In the late ’90s, I used a wheelchair for five years. It was an extraordinarily sobering experience. People treat you differently in a wheelchair (more than once, my wife was asked questions directed at me, like being in a wheelchair had somehow rendered me unable to speak for myself). People also often raised their voice when talking to me, like I was hard of hearing. Being in a wheelchair, you’re often left alone in a corner or unable to access spaces that aren’t wheelchair accessible. It really is an altered world down there in the sling seat and leg rests. I wouldn’t wish such an experience on anyone, least of all, a child.
Ryan and Lana Weimer of Portland, Oregon, made headlines a few years ago when they decided to do something truly special for their young wheelchair-bound son, Keaton, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Keaton wanted to go as a pirate for Halloween and so Ryan did what any self-respecting Maker parent would do, he built a pirate ship around his son’s chair! The results were so spectacular, and moving to so many people, that the story of the Weimers and their costume went viral.
In the aftermath, the Weimers were inspired to give this memorable Halloween experience to more kids who used chairs. The Magic Wheelchair project was born. Since the “Captain Keaton” pirate costume of 2008, they’ve made chair prop costumes for other kids. Earlier this year, they raised over $25,000 on Kickstarter to make costumes for this Halloween, which they’re currently busy working on. And they now have a process for submitting potential kid candidates and their costume ideas. They’ve also attracted some volunteers and sponsors, including the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.
What the Weimers are doing is wonderful, but they can only do a few chairs every Halloween. According to their website, there are over 121,000 kids in the U.S. under the age of 15 who use wheelchairs. Building amazing chair costumes for these kids seems like such a perfect activity for local Makerspaces. Years ago, when HacDC was in its infancy, I remember being in on a conversation about cool projects the space could take on to contribute to the local community and to use that engagement to increase public awareness of HacDC (and what such spaces were all about). I think taking on a project like this would be such a win-win for spaces and for the recipients of the resulting badass Halloween costumes.
If you’re part of a Makerspace or similar group, why not propose making costumes for kids who use wheelchairs as something your group could do for next year’s Halloween? If you do decide to take up this challenge, please let us know.