A brief episode about a troubling aspect of adaptive costumes for disabled kids.
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TRANSCRIPT OF “IS THIS HALLOWEEN?”
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MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.
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Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.
It’s that time of year again. This…is Halloween.
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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.
Remember how, either last year or the year before, Target released some adaptive Halloween costumes for disabled kids? There were only a couple. There was a Cinderella-esque one and a pirate one. On the surface, these seem like a good idea, but they never sat right with me. Not because of the costumes themselves, but because of the accessories.
Adaptive costumes are a necessary product. They make it easier to dress disabled kids in costumes for trick-or-treating. Halloween costumes can be pretty complicated, so any costumes that are easier to manipulate are a good thing. These costumes also came with accessories to “dress up” the child’s wheelchair (because most adaptive clothing is meant for wheelchair users). Accessories to make the chair look like Cinderella’s carriage or a pirate ship. Accessories to HIDE the chair.
That’s what doesn’t sit well with me. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was Jem from Jem and the Holograms for Halloween. I was Ariel from the Little Mermaid. I was a whole host of things, all while in my wheelchair, and never once tried to hide my chair. It was never an issue. No one ever said to me that I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be because I used a wheelchair.
Now, obviously, if you buy these costumes, no one is going to force you to use the included accessories on your child’s wheelchair. And selling them is really just another way to make money. But including them at all sends a very definitive message: Princesses don’t use wheelchairs. You can’t be a pirate if you can’t walk. Never mind that pirates are all about disability inclusivity between wooden legs, hooks for hands, eye patches, and beyond.
I just want to know what reasoning manufacturers used to rationalize including these types of accessories with a costume. Because what it comes down to is that they are expecting the parents who buy these costumes and the children who wear them to be ashamed of their mobility devices. By anticipating that shame, they are engendering it.
I’m not including those costumes we occasionally see go viral on social media where parents have put in immense amounts of effort to create epic costumes for their disabled kids. For one, those kids are probably involved in the process and have expressed a want for something like that. For another thing, that is something a parent is doing for a child, not a cheaply produced costume from a mass marketer.
I realize that Halloween costumes are not an earth-shattering topic. There are a lot more issues facing the disability community that are probably much more important. But these small problems add up. And it all centers on how we treat disabled children and the messages we send them. It is certainly problematic to expect disabled children to disguise their mobility devices in order to be acceptably costumed on Halloween. And it affects how other kids treat their disabled peers.
When I was around 15, I dressed as a hippie one year to hand out candy. One of the kids who came to our house greeted me with, “Hello, wheelchair person!” Color me gobsmacked. I made him turn around and try again. He clearly thought my wheelchair was a costume. Why? Probably because it’s not something he encountered very often. If society expects disabled children — and, by extension, disabled adults — to mask their mobility aids to be more acceptable, is it any wonder that there are kids out there who think of these mobility aids as nothing more than a prop or a costume?
Normalize seeing princesses and pirates and wizards and Jedis in wheelchairs or with walkers. I mean, it’s Halloween. The one day of the year where we’re all basically sanctioned to NOT hide who we are. And don’t assume that, if you see a disabled kid in a costume, that the disability is a part of their costume. It probably isn’t. And even if it IS, don’t make a big deal about it, unless the kid does.
Also, disability is not a costume. Now, if you want to dress up as a person or character who is disabled (like Charles Xavier from X-men) that’s more of a gray area. But putting on some sort of affectation of disability is unacceptable. Just like appropriating another culture for your costume is unacceptable.
And, since we’re here, I might as well mention the blue buckets that make the rounds on social media this time of year. You know, the buckets that neurotypical Karens expect kids with autism to carry so they can feel good about giving them candy on Halloween? No one — especially children — owes you an explanation for their existence. A kid doesn’t say trick or treat? Give them candy. A kid isn’t wearing a traditional costume? Give them candy. Is it really going to hurt you to give a fun size candy bar to a kid just because they’re there?
Every kid should be able to enjoy Halloween. Wear the costume they want, eat so much candy it makes them sick, and be excited to do it all again next year. No kid should have to feel like they have to mask who they truly are to be accepted. ESPECIALLY on Halloween.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.
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