The ability to get dressed each day is something many people take for granted.
Among her many challenges, Lauren Scruggs Kennedy found it difficult to maintain her sense of style after she lost her left eye and part of her left arm in a propeller accident in 2012. For her, getting a prosthetic just a few months after the accident helped her start that journey. “I felt more like myself with the prosthesis, so then I could dress more like myself,” she says. “I was just in workout clothes all the time doing physical therapy all day. And then it became, ‘OK, now I can be more who I am and enter into life again.’ ”
These days, “I want to stay true to my style, but I’m very conscious of what I buy,” she told PEOPLE at the Runway of Dreams Foundation Gala in New York City on June 8. “It takes time to put on a jacket, to figure out how to get it over my prosthesis. [I have to consider] buttoning buttons, zipping zippers, tying my shoes.”
But Scruggs is not alone in seeking out fashionable clothes that are easier to put on. “I’m realizing that a lot of people are not aware of this community as a whole,” she says. “I learned that there are 59 million differently-abled people in America. There’s a huge market of people that care about fashion, and everyone can come together and help each other and encourage and empower each other.”
The Runway of Dreams Foundation is among the few in the fashion industry spreading the word about inclusive design.
“The notion that if you’re disabled you don’t care about what you look like or how you dress is so wrong. Everybody should have that right,” Mindy Scheier, the foundation’s founder, told PEOPLE last year. “Let’s look at it from the point of view of the caregiver who wants their wife, son, daughter or best friend to look beautiful… I want to encourage people to think, ‘What if I didn’t have options?’”
To show her support for the cause, Scruggs walked the runway alongside 12 kids and adults with disabilities wearing adaptive designs by Tommy Hilfiger, which has carried adaptive childrenswear since February 2016. Scruggs and her husband, E! News anchor Jason Kennedy, MC’d the event as well.
“Before I met Jason, I said I kind of want to date someone who didn’t go through the accident with me because I don’t want to be fully defined by that and I also don’t want to be babied ever. There’s a line between awareness and being babied. I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel like Jason was so aware when we were dating, like if we were going hiking he would kind of loosen the top of my water bottle,” she says.
But even as recently as a month ago, she tapped Kennedy for help. “There are these jeans, they’re high-waisted with five buttons. They were newer, so they weren’t broken in yet, and I’m like in the public bathroom like, ‘Babe! I can’t get these buttoned!’ Usually, I can do it,” she says. “But I was like, ‘Oh my gosh it’s one of those days; they are literally not buttoning. I’m screwed.'”
Though the Tommy Hilfiger jumpsuit she wore to the event had been adapted (the buttons were actually magnetic closures), her strappy sandals still posed a little bit of a problem and Kennedy was on hand to tie them up. “I love these shoes, but anytime I see a wrap-up shoe, I’m like, ‘Oh, crap,'” she says. “But you just make it happen.”
Scruggs is passionate about prosthetics, but she also wants to educate those around her about limb differences. She calls her left arm her “little arm” (“Jason and I have actually named it,” she says. “We’re so weird. All of our friends call it that!”) and has spent time around her family without her prosthesis.
WATCH: After Plane Propeller Accident Took Her Left Hand and Eye, Lauren Scruggs Kennedy Brings Hope to Women Who Have Lost Limbs
“My twin sister had a baby girl a couple months ago,” she explains. “She’s the sweetest thing in the whole world… She plays with my little arm—she just loves it— without my prosthesis on. My dad’s like, ‘It’s going to be so sweet when she starts understanding what that is.’ It’ll be normal for her.”
And as Scruggs considers starting a family of her own, creating that normalcy is very important: “I don’t want to say it’s like practice for when we have kids, but it kind of is,” she says.