Disability Is Not a Costume
Dear abled people,
Before you even think of dressing up as a disabled person or disabled character for Halloween, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this person’s/character’s disability play a role in their identity? How often is identity-first language used to describe this person/character i.e. deaf man instead of a man with deafness?
- Would this person/character still be considered inspirational if they didn’t have a disability?
- If a non-disabled person had the same accomplishments as this person/character, would they be getting the same amount of media attention as the person with a disability? Think of people like Helen Keller, Ray Charles, Greta Thunberg. Each of these people has done stuff non-disabled people do on a daily basis, and they are recognized for their skills and talent apart from their disability.
- Has the person been so successful that abled people say stuff like “If they can succeed, why can’t you succeed?” to other disabled people?
- Is adaptive equipment an essential part of the costume? Does your costume in any way marginalize the person’s/character’s struggles related to their disability to the point where some people see adaptive equipment as merely a prop instead of a necessity? When a trio dresses up as “three blind mice,” people see white canes as a joke or something that can be put away in a closet, as opposed to something that someone may need to survive.
- Does dressing up as this person/character contribute to people thinking that others fake their disability for attention? I.e. people dressing up as Gypsy Rose Blanchard.
- Are you dressing up as a character who wouldn’t have met their love if they weren’t disabled? The “sick lit” books and movies I’ve read and seen gloss over milestones like the ability to get a driver’s license in order for the medical conditions the couple faces to take center stage.
- Does this costume contribute to the trope of disabled people being villainous/out for revenge/ugly? I.e. Captain Hook, the Grinch, Two-Face.
In conclusion, if you said yes to any of these, you should rethink your costume.
Getty image by Jakkapan21.