Our Disabilities aren’t Your Costume

Fall is here and that means that Halloween is right around the corner! With Halloween comes a lot of fun and festivities, such as decorating your house, pumpkin carving, apple picking and most importantly, dressing up on the day itself. Even outside of the world of cosplay, (a community of people who dress up as characters from different medias and typically attend comic/anime conventions, which I have been a member of for the past five and a half years) nearly everyone I know dresses up in a fun costume for this holiday. One of my favorite Halloween activities is to accompany my friends and family to various costume stores to help them piece together their costumes for the holiday! Click here to watch a video of me piecing together my Halloween costume for this year.

Halloween Costumes with Mobility Aids

Chrysanthemum in her Stretto Power Wheelchair

it’s come to my attention that one store has been selling a very specific costume: A “blind referee” costume set, which contains the usual referee white and black striped shirt and black pants, as well as a pair of sunglasses and a white cane. This costume is currently for sale both in store and online. As a cosplayer with disabilities who has been in the costuming scene for a while and is very familiar with this subject, I would like to talk about cripping up for costume purposes: why it’s wrong and why you should avoid it.

What Does Cripping Up Mean?

The term “cripping up” is when a non-disabled person tries to imitate physical characteristics of a disability temporarily to represent a disabled person. A common example of this is a non-disabled actor trying to act out the role of a disabled individual for a movie. This happens a lot in the cosplay/costuming world. Abled-bodied people dress up as disabled characters and adopt certain physical characteristics of their disability into their costume. I see this happen more often than I would like, with wheelchairs being the number one thing implemented for character accuracy. 

Why Cripping Up is Wrong

While part of me can understand why someone would want to accurately represent a character or costume, cripping up isn’t the way to do it. Portraying yourself as having a disability for a costume that you wear temporarily is a big slap in the face to those of us who have to deal with disability 24/7. Sure, by using a wheelchair or other mobility aid with your costume, you might think that you are accurately representing the costume’s source. You get to take that aid off when you are done, however, or whenever it starts to inconvenience you. For a lot of power wheelchair and mobility aid users, we don’t have that liberty. The same goes for acting out characteristics of a disability that don’t require a physical aid.

Portraying Characters with Disabilities

One thing that I stress a lot on my social media pages is that characters are so much more than their disabilities. The consensus in the cosplay community is that if you don’t need a mobility aid yourself (such as a wheelchair), then do not use one in your costume, even if your character has it. You are still just as recognizable as the character you are dressing up as, without being disrespectful and taking a much-needed resource away from someone who may need it for longer than just a few hours for a costume. Also, while using a broken mobility aid for your costume doesn’t take it away from someone who may need it, it still falls under the “you can take it off whenever you want” category. You won’t believe how often us disabled cosplayers deal with that pushback in conversation.

Disabilities and Joke Costumes

Although you have the people who want accuracy in a costume, there are also big problems pertaining to joke costumes. These ones mainly aim to either mock the disabled or use them to get a laugh. With the blind referee costume, their intent with the idea was to play into a pun. I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about this costume my mind didn’t immediately go to “HA good one!” Instead, my initial thought was “Who thought that representing the blind in this way was a good idea and brought it to marketing?”

Disabilities and Stereotypes

Not only did they play into the stereotype that all blind people wear dark sunglasses, but they even included a white cane into the costume. These canes are used to help blind/visually impaired people around their environment, alert others to their condition, and have their own laws written around them. While I am not visually impaired, one of my mutual cosplay friends is, who initially brought this costume to my attention. They felt very uncomfortable and downright disrespected by having their disability represented in a joking matter, specifically aimed at an audience of non-disabled people.

Halloween is approaching fast, and if you want to dress up this year as one of your favorite movie or anime characters who has a disability, please remember that the character is much more than that! If you truly feel that you won’t accurately portray your character without needing to adopt the physical signs of their condition temporarily, then you should choose a different character. Also, steer clear of costumes which play into harmful stereotypes that would further them. Do not give money to the companies who thought making those costumes was a good idea.

Disability is not a costume and should never be treated like one!

About Chrysanthemum Chan: Chrysanthemum is an award-winning cosplayer and Quantum brand ambassador. She enjoys fashion, cosplay and music and has a TikTok channel with over 380,000 followers. Click here to learn more about Chrysanthemum.

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