Image of Chrysanthemum, she is wearing a cosplay costume and has pink hair, with a pink sweatshirt and skirt. She is seated in her Quantum Rehab power wheelchair with iLevel.

Respect and Representation: Why Disability Shouldn’t be a Costume Choice

Cripping up: The act of an able-bodied person, typically an actor, dressing up and portraying the role/character of a disabled person, mimicking the physical characteristics of a medical impairment or disability. 

 Halloween is coming up fast! This is the best season and one of the most appropriate ones for people to dress up in costume. While everyone is planning out their costumes for this year, I wanted to once again talk on the topic of cripping up, specifically for a Halloween costume, and why it shouldn’t be done. 

 I am no stranger to seeing people doing this within the cosplay community. One specific character comes to mind that has caused many controversies with cosplayers over the years, specifically because non-disabled people feel the need to include the character’s wheelchair in their cosplays for accuracy. We are going to pick this apart, starting with…

 Wheelchairs, and other mobility aids, are NOT costume pieces. You heard me right! Now, please don’t get confused here- I am not referring to someone dressing up or decorating their own mobility aids to incorporate them into their costumes. That’s honestly really cool, and i’ve seen some awesome ways in which my wheelchair-using friends have decorated their chairs (AND some decorated canes)! I am talking about someone who does not need/use a mobility aid going out and purchasing one specifically to use only as a costume prop. Not only are you taking away a resource from someone else who needs it, but you are basically “putting on” a disability only to reap the positives before you toss it aside when you take your costume off. 

 “What about a thrifted aid? Or actually, I have my grandma’s old walker in the house…” While this isn’t necessarily as bad as above, i’d like to help explain why using one as a prop overall isn’t so great. 

Us people who use mobility aids cannot simply take our mobility aids on and off at will, and we deal with many challenges and hardships because of this. Personally, I find it really offensive when someone uses a mobility aid as a prop, gets praise for their costume, and then ultimately doesn’t have to deal with the negatives that come with a mobility aid because they can toss the aid aside once their costume is taken off. I have seen cosplayers who use wheelchairs as props before who got so much praise for their costume, meanwhile, I (as a full-time wheelchair user) get told to only cosplay as characters who use a wheelchair or I receive nasty comments towards my wheelchair “ruining the costume”.

 This goes the same for physical characteristics of disability as well. I myself have Tourette Syndrome, and I have seen time and time again people trying to portray Tourettes as a means to represent a character who has tics accurately. I do not get to take my disability on and off at will, I have to deal with it 24/7. I deal with a lot of negativity from people and society as a whole due to the physical characteristics of my disability, as most people with physical disabilities go through as well. Seeing someone play out disability for fun as a means of receiving praise for a costume, only to have the disability “go away” at the end is highly offensive to those of us who do have those disabilities.

 I would like to branch into an argument I hear quite a lot when someone, even myself, says not to use a mobility aid/disability as a prop and someone gets upset. “BUT WHAT ABOUT REPRESENTATION? ERASURE???” Hey, I get it, but we don’t need non-disabled people trying to represent themselves as disabled. That’s a little weird. If you’re really that worried about the potential erasure of a vital characteristic to who you will be dressing up as it may be best for you to pick a different character to dress up as!

 These are just a few of the many reasons why it’s not the best to crip up for costume. It’s wonderful that so many people want to dress up and pay homage to some of their favorite characters that have disabilities, but there are absolutely do’s and don’ts regarding the matter that help keep everyone feeling respected and keep the mood respectful!

Written By: Chrysanthemum Chan