Can an Able‐bodied Person Cosplay a Disabled Character?

Jul 06, 2018

Anonymous asks, quote:

Hi! I’m getting together a cosplay group for Code Geass and one of my girls (who’s not disabled) loves Nunnally and really wants to cosplay her. Would it be offensive if she were to make a wheelchair like Nunnally’s and use it while in cosplay? Or should she skip the chair all together and just cosplay Nunnally able‐bodied? (Or do a different character altogether? Because I think her backup plan is to cosplay Suzaku) Thanks in advance! I hope you don’t mind the question!

end quote.

Just to be clear, I’m a wheelchair user and I’m going to be approaching your question from my perspective as an individual and my opinions are not meant to represent the opinion of wheelchair users or people with other mobility‐related disabilities as a whole.

I’m a firm believer that if someone loves to cosplay as a character, that person should be allowed to cosplay as that character regardless of how closely their physical appearance matches the appearance of the character being cosplayed (e.g., a taller person can cosplay as a shorter character, a blond person can cosplay as a red head, etc.,). Your body type and appearance should not dictate who you cosplay as (there are limits to this, of course: anything that could be considered culturally appropriative or cosplaying in anything remotely resembling black‐face is off‐limits).

Now, where it gets into a bit of a grey area is when it comes to characters with disabilities.

Can a person with two arms cosplay as Furiosa from Fury Road?

Can a person with two legs cosplay as Gazelle from King’s Men?

Can an able‐bodied person cosplay as Professor X?

My personal answer to these questions: Sure, I don’t see why not.

But here’s the important difference between Professor X and the others: No one’s ever accused Furiosa of faking a lost limb.

There’s a really shitty stereotype that certain people in wheelchairs are faking their disability for attention or to defraud the government because they use a wheelchair but have some use of their legs.

By using a wheelchair as a prop, there’s a very real chance of you contributing to that stereotype. If you go around the convention in a wheelchair, people are going to assume your disabled and treat you accordingly.

The safest thing for you to do would be to cosplay the character without the chair, but if you felt that the chair really makes the cosplay work, here’s what I would do:

Build the chair, bring it to the convention or whatever, do a single photoshoot or cosplay session with it and then take the chair back to the car or whatever and leave it there. Do not spend the whole day tooling around in the wheelchair.

That way, you have some really great photos of you doing a very accurate cosplay while reducing the risk of causing harm, offense or confusion to the people around you.

And let me just emphasize this again: this is only my opinion. Me saying “it wouldn’t bother me” or “I wouldn’t be offended if…” does not give you a “pass” with all other disabled people who see your cosplay or even just read this question. I’m fully prepared for there to be some negative blowback in the notes on this and I’m almost certain a not‐insignificant portion of my followers will disagree with me here.

And I’m okay with that. And if you want to go forward with cosplaying this character, you have to be okay with that too.