July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and today we are excited to feature Alexa Jovanovic, founder of Aille Design!
By Alexa Jovanovic, Founder of Aille Design
Braille is much more than a communication tool. It enables freedom of expression, provides independence and increases literacy. When combined with mainstream fashion, it symbolizes the importance of inclusive representation in the fashion industry and empowers communities to advocate for social justice.
I first began my research on Braille and inclusive design while studying Fashion at Ryerson University. During this time I interviewed local individuals with visual impairments who helped evolve my research findings into a Braille fashion clothing brand called Aille Design (pronounced: i / eye).
At Aille Design we make Braille beaded clothing with a social purpose. We work alongside individuals with disabilities to create fashion-forward clothing with tactile Braille beading that communicates different clothing characteristics, such as colour, textile, wash instructions, and fit. Through touch, the Braille reader is able to identify the clothing and can do so without assistive technology or help from someone sighted. Our intricately beaded garments are inclusive, fully legible for Braille readers, destigmatize disability and are a medium for educating society about the importance of accessibility.
Research from Braille education specialists, Dr. Susan J. Spungin and Dr. Frances Mary D’Andrea, indicates that fear of looking blind affects some individuals with blindness when deciding whether or not to learn Braille. This is known as “The Braille Problem,” and it is a direct result of the negative attitudes and stereotypes that society has about individuals living with blindness. To reduce social barriers, Braille needs to be exposed to more non-Braille readers. Increasing the familiarity of Braille and raising awareness of its benefits helps to build community understanding and adoption.
By incorporating Swarovski Crystals into Braille beading on our products, Aille Design can change the way people think about disability and instead market Braille as a fashionable design element that appeals to diverse consumer groups of sighted and non-sighted individuals.
During our co-design sessions with the blind and visually impaired community, we discuss the legibility and placement of the Braille beading, different clothing styles and the types of information and phrases to be included in Braille. It was during these co-design sessions that we discovered the functional value in creating garments with Braille beading that describe clothing characteristics. We also discovered the desire to create separate garments with motivational messages, such as our black t-shirt design with white Swarovski Crystal Braille beading that reads, “fashion is for everyone.”
With the sighted community, we discuss garment aesthetics to ensure our designs are fashion-forward and appeal to a larger fashion community that is socially-conscious. We also discuss Aille Design’s ability to change perception towards blindness and disability and how Braille beading can be incorporated into mainstream fashion. The white t-shirt is a wardrobe staple that is incredibly versatile and has been adopted by diverse consumer groups. It was during a co-design session that we discovered the value in upgrading this classic piece to create our own inclusive version of it. Our white t-shirt design has the cheeky phrase “my plain white t” in white Swarovski Crystal Braille beading.
While visual design remains secondary to functionality, its use in Aille Design products is vital when promoting Braille beading as fashionable in addition to functional. Since universally designed products are not intended for one specific target market, but for a diverse group of individuals, accessibility and inclusion can be expanded by identifying how the design can be used differently in a variety of situations and environments depending on the specific needs of its user. At Aille Design, we challenge the meaning of functionality by focusing on the decorative characteristics of Braille as a visual design for the sighted, in addition to its ability to function as an extension of self-identity and to encourage social responsibility.
My philosophy at Aille Design is “good design shouldn’t exclude anyone,” which is why we work directly with blind, visually impaired and sighted communities every step of the way to ensure our products appeal to a wide audience. To sighted consumers, Braille beading is inspiring, and its visual presence encourages action towards social inclusion. To blind and visually impaired consumers, our products enable them to be bold and take control of their own wardrobe. As we move forward with the help of industry leaders and support from blind and visually impaired communities, Aille Design can cater to a whole new market of fashion lovers and together, we can help eliminate stigmas surrounding Braille use and blindness.
Aille Design is built on community feedback and engagement, and we’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to reach out with any questions, suggestions, collaborations, or just to say hi. We’re on Instagram @ailledesign with the hashtag #BrailleFashion and on Facebook @ailledesign. Our Braille beaded t-shirts are available for purchase at ailledesign.com and we can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.