The Cosplay or “Costume play” community prides itself on its craftsmanship and has a collective presence at conventions and video game tournaments. “(Cosplay) allows people to show off their talents as well as the admiration they share for their favorite shows and comics,” says Kyle who is a person with a disability.
"I feel like I'm just like everybody else when I'm there and dressed up. Like, I'm standing out because of my cosplay, not because of my wheelchair."
Kyle had the opportunity to connect with Melissa Weisser who is a cosplayer who uses a manual wheelchair. He was interested in her experiences with the community as well as what went into creating a “wheelchair appropriate” cosplay.
"My brothers told me about comic cons, as they were into them way before the surge of comic book movies. When I would look at photos and see the chance to meet some of my favorite celebrities that I've adored, plus the chance to dress up in different costumes, it was like a dream come true for me,” says Melissa. Going to cosplay conventions have become a big part of Melissa’s life. She states conventions offer various accommodations for people with disabilities such as being allowed into celebrity panels before other convention attendees, and front of the line access when taking pictures with said celebrities.
Melissa says, “Obviously, this privilege isn't intended to give people with disabilities priority over able-bodied convention goers; waiting in line can be difficult for some people with disabilities, as it relates to chronic fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety, or maneuvering a wheelchair or other adaptive device through narrow lines.”
Building A Cosplay
Kyle was particularly interested in the practicality of building a cosplay fitted for a wheelchair user.
First, people with disabilities should build cosplay around prosthetics, mobility devices, medical devices, and physical limitations. Safety should be an integral part in the design. "I found out real fast that my first costume, the Beetlejuice bride, was a horrible choice. The huge lacy dress was continuously getting caught in my wheels and itched like crazy. I couldn't get home fast enough to change. My Sally outfit is my safety net/backup costume as it's very comfortable, easy to put together, and always gets a great response,” says Melissa.
“As I've gotten more experienced in cons and cosplay, I've pushed my imagination to start including my wheelchair in the costume.”
However, Melissa does admit that using a manual wheelchair as opposed to a power wheelchair does make incorporating her costume more difficult because she needs full access to the tires to move around.
Creating the perfect costume takes lots of planning. Melissa relies on flexibility and patience when creating her costume. “I kind of wait and see what the big movies are for the year. See if anything jumps out at me or inspires me. I'm trying to learn not to plan your cosplay around a celebrity attending the event because they can, and do, cancel at the last minute,” she says.
Melissa credits the cosplay community for giving her a sense of belonging. She hopes that her involvement in the community will help combat the negative stereotypes for people with disabilities.
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