So Halloween is two days away and Facebook is full of Halloween costume ideas and pictures of costume parties. My enjoyment of the holiday came to a crashing halt when I came across a photo of a couple who had won a costume contest. They had jointly dressed up as Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan. Neither of these people were disabled so both were participating in the harmful activity of cripping up.
It is truly unfortunate that people see disabled characters as fair game, particularly because their representation of those characters cannot be anything but caricature. It is unfortunate that people feel comfortable seeing both physical and intellectual disability as a costume that can be put on for their amusement and the amusement of others.
Halloween is unfortunately a holiday that spends a lot of time reinforcing horrible stereotypes about disability to the point of making the couple dressing up as Forrest and Dan seem almost innocuous. Halloween is often about making disability scary. Consider the popularity of costumes like the mad scientist or the mental patient or Frankenstein’s Monster. All of these are representations of disability and all of them are designed to frighten.
This goes beyond personal costume choices however. Companies profit off of creating and running Haunted Asylum Tours which profit off of and perpetuate ideas of the scary and dangerous person with psychiatric disabilities and other institutionalized individuals (for a more detailed account of why this is problematic read here).
These activities are not harmless fun. The stereotypes they evoke are not discarded and forgotten from November 1st to October 30th. Instead they reinforce the existing negative stereotypes around disability and make the people they are attached to fodder for mockery.
This is not an outcry against Halloween generally but rather a call for people to be more aware of the impact that their costumes and choice of activities might have on actual disabled people.