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Personal presentation - a vital key to social inclusion for people with Disabilities

As the saying goes “You can’t judge a book by its cover” but the reality is, we all do. We make judgements when meeting some on based on our first impressions.

This is why I have written a book on personal presentation and how to dress for you body shape. It shows you how to bring balance to your shape and what work best for you so you create a positive first impression. The information applies for all women regardless of your size, shape, ability or disability. But all the images are of people with Down syndrome or other disabilities.

In the past, many people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have been conditioned to have low expectations of themselves especially in this area of personal presentation and social inclusion.

People with disabilities where often institutionalised or hidden in the family home, only interacting with family members and not included in social situations.

As a result of this, it wasn’t considered a priority or important how people with disabilities presented themselves. Little care was taken to a person’s individual style or personal presentation.

They were dressed in what ever was easy to get on, or get off to go to the bathroom. But research shows that first impressions are powerful and permanent.

“The halo effect “is a study that was done about this judgement process we go through and its impacts. The halo effect, named by psychologist Edward Thorndike, is a cognitive bias in which an observer's overall impression of a person, influences the observer's feelings and thoughts about that person’s character or abilities. The halo effect will also affect how they continue to interact with that person in the future including their perception of any additional information present

In another study, by a team of scientists New York University, they found that our brains “decide” if we will trust or will accept some one in 33 milliseconds. The brain can’t help but make judgements and it’s doing it without us consciously knowing it

A Cornell University study found that jurors were less likely to find an attractive person, guilty of criminal behaviour then a person that didn’t present well. If the first impression of their appearance created a negative halo, it influenced how jurors interrupted the evidence given to them.

The Halo effect can influence a teacher in the classroom according to About education .A teacher who sees a well-behaved student might tend to assume this student is also bright and intelligent based on first impressions of behavior, before that teacher done a proper assessment has of the student's capacity in these areas and therefore the students get more attention. This is the Halo effect at work.

“Looks matter more than reputation when it comes to trusting people with our money”. According to new research from the University College London and Warwick business school. They found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person’s reputation. They found when trusting people we go with our instincts and these instincts are influenced by first impressions. The Halo effect again

The Halo effect is used in marketing all the time. Companies regularly use attractive actors to endorse products. If we like the actor or they are good looking we assume the product must be good due association with the actor.

The halo effect is very present in a job interview. If an interviewer likes how the job seeker looks when they first walk in or finds them likeable in the first few minutes, they are more likely to also rate the individual as intelligent, competent, and qualified for the position due to first impressions. Competing for employment opportunities is tough in any country. Personal presentation was the number 2 priority for them on a recent survey of employers conducted by the Australian government.

Research at Princeton University has shown that we do not easily change our mind from this first initial judgement of people.

A positive first impression for a person with a disability leads to social inclusion; negative first impressions lead to biases and social prejudice.

Whether you realise

it or not, this” halo effect “is constantly at work all day, every day. People are making decisions whether to interact with you, be friend you, to employ you, to listen to you when you meet.

Not that we try to become all things to all people but there are areas that we can address to have a positive first impression to increase inclusion and influence

Personal presentation is one area that we can make immediate changes so a positive first impression is created.

How we dress speaks before we do.

Research led by Dr of Philosophy Ben C. Fletcher found at It is vitally important to choose our dress style carefully because people will make all sorts of assumptions and decisions about us without proper evidence. He notes we may think what we wear is unimportant and our sunny, intelligent personality will shine through, but research evidence shows this is not true.

What we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Physical appearance speaks first when first impressions are being formed.


Coordinated clothes- an organised person

Neat tidy hair back off the face – ready to engage

Clean shoes, clothes ironed - attention to detail

Baggy unstructured clothes – easy going

Business suit- intelligent, educated

How we dress is non-verbally saying

· “This is who I am and what I think of myself”

· “This is how I want to be treated by you”

· “How important this job or meeting is to me”

Due to common physical characteristics of some disabilities this can get in the way of social inclusion. For example, if you asked the average person what they know about a person with Down syndrome they would most likely describe the physical features that they associates with Down syndrome like;

  • round, flat facial features;

  • short, round body shape.

Often common physical characteristics of a person with Down syndrome is exaggerated and unbalanced due to of lack knowledge of personal presentation and dressing E.g. a short bob haircut with a wide thick fringe on a round face makes the look even rounder

Due to people’s ignorance about down syndrome the halo effect takes over and judgements are made about the person capabilities and intellectual understanding as well just without getting to know the person

When we bring balance to facial and body shapes by understanding personal presentation, people see the person first not the syndrome and this brings about greater increase of social inclusion amongst their peers due to the halo effect at work.

I did a personal presentation workshop for a group of business women recently In my power point I used makeover images of girls with down syndrome .I then told them afterwards the girls had down syndrome and they were shocked, as the images didn’t fit the “Stereotype “they had of down syndrome This made them more open to the idea of people with down syndrome being employable.

Educating a person how to dress to bring out there best features empowers people and has positive effects on a persons self confidence and self esteem, which then influences other areas of their life.

In Australia, I ran personal presentation workshops for local Councils groups for people with disabilities, we saw a noticeable increase in participant’s confidence and they felt more accepted because people would comment on how good they looked.

This led them wanting to get involved in community events and activities, and gave motivation for the person to improve other areas of there life.

This resulted me doing more workshops on subjects like, table etiquette, personality types, learning how to start conversations with people etc.

I ran similar workshops for the Downs syndrome society of South Australia for a group of teenage girls. I received amazing letters from parents saying they noticed improved levels of self-acceptance and confidence. It gave them confidence to be proud of who they are, and to embrace there uniqueness

” Enclothed cognition” is the term used for the effect clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes.

The term came from professor Adam D. Galinsky, at North Westerns Kellogg School of Management. In a well known experiment he conducted, one group of people wore a white, doctor's lab coat, the other just there normal street clothes.

He then used different trials that tested their focus and mental sharpness and accuracy. He found that those who wore the lab coats, made half errors as those who wore street clothes.

Galinsky's work implies that merely wearing an item associated with intelligence can improve your cognitive abilities. "

What a person wears has an influence on how they express their personalities,

Improved personal presentation changes negative stereotypes of people with a disability in the community and therefore people are more accepting.

It’s not about changing who you are as a person, but learning to present the best possible you..

As a more accepting and inclusive attitude in the community is starting to emerge, it is my belief we need to empower people with Disabilities in practical ways.

We may not be conscious of it, but we market ourselves daily. How we present ourselves tells the world how we want to be treated

Aspirations of inclusion must include education on personal presentation. A high standard of personal presentation, will achieve a higher level of social recognition. When we value and take pride in ourselves, community attitudes will change to be of valuing a person with a disability. What has value you treat differently.

The book “Love My Shape” helps you achieve this goal.

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