A woman in a wheelchair is looking into a dressing room mirror and wears clothing with tags still on them. Behind the mirror are fronts of a row of dressing rooms

Dressing Room Experience as a Wheelchair User: Tips and Personal Insights

Trying on clothes in a department store can be a daunting task for anyone, but it can be even more challenging if you use a wheelchair. As a woman with spinal muscular atrophy who has been in a wheelchair for over 30 years, I've had my fair share of dressing room situations.

I used to avoid dressing rooms

I have found myself avoiding them entirely, but I want to challenge myself (and others if you’re in the same boat) not to shy away from them if it’s something you want to do! In this blog post, I will share some tips that have worked for me and my experiences in navigating the dressing room as a wheelchair user.

Ask for a handicapped-accessible large dressing room

Find a spacious dressing room: The first and most important thing to consider when trying on clothes in a department store is the size of the dressing room. It's crucial to find a room that is spacious enough to accommodate your wheelchair and has enough room for you to move around comfortably.

In my experience, the handicap stalls, like in restrooms, should be reserved for people with disabilities. People in wheelchairs should have first priority or larger stalls. Some stores may even have designated wheelchair-accessible fitting rooms, so be sure to ask a store employee for assistance.

Look for a bench or platform: Another thing to consider is the availability of a bench or platform in the dressing room. If you need to change your pants or anything on the lower half, having a bench to lay on can be very helpful. In some cases, you may need to bring in a chair or ask the store employees to provide one. I have found that many stores are accommodating and are willing to help in any way they can.

Bring a portable bench

Additionally, consider investing in a portable bench or cushion that can be easily stored in your wheelchair and brought with you for situations like this.

Bring someone to assist you

Ask for the help you need: Trying on clothes in a store is non-existent for me if I don’t have someone to accompany and help me. My husband is usually the one who does this for me. And yes, it can definitely raise a few eyebrows when he accompanies me into the women's dressing room. I'll admit, it is a bit awkward. I can usually see the looks on some of the other shoppers' faces as we enter a fitting room together, and I wondered what they are thinking. Are they judging us? Are they uncomfortable with the idea of a man being in the women's dressing room? I’m sure the amount of assumptions about what was happening in that room was plenty. But as it turns out, most people are pretty understanding once they realize the situation.

We always ask for permission before entering the dressing room. Most of the time, people are more concerned with their own shopping than with what we're doing.

Be patient. Shopping can be difficult

Be patient and kind to yourself: It's important to remember that shopping can be a difficult experience for anyone, and it may take some time to find the right clothes that make you feel confident and comfortable. Be patient with yourself and don't get discouraged if you don't find the perfect outfit right away. Remember, it's okay to ask for help and make use of the resources available to you.

Ask for help and advocate

Advocate for accessibility: If you encounter a store with dressing rooms that are not accessible or accommodating to your needs, consider speaking with the store manager or contacting the corporate office. Sharing your experience can help bring awareness to the issue and potentially lead to improvements in the future.

In my experience, the key is to be open and honest about your needs and to ask for the help you need. While it may seem uncomfortable or awkward at first, it's important to remember that your comfort and independence are worth it. And who knows, maybe your experience will inspire others.

So if you’re feeling brave and optimistic about finding that new outfit! Go for it!

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