There are 11 million people in the U.K. who have a disability of some kind. There are people who’re blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, have prosthetic limbs, Down’s Syndrome, or joint conditions like arthritis, and these kinds of visible disability are well known by almost everyone.
There’s also people with a hidden, or invisible, disability. Not many people know about conditions like marfan syndrome, chronic regional pain syndrome, ataxia, ulcerative colitis or lupus, which are diseases where the sufferer has no outwards signs of disability but still fall under the disability banner.
17% of the U.K. population have a disability of some kind, that means almost one in five people of con goers could have a disability of some kind.
There’s no hard and fast rule for working with people with any form of disability. What helps one person with arthritis will be painful and unhelpful for someone else, even with the same level of disability, so this article will address some generic tips rather than being very specific.
Remember: the person who has the disability is always the best authority on their limitations and what they’re comfortable doing, so always ask them first!
- Holding poses – if you need a cosplayer to hold a pose, consider either giving them breaks between shots or allowing them to lean on something.
- Late afternoon shoots – a lot of people with a disability tire earlier than someone without a disability, especially if they have a joint condition or a condition like autism. Conventions are very tiring for disabled people! Lots of standing, walking, talking, up and down stairs and standing on trains takes a toll on everyone, but it’s important to remember that disabled people’s tolerances are lower. Earlier shoots are usually easier for them, and their makeup will look perfect!
- Meeting for Shoots – Everyone who goes to MCM knows you meet your photographer at the statue, right? Down the two dozen stairs with the ramp that goes OUTSIDE the cordoned off area? This is especially important to consider if the person has mobility issues requiring a wheelchair or some form of walking stick or crutches. It might be easier to meet them somewhere else if you can!
- Hall Shots – When you have a disability somewhere like a convention, it’s exhausting. Although this is just common etiquette, remember that a cosplayer without a wig sitting on the floor or a chair and looking like they need a nap or a coffee are not in a position to have their photo taken!
- Editing Out Supportive Equipment – Some cosplayers will be happy for you to edit their knee brace out, or blur their cane a bit so it’s less obvious, while others won’t – it’s worth chatting about before you edit
- Adaptive Cosplay – People with sensory disabilities (such as Aspergers or people who are visually impaired) may adapt their cosplay to fit. People with conditions on the autistic spectrum may find wearing a wig too much sensory input – so their Joker has brown hair. Or someone with hip dysplasia may forego Black Cat’s heels to die for in favour of a pair of comfy boots. Just go with it; cosplay is supposed to be fun, and making changes to stay comfortable is important.
- Talking About Disability – It’s okay to ask! A lot of people get worried about saying the wrong thing. It’s so much better to just outright say, “What are your limitations?” or even “Is it okay to ask you if this is possible?” Communication is key!
- Deaf cosplayers – Many deaf or hard of hearing people can lip read to some extent, so make sure you speak clearly and don’t wear a scarf or mask so they can see you lips. Yes, even in the most frigid of conditions!
- Blind cosplayers – If you have a blind or visually impaired cosplayer, always make sure you address them directly – “Okay Lauren, can you lift your right hand up higher?’ rather than “Can you raise your hand?” with clear, direct instructions will always work better. This can also be true of anyone and is just generally good practice anyway
Con-Goers and Fellow Cosplayers
- People with invisible disabilities need to sit down and rest as much as anyone with a visible disability. If you can, it’s always nice to offer a chair if someone looks like they’re struggling!
- Many people with a disability can’t wear certain elements of a costume. Someone with problems relating to the lower legs often can’t wear killer stiletto heels, or someone with an endocrine disorder may not be able to wear a thick fur coat just to make their cosplay screen accurate. Gossiping about or making a spectacle out of someone who has adjusted a cosplay to suit their needs is never okay! There’s always a reason, even if that’s simply, “I don’t feel comfortable with this aspect of the cosplay”
- As mentioned above, it bears reiterating that asking someone what they’re comfortable with is always easier than just assuming
- Leading on from this, don’t help people with a disability unless they ask for it. Wheelchairs, especially powered ones, are relatively delicate, and unless you know what you’re doing, you can do extensive or terminal damage to the motors. Another example is things like stairs; most people with a disability have ways to manage obstacles like stairs, and grabbing them to help them up is often painful for them AND potentially dangerous for you both. People have ‘helped’ others before and bruised them from holding too tightly, or even dropping them on the floor by accident. Just let them get on with it unless they ask for it!
- If your friend has a disability, please remember that they need you to take care of them. Not be their mum, but look out for them – do they need to go outside and cool down? Maybe they’re diabetic and look like they need some lunch (or takoyaki)? Suggest it, and go with them! It’s always a good opportunity to rest your feet, take all those con selfies we forget to take, and will remind you to eat and rest as well with them
Disability happens. Most people in the U.K. know someone who has a disability as classified by the Equality Act (2010), and most of those with a disability will have an invisible one. As discussed before, it’s important to remember this.
As anecdata, the author has had numerous experiences at conventions where they’ve asked for space to sit down and been met with hostility. Bear in mind that the fit-looking Naruto might well have serious asthma, or the stunning Satsuki might be suffering with cystic fibrosis, and just be nice to everyone!
It’s not called the cosplay community for nothing!
Written by A Bird of Hermes Cosplay. You can follow them on social media.