16 March 2021 – Nic Novicki, actor and creator of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, sent an email to all producers, containing guidelines for the short film we were to submit by 21 March 2021. Lachi was by my side. We were going to send a message to the fashion industry: stop stereotyping, start producing for all women. Liz [Galalis] suggested creating a focus group for a new collection of clothing and accessories.
On Friday 19 March, we set up a call on Zoom, for 4 p.m. We selected 15 women, representing different disabilities, different ethnic groups, different ages.
Four were available on Friday, and five agreed to shoot a video while parading around in their favourite outfits.
In the background, we played “High or Low” by Lachi and Yonetro, lyrics by Liz Galalis (formerly of Netflix and Facebook Watch).
Sunday 21 March, afternoon, the video started.
On 27 April, an email arrived: The Focus Group was officially in the competition. It did not go through to the final, but hundreds of people went on to say that the short film made them think.
On Thursday 1 April, Lachi contacted me: “I have an opportunity you might like. Rick Guidotti wants you to manage Judy Heumann’s styling at the 2021 Oscars.” By the 16th everything had to be in Washington.
In the 1970s Judy Heumann, and some friends from Camp Jened, had begun a peaceful struggle for rights for people with disabilities. 50 years later, the Heumanns were the executive producers of Crip Camp, which the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary that tells their story is based on.
Milan was a designated red zone, but I mobilised everything I could. I met Judy over Zoom: a 73-year-old woman, full of enthusiasm, sweetness and determination.
I suggested red and purple as a symbol of the fight against violence against women.
I suggested a bracelet with the Braille inscription “This is Me” to honour blind people.
I proposed we use a transparent mask, in case it was needed, to honour deaf people.
Once the guidelines had been decided, we had 4 days to produce and ship everything. The red sandals were produced by Chiara Ferriolo, who adapted them to Judy’s needs: she wears a size 33 and the buckle had to be replaced by Velcro, and the shoe adapted to allow her to comfortably rest her feet on the step of the wheelchair.
The bracelet by Loredana Corallo [LoreArt jewellery] and Elena Travaini awaited the blouse by Paola Zegovin, which Judy liked so much because it is red, with a purple flower that was hand-embroidered until 4 a.m., and golden gems: it was also perfect for a public outing, combined with Rubinia earrings with rubies and amethysts.
It was 25 April and for the first time the Oscars stage was made accessible with a ramp.
Judy was radiant. The outfit was completed by “our” red sandals and Braille bracelet.
It was a victory that goes beyond the golden statuette for everyone: an entire community was recognised, seen and valued.
We can say it: with passion, determination and strategy, we have come a long way.
Alicia Searcy, entrepreneur, model, activist, USA [cerebral palsy];
Chiara Ferriolo, shoe designer, activist, Italy;
Elena Travaini, entrepreneur, dancer and model, Italy [visually impaired];
Elisa Vavassori, Disability Manager, activist, Italy [SMA TYPE 2];
Giulia Ghiretti, Paralympic champion, Italy [paraplegia];
Heloisa Rocha, journalist, influencer, model, Brazil [osteogenesis imperfecta];
Judy Heumann, activist, USA [polio];
Kellina Powell, actress, model, activist, USA [deaf];
Lachi, entrepreneur, singer, actress, model, activist, USA [visually impaired];
Liz Galalis, actress, comedian, screenwriter, USA [ankylosing spondylitis];
Loredana Corallo, jewellery designer, Italy;
Marina La Loggia, coach, actress, writer and model, Italy [spastic diplegia];
Nic Novicki, actor, activist and creator of the Disability Film Challenge, USA [dwarfism];
Paola Zegovin, fashion designer, Italy. Rick Guidotti, photographer, activist and founder of Positive Exposure, USA;
Roberto Ricci, soul of Rubinia Gioielli, Italy;
Silvia Panzeri, retail manager Rubinia Gioielli, Italy;
Zazel Chavah O’Garra, entrepreneur, actress, model, dancer, USA [partial paralysis following a brain tumour].
Just like in a movie.