A note: This piece is written from the perspective of 12-year-old Emily, who was still quite conscious that a wheelchair itself is not a costume, and it’s not something to be questioned or mistrusted. My disability is simply another part of me – a real part of me. My goal with this is to point out unnecessary ableism in a way that hopefully brings some levity and humor to the situations I experienced. Happy Halloween, everyone!
The year my dad hit the curb with my wheelchair and I landed in a heap of crushed fairy wings should have been my first clue that Halloween was not my holiday. But when you’re eleven years old, no candy gets left behind. You just have to pull yourself up by the fairy wing straps and persevere.
I assumed the next year would be business as usual and when October came, I waited by the phone for my friends to invite me out to the trick-or-treating big leagues in the wealthy neighborhood on the other side of town. I could practically taste the full size candy bars I’d be getting in my plastic pumpkin basket…but the taste went from Hershey’s sweet to Warheads sour when I got out there and saw myself surrounded on all sides by massive grand staircases leading up to spooky decorated mansions. No Halloween princess I knew could clap her hands and have servants carry her up the stairs.
So my friends brought the candy to me. And yeah, it was almost as good as having servants…at least until my friends were accused of trying to score extra candy by lying about their friend in the wheelchair who couldn’t climb the steps. Uh, hello? I’m right here. Silly Halloween candy police. Are you implying that little girls who use wheelchairs can’t have friends? Well, guess what, candy police? I’m here to tell you that people with disabilities do more than just live inside the imaginations of candy-hoarding twelve-year-olds.
But being a real live twelve-year-old girl in a wheelchair was hard sometimes, you know? At least that’s what I was told, since the man at the next house over felt so bad for “that poor girl in the wheelchair, so please take some extra candy for her and God be with her.” Well, that was awkward, I thought, but thanks for the candy, I guess. I mean, if people are so convinced that my life is so hard, I must have deserved an extra Snickers, right? So I should just stay quiet and take the supposed perks of disability wherever I could find them, right? And for that matter, mister “God be with me,” shouldn’t I just be grateful that my parents let me out of the house like all the “normal” kids?
Well, I was grateful. But not because I got to taste the candy of “normal” life. I was grateful because I managed to finish enough homework for my parents to take me trick-or-treating. Pretty “normal” twelve-year-old life, don’t you think? I had earned my right to go about filling that silly plastic pumpkin basket, happy to be out like every other kid on Halloween.
And then we came to a house with no steps! Jackpot! I rolled up feeling super confident in my princess costume, crown on my head, and just as I held out my pumpkin I heard: “Oh, I get it! You’re in a wheelchair! You’re right out of the hospital! Cool costume!”
REALLY, mister?, I thought. Did you not get that I’m a princess? I mean, I know I’m in a winter coat, but there’s a bright pink crown on my head! I can pretend to be a princess, but I sure as hell wouldn’t dress up as a girl in a wheelchair. Don’t get me wrong; it’d be nice to attach my crown to my head and my wheelchair to my butt once a year. It’d be nice to take it all off at midnight on October 31st and put it on the shelf ‘til next Halloween. But my wheelchair is not a costume. I can’t put it on and take it off like fairy wings or a princess crown. And that’s fine with me.
So accept me as I am. Accept me as a fairy or a princess. And please, don’t patronize me. Just share your candy.