Sarah Reinertsen. Pic courtesy of the BBC.
It looks like name brands are learning what we’ve known for a long time: Paralympians are a cool, cool bunch. Nike, for example, is looking to turn this cache into cash with its sponsorship of Sarah Reinertsen, an American runner with a leg amputation. Amputee road runners typically cut the soles off of regular shoes and adhere them to their prostheses, but Reinertsen to develop a specially-designed running sole that she can clip onto her blade. It even sports the swoosh:
It’s great to see the needs and wants of people with disabilities being taken seriously by one of the world’s most recognizable brands. But experts are skeptical about any real innovation coming from the sportswear giant. “Young amputees, such as soldiers who have been injured in Afghanistan, are aspirational. Fashion is important to them because of their age,” Saeed Zahedi, visiting professor in prosthetics at the University of Surrey, told the BBC. “Companies will do anything to increase their sales but these are medical devices. I’m sceptical about using fashion and branding to sell prosthetics unless there’s clinical evidence to back it up.”
Others in the disability community worry about corporations using them to appear charitable or benevolent. Adventure sports enthusiast and double amputee Kimberly Barrenda points out that people with disabilities spend $770 billion every year and says, “I wish companies would turn down the glow of the self-manufactured halo and just admit they have discovered a ridiculously huge untapped market, and they would love a piece of it.”
All valid points, but between this and Oscar Pistorius being voted South Africa’s sexiest celebrity, it’s still nice to see our imagination of what is attractive, cool, and chic expanding to include people with disabilities.