement.

The findings suggest that the deafblind community may benefit and gain pleasure from a fully considered type of fashion experience.  This invites deliberation by designers and other stakeholders, e.g. scientists and commercial brands, to consider research and development of methodologies, designs, products, and services for user groups such as this one.


Project Supervision: Prof Jane Harris (DoS), Dr Paul Micklethwaite
Partnering Institutions: Sense (UK)
Funding: Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) Kingston University London, SKIP (AHRC)

Lahtinen, R., Palmer, R. and Ojala, S. (2012) ‘Visual art experiences through touch using haptices’, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, (45), pp.268-276.
Sense (2013) Sense in Textiles – A fashion show by deafblind people. Available at: (Accessed: 3/22 2014).
Thiele, M. and Marsden, S. (2003) Engaging Art: The Artful Dodgers Studio. Richmond Victoria: Jesuit Social Services.
Vogelpoel, N. and Gattenhoff, S. (2012) ‘Arts-Health intersections: A model of practice for consistency in the arts-health sector’, Journal of Applied Arts & Health, 3 (3), pp. 259-274.

Deafblind workshop participant feeling the textures on a fabric
Workshop participant feeling the textures on a fabric
Deafblind workshop participant exploring textiles through their feet
Workshop participant exploring textiles through her feet
Deafblind participant engaging with her T-shirt design
Workshop participant engaging with her T-shirt design
Workshop participant painting their T-shirt with textile crayons
Workshop participant painting her T-shirt with textile crayons
The T-shirt designs created by the deafblind participant group
The T-shirt designs created by the deafblind participant group


John Kirkham, Sense’s Activity Co-ordinator, said:

“This fashion project enabled the deafblind people involved to take charge of their wardrobes – possibly for the very first time. It gave them 100% say in what they were creating and allowed them to make something that they can wear not only because they want to, but also because they are proud to.”

(Sense, 2013)
Click here for a press release by Sense