It was a regular afternoon in March 2014 for Allison Kabel, PhD, Assistant Professor in the health sciences department at the School of Health Professions (SHP), as she routinely perused her email before boarding a flight. One of the messages, forwarded by Dr. Janet Farmer, Associate Dean for Research at SHP, was from Fulbright Canada calling for proposals to join their 2015-2016 fellowship cohort.
The highly regarded Fulbright Fellowship includes a $25,000 award for a four-month appointment during which the visiting researcher conducts research, generates new knowledge, creates research tools, networks, builds collaborations and engages in a wide range of knowledge mobilization and knowledge transfer activities. These activities include mentoring students, lecturing in academic and public venues, publishing and other knowledge outputs. Fulbright scholars are hosted at various higher education institutions within the United States and globally.
The Person and Society Fellowship at Concordia University in Montreal was the opportunity that piqued Dr. Kabel’s interest. It encompassed leading research on the lives and well being of people as individuals and members of society and, as the inheritors and creators of cultures, their identities and systems of social and economic organization and interaction. This fellowship aligned with Kabel’s current research efforts looking at how clothing can be a barrier or facilitator to social participation, so she submitted her application in July 2014.
In February 2015, Dr. Allison Kabel received the Fulbright Award and was named the Visiting Research Chair in the Person and Society at Concordia University in Montreal for the Fall 2015 semester. “Dr. Kabel’s work at the intersection of personhood and health care is a great asset to our department, and to have that work recognized with a Fulbright Award brings additional credibility to the research capacity of faculty in the Department of Health Sciences and our school,” said Dr. Rosemary Hogan, Chair of the Department of Health Sciences. Dean Kristofer Hagglund added, “The Fulbright Award is a prestigious honor for Dr. Kabel, and also supports SHP’s contribution to the university’s AAU status. This kind of high-level recognition is a direct result of recent advances in the research culture and productivity of our school and at Mizzou.”
Dr. Kabel’s research agenda broadly includes issues of personal identity, illness and disability, and culture. The Fulbright experience directly enhances her program of research at Mizzou.
At Concordia University, Dr. Kabel is studying clothing and apparel-related barriers to participation for people living with spinal cord injuries.
In particular, she is investigating situations in which the lack of appropriate clothing for people with disabilities contributes to the experience of disablement in various environmental contexts. She is recruiting and interviewing people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities; people in the Montreal community who are working with health education and social services; as well as scholars and researchers in the fine arts, engineering, health sciences, social sciences and textiles and apparel departments. Kabel is being hosted by Concordia University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Results of the collaborative research revealed that, at times, certain aspects of clothing can cause invisible barriers that make engagement in social activities such as dating and raising a family, or occupations like school and work, a challenge. “For example, closure fixtures like buttons and zippers can make it difficult for someone whose hand is partially paralyzed due to a stroke to put on a suit for an interview,” Kabel explains. “Typically, attire that is designed for people with disabilities is not suitable for situations in life that call for professional dress.”
To address this, companies are starting to create “inclusive design” products that address some of these challenges. An example of an inclusive design product is Under Armour’s ‘MagZip’ jacket with a magnetized zipper that automatically aligns and locks in place, then easily slides up with one hand. This product is beneficial whether a consumer has a temporary or permanent barrier.
“This has been such a great opportunity to learn new things, challenge previous assumptions and think about my research in new ways,” Kabel said. “I have met other highly accomplished researchers at the Concordia Centre for Sensory Studies doing interdisciplinary, cutting-edge work with textiles and apparel, engineering, fine arts and social sciences, and it’s exciting to see how my work can fit in to the bigger picture.”
Upon her return to the University of Missouri, Kabel hopes to continue her collaborative studies and expand her research ideas. “I truly appreciate the support and resources that Mizzou provides towards faculty expanding their research across disciplines and developing the entrepreneurial side of their research ideas, such as pursuing a patent,” she reflects.