The Met Gala isn't wheelchair accessible; a new activist campaign pressures Anna Wintour, Zendaya to reimagine the event

An illustration of a woman in a yellow stress on the Met Gala steps

While many now know the Met Gala as that “Monday night in May” where regular folk get to ooh and ahh at social media feeds, taking in the artistic fashions of the celebrity elite, the event has been a cultural mainstay since 1948.

The Met Gala started as the “Costume Institute Gala” as a fundraiser for the newly founded Costume Institute at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

However, it has since emerged as an emblem of grandiose social status when Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour took over as the Gala’s chairperson in 1995.

With the exclusive nature of the event bringing together only the wealthiest tastemakers, critics have pointed out flaws in the Met Gala’s, well, exclusivity

As pop culture continues to evolve, greater inclusion and representation has finally become a priority for the event — but only to an extent.

Only in 2021 was there a shift toward more BIPOC representation, and commentators were clear to express their desire for more efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at the event.

This year’s hosts include a wide variety of fashion and entertainment stars, such as Zendaya, Bad Bunny, Jennifer Lopez, and Chris Hemsworth. But while racial representation may be increasing, one group is consistently left out of the spotlight.

Disabled attendees, specifically those who use wheelchairs, have no choice but to forgo the iconic photo op on the Met Gala’s stairs.

Left: Hannah Diviney, a fair-skinned woman with long, brown curly hair n a wheelchair. Right: Daphne Frias, a tan-skinned woman with short, dark curly hair in a wheelchair
Left: Hannah Diviney. Right: Daphne Frias. Photos courtesy of Blue Melon Design and Daphne Frias

“For decades, the worlds of entertainment, art, and fashion have remained stubbornly closed to the disabled community,” Hannah Diviney, the editor of Missing Perspectives, a media company platforming diverse voices, wrote.

“As a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, I don’t feel seen or represented by the Met Gala, and it’s a feeling that extends to other areas of my life,” disability justice activist Daphne Frias added in an essay.

Diviney and Frias have kicked off a campaign: #YourMoveMET, calling on the event organizers to reimagine the Gala to include attendees who use wheelchairs with intention. 

“As support for greater representation, inclusion, and diversity reaches new heights, we think it’s high time the gates of power, prestige, and visibility represented by the Met Gala — particularly the iconic steps photo moment — are open to us who use a wheelchair, too,” Diviney wrote.

While the museum is wheelchair accessible, and disabled attendees have been able to enter the Gala through back doors and other passageways in the past, their exclusion from the centerpiece — The Met Gala steps — continues to communicate the exclusion of disabled people.

“Disabled bodies have historically been marginalized, rarely considered desirable or fashionable,” Frias wrote. “Fashion provides a platform for me to own the narrative of my body and be seen on my own terms. Many of us view our mobility devices as natural extensions of our bodies and fashion. We want to be celebrated, not hidden.”

There are certainly some wins across the industry that make Diviney and Frias confident in this campaign. Increases in the hiring and celebration of disabled models, like Jillian Mercado, for instance, brings Frias hope.

Additionally, the Costume Institute at the MET unveiled an exhibit called “Women Dressing Women” this winter, which showcases women designers from 1910 to the present. This exhibit marks the first time a mannequin in a wheelchair has been featured in the Institute.

Even more meaningfully, the mannequin was made to resemble a Black, transgender, disabled model, Aaron Philip. 

Earlier this year, Frias herself was even photographed by Annie Leibovitz, perhaps the most famous photographer in Vogue history.

Still, she calls herself “cautiously optimistic.”

“The representation of disability in the exhibit must not be a tokenized gesture — superficial progress that masks previous transgressions,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the Gala remains an exclusive and inaccessible space.”

Under the umbrella of Missing Perspectives, the #YourMoveMET campaign is calling on supporters to tag the event’s hosts on social media, speak up about the issue, and ultimately, make history at this year’s Gala.

Photo courtesy of Missing Perspectives

“We're calling for a rethink around the Met steps and want to push for ramps and other infrastructure to be considered, so that people who use a wheelchair can appear on the carpet for the iconic photos,” Diviney wrote.

Frias acknowledged that critics may argue that implementing accessibility modifications would “compromise the Gala’s aesthetic,” but maintains the need for there to be a seamless and accessible option for all.

“[Our] campaign to make the Met Gala accessible isn’t just about making sure that folks of all abilities can attend,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “It’s truly about ushering this global event into a new era of inclusivity.”

The campaign’s demands are clear: Attendees who use wheelchairs deserve the same entrance and experience as everyone else.

“Why should we uphold an institution that fails to celebrate everyone and include all bodies?” Frias wrote. “It’s imperative that the barrier of the steps can be addressed in a way that allows us to attend — without being cast aside from the other guests.”

As the organizers continue to seek support from their respective audiences, both the museum and Vogue have yet to comment. 

Regardless, Diviney and Frias remain steadfast in their mission to rethink and redesign this cultural event. 

Their dream is to increase accessibility for attendees, yes, but also to reimagine what’s possible for the millions of disabled viewers who are tired of feeling stuck on the sidelines.

“Curating my outfits allows me to transcend the label of ‘the girl in the wheelchair;’ Instead, I can also be ‘the girl with the great wardrobe,’” Frias wrote, about her own relationship to fashion. 

“These identities are not mutually exclusive. We can be both fashionable and disabled.”

Article Details

March 20, 2024 9:51 AM
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