Why I’m so excited about Nike’s new accessible shoes
Nike’s FlyEase sneakers are easy to put on—and totally cool
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Fashion was the last thing I was focused on when my son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of three. There was so much else to think about: learning about what this diagnosis meant for him specifically, learning more about the disabled community and spectrum of people it encompasses, and learning more about the gear and equipment that various professionals were recommending.
Regular shoes don’t always work for kids with special needs
My son was almost immediately fit for AFOs, or ankle foot orthoses. To the able-bodied eye and mind, AFOs might appear cumbersome and restrictive. And truthfully, they can definitely be both of those things. I was worried it would be tough to convince my little guy to wear them each day, but he adjusted fairly well.
In addition to being fit for braces each year, I also quickly discovered that the world of footwear is not designed with AFO wearers in mind at all. In fact, this would become the first of hundreds— and now thousands—of ah-ha moments about ableism that my son and I would encounter.
On one hand, I get it: There are a lot of people out there who aren’t wearing AFOs at all. But on the other, it was confusing. In fact, The CDC states that 26%, or roughly 1 in 4, American adults have a disability; of those, 13.7% have a mobility disability “with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.”
While not all of those adults were disabled kids, one can assume that at least a sizable chunk of them were, right? So what’s up with the lack of truly cool, fashionable shoes that are designed for preschoolers, kids, teens, and adults who have physical disabilities?
Finding shoes that are disability-friendly is not easy
Like a lot of parents, I spent my time cycling through the usual choices: Stride Rite when he was young, New Balance as he got older. And truthfully, these shoes were okay for a long time. Both brands offer extra-wide sizing, which is ideal for fitting around AFOs. But as my son got older, he wanted to be able to wear the shoes that he saw his friends wearing—specifically, he wanted to be able to wear Skechers and Nike.
The former were immediately out; no matter how hard I have searched, I’ve never been able to find Skechers that are wide and stretchy enough to accommodate AFOs without sizing him up several sizes too large. But we kept getting close with Nike, especially when we found extra-wide options. We could get close, but the shoes we kept trying didn’t quite fit.
Enter: Nike FlyEase
All that changed in 2015 when Nike released their FlyEase shoes. Nike designer Tobie Hatfield had spent three years focused on creating shoes for athletes who have all kinds of abilities and physical concerns, specifically shoes that had “an entry-and-closure system for athletes who have trouble getting in and out of shoes.”
My son is sporty but isn’t an athlete per se, but he’s definitely a kid who has trouble getting in and out of shoes whether he’s in his AFOs or not. He doesn’t have a strong sense of balance so nearly always needs to be sitting down, and the tightness he experiences throughout his legs and feet means just putting his feet all the way inside a pair of shoes can be tough without assistance.
What makes Nike FlyEase different
The shoe design is ingenious: There’s a zipper that wraps around the back of the shoe, which allows the wearer to slide their feet inside and simply zip the shoe up. The shoes also come in extra-wide, which means my son can wear them with his AFOs or as regular shoes when he’s not in his braces.
Best of all (at least for my kid), the shoes look just like “regular” Nikes, which makes him feel extra cool. As anyone who has ever been a kid can tell you, sometimes you just want to be cool and not stand out. This can be doubly true when you already have a condition that means you stand out almost everywhere you go.
Nike FlyEase shoes have changed nearly everything about how my son puts on his AFOs and his shoes. What used to require parental assistance (first to get his feet into the AFOs, then to get his shoes around the AFOs) can now be done completely solo.
My son gained so much confidence from being able to slide his AFOs into the shoes and then zip the shoes up on his own that he subsequently developed his own way to get his AFOs on in the first place—which means he can put his own braces and shoes on without any help from a parent. While that’s pretty standard for most kids and adults, for a child like mine, it’s revolutionary.
Eagerly awaiting the launch of the next-generation Nike GO FlyEase
My son and I both love his FlyEase shoes and are completely dedicated to the brand—every time he needs a new pair of shoes, we immediately start scrolling through FlyEase options. My son has often mentioned that it would be cool to have FlyEase shoes that he can wear without his AFOs, too, because he takes breaks from the braces each weekend.
That’s why we’re especially excited that Nike recently announced the newest installment in its FlyEase series: the Nike GO FlyEase. The shoe features a bi-stable hinge that allows the wearer to simply step in to put the shoes on, and step out to remove them. For someone like my son, this design is incredible: With these shoes, he’ll be able to put on his shoes standing up and will require absolutely no assistance from anyone else.
Nike GO FlyEase shoes will be available for $120 on Nike’s site on March 19.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.