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Finding shoes that work on my feet is a trial, for several reasons. Muscular Dystrophy makes my ankles contract and curve inward; this shape also makes my ankle bone protrude, leaving the sides of my feet extremely sensitive. And because they arch so heavily, they’re smaller than average, meaning I wear child-size shoes. Imagine me, age 33, trying to find sandals in the kid’s section that aren’t bedazzled with Frozen characters or excessive bows. But that isn’t the only trouble; my sensitivity issues mean I can’t slide my foot into most shoes – so sneakers and boots are out, and anything with a heel is impossible.

If a shoe is pliable, like the canvas on Converse high-tops, I can usually wiggle my feet in there. But as my disability continues to change my body, even that is getting difficult. Right now, I’m mostly stuck with slippers and ballet flats; that works for lounging around the house, but sometimes I want to be more fashionable. Or if it’s 95 degrees outside, I want to let my toes breathe with sandals.

Nike’s Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease, made to be accessible

The fashion industry rarely considers disabled people, and when they do, it’s often for a short period to prove how “forward-thinking” their brand is. Or designers will make a line of accessible footwear, but charge exorbitant amounts of cash to rock the look. Society tells us disabled people aren’t meant to be stylish by pricing us out of the designs intended to work for us, or by leaving us out of the fashion industry altogether.

But this isn’t just an issue of fashion – it’s one of necessity and comfort. People need to wear shoes or something to cover their feet as they walk, sit, and go out into the world. In winter, I wear extra-duty slippers and socks, and insert hand-warmers in between the fabric; traditional snow boots are too cumbersome.

Growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer, and would sketch out looks that I knew would be accessible to me – shoes I could wear over my braces, shoes with delicate straps that mirrored the curvature of my ankle. As I child, I didn’t think my designs were realistic or something that was needed, but I had fun with it. As an adult, I realize how important those sketches were to my identity as a disabled girl; back then, I brought accessible fashion into existence through pencil drawings and crayons. Why can’t shoe designers, whether they are disabled or abled, do that now?

What disabled people need is accessible, affordable, everyday wear. We need soft, stretchy shoes in a variety of styles. We need to see shoes for us on all the major websites and stores, alleviating us from having to dig and dig and return items because of course they don’t fit. We need sandals with velcro that aren’t hideous, soft materials on sneakers, and boots that zip all the way down to make putting them on pulling them off easier.

A woman with short hair, a striped shirt, jeans, and pink slippers. She sits in a wheelchair. Behind her is a lake with boats on it.
Donna showing off her pink slippers

My friend Donna, who also has Muscular Dystrophy, shares her similar shoe woes:

“I’ve always had a hard time finding shoes that will fit my feet, sometimes having to buy two pairs of the same shoes in different sizes. As my feet continue to change along with my disease, it’s become nearly impossible to find any shoes at all; I either can’t get my feet into the shoes, or they slide off my feet altogether. In the past couple of years, I’ve given up and just wear slippers whenever possible.”

But we shouldn’t have to give up. Finding shoes that work for us shouldn’t have to feel like a victory – it should feel normal. Recently, I discovered Hot Chocolate, a shoe brand made of soft fabric, with cute, unique designs for adults and children – they’re pictured in the header image. I was ecstatic to find how easy they were to get on, and they look adorable; they’re a little pricey for what you get, but I tend to keep shoes around for a long time, so it was worth it. These triumphs in inclusive design must be the norm.

Shoe shopping is a lot like going to the movies for disabled people; when we see an actual disabled person on screen, we are surprised and overjoyed for even just that small recognition that we exist. When we find shoes that fit us, it’s that same feeling of inclusivity. I want society to recognize us all the time, though. I want representation to be mundane. I want shoes for crips in all shapes and sizes and patterns and styles.

So how about you? Do you struggle to find shoes? What are your access needs? Let me know in the comments!  

19 thoughts on “My Gimpy Feet: The Quest to Find Accessible Shoes

  1. I too wear children sized shoes. My feet are two different sizes. A 4w and a 13 1/2w. The small foot looks like a swim fin. Since I have very little ankle movement, I just ace it tighter and wear a pair of 4w. Recently a website touted that it was adding disabled clothing line. They offered shoes at a reasonable price. I found a pair and started to order it but could not find anything that told me how wide they were. I contacted the customer service department and asked how wide they came. I received instructions on how to chose the size from the size chart which doesn’t list the width. I then explaned to the customer service rep what I needed. They sent me a so chart locatd on Payless shoes website! Needless to say I not ordering from them! For shoes try Cinderella of Boston. They make women’s shoes on a chilled last.

  2. Yes!!!! Help!!! I have to wear an AFO because I have Drop Foot on one side, stemming from a back injury. I am a teacher, I am young, and I want cute fun shoes!!!! I wear Algeria’s, but they tend to rip out the back and I need wide! I wonder if your shoes would work???

  3. Love your post and that you were able to find some shoes that are comfortable and make you feel fashionable but not at the expense of your feet. Style is important for many people so it’s awesome you’ve found this brand that doesn’t make you feel like you’re compromising style for your comfort. I’ve had several surgeries on my feet and have had difficulties finding shoes for years that are comfy and let me still feel like me. I will have to give this brand a try! Thank you and best wishes for your health.

  4. I have bunions and fibromyalgia, as well as plantar fasciitis so finding shoes that don’t make my feet hurt more is pretty much impossible.

  5. I have mild cerebral palsy and my feet are almost an entire size different from each other. The way I walk makes it impossible to keep slip on shoes on my left foot and because of ankle weakness on my left side, heels more than two inches are not an option. I prefer shoes that can secure to my ankle to avoid slipping, but they’re hard to find. My feet are also quite wide in the front, adding to the frustration of buying shoes. I can’t wear most ballet flats because they hurt my pinkie toes and don’t stay on my feet. I have found that sanuk yoga sandals work well, as they are soft and ate able to wrap comfortably around my ankle and Bob’s by sketchers work well for colder weather, as they are wide and don’t slip off my heel too much. It’s always been a struggle to find shoes that fit without having to doctor the left one to accommodate for my right foot. Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. Just a thought. At one time I had a shoe insert made. It fit into my size 4W shoe but the inside was molded to my 13w foot. Would doing that help anyone. My inserts lasted about a year with wearing them everyday. I got them through a doctor and doing so the insurance company paid for them.

  7. My daughter has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair and wears AFOs. She owns two pair of shoes for the AFOs- white tennis shoes she wears almost every day and black slip-ons that are getting old. She has different sizes when she doesn’t wear AFOs and has swim shoes and sandals though her toes usually slip out of sandals because the top of her feet are so high. I am going to show her this article.

  8. My 11 year old son has hyperflexibility in his ankles and a flexible flat foot. He has orthopedic inserts as well. We spent all afternoon looking for sneakers for him and couldn’t find anything. He desperately wanted orange sneakers or a pair of converse. Every pair that was wide enough had a shallow to box that was too tight in his toes. It’s so frustrating! He has ONE pair of shoes that fit properly. Ugh!!

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