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Disability Is Not a Costume

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Dear abled people,

Before you even think of dressing up as a disabled person or disabled character for Halloween, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. 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?
  2. Would this person/character still be considered inspirational if they didn’t have a disability?
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Originally published: October 10, 2020
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