Power Wheelchair Cosplay

As someone entrenched in nerd culture, I've always been interested in learning more about the topic of cosplay (costume play). As a wheelchair user myself, I wanted to know more about the practicality of cosplay design for cosplayers with disabilities. So when I had the opportunity to do some research and write a blog about it, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience.

Last week I wrote a blog here on Live Quickie about cosplay from a manual wheelchair user's perspective. Today's blog post will approach the subject from a power wheelchair angle. Though we are all wheelchair users, people who use either manual or power chairs have very different experiences. Ben Carpenter is a power wheelchair user who has been cosplaying since his junior year in high school. While his time as a cosplayer may share some similarities with Melissa, the manual wheelchair user from last week's blog, he offers a unique perspective, bringing us full circle in exploring the topic of cosplaying as a wheelchair user.

Ben in his power wheelchair out of costume

Getting Started with Cosplay

For Ben, everything started with Halloween: "When I was little, my family and I always went all-out for Halloween, turning my chair into everything from a pod racer, to a Lego helicopter, to the Titanic." His love for cosplay stemmed from the time that he and his family spent creating these Halloween costumes together. This adoration quickly turned into much more: "The amount of fun I had making those costumes with my family, and seeing people's reactions to them, carried over throughout high school and college, into the convention scene. As my knowledge of engineering, fabrication, and prop-making grew, the costumes and cosplays I made grew in both size and detail."

There's no doubt that ingenuity and vision have played a large part in Ben's vision for cosplay. Ben portrays these qualities of his personality in his cosplay. The process becomes an extension of his passion for creating, as well as the fondness that he shares for the characters and franchises that he represents.

To specifically touch on disability's role in cosplay, I asked Ben if his wheelchair plays a part in determining which characters he chooses to portray. He simply told me: "It honestly depends on the character that I am looking at cosplaying, and whether or not there is some feature or capability of my chair that can be integrated into a full costume. For instance, one of my favorite and most screen-accurate cosplays is Ghost from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. My chair has no theming elements to it for that cosplay because in the context of the game, there is no vehicle or other item which he is involved with enough to garner it enough merit to be included in the cosplay. However, with my bloodbag Max cosplay from Mad Max: Fury Road, a very large part of that franchise is about the vehicles, and the one portion of that movie which really blew me away, was when Max was strapped to the front of a car for use as a living blood transfusion. So, naturally, I felt that absolutely had to be part of the cosplay, and achieved the desired effect by using my wheelchair." For Ben, his wheelchair is a means of creating a more authentic portrayal of certain characters. In this regard, I would argue that his wheelchair gives him a bit of an advantage over other cosplayers.

Ben's 'Bloodbag Max' cosplay

When asked about the cosplay community, both Melissa and Ben share a stikingly similar opinion. They describe their experiences with feelings of inclusion, generosity, and genuineness: "For the most part, my cosplaying experiences have been very positive. The convention scene as a whole is one of the most diverse and accepting demographics you could ask for. Everybody is there to celebrate their love of movies, TV, comics, and all things nerdy, so you truly do always feel like you are a part of one very large family. The cosplay community specifically is also a very welcoming and helpful environment. Everybody is genuinely invested in seeing their friends and fellow cosplayers succeed. Even in cosplay competitions, it's not about competing; it's about community and sharing a love for the things that make us different." The connection to "all things nerdy," as Ben describes it, seems to unify the cosplay community. Since it's easy to feel isolated as a wheelchair user, this quality is relevant, welcoming, and important to showcase in our current discussion.

Accessibility at Conventions

Though the community is welcoming, accessibility at conventions can be an entirely different story. Accessibility is vital to the entire population of wheelchair users. On a personal note, I often feel anxiety when visiting new places. This feeling is directly related to access, not knowing whether a restaurant or store an accommodate my wheelchair. It seems that conventions are an extension of that: "Accessibility at conventions I have found to be extremely hit-or-miss. Cons held at hotels and convention centers are often more accessible with larger walkways, electric doors, etc., but they all seem to suffer from a lack of availability of elevators. At very large conventions, such as Dragon Con in Atlanta, there are so many people and so many different floors/locations with things to do, that the stairways for most people, especially cosplayers with larger costumes or lots of equipment, become wholle impassable. As such, the elevators become the sole method of going from one floor to the next for most people, which can mean extremely long waits for people with disabilities who have no other means of travelling from floor to floor. Convention staff are always willing to help, however, and will facilitate you getting onto an elevator or helping you get through a crowd if you ask nicely."

Ben cosplaying as Mad Max

The venue where a convention is held has a direct correlation to that convention's level of accessibility. Unfortunately, there aren't many ways to plan for this shortcoming, aside from either calling ahead, visiting the convention's website, or sending an email to the appropriate person.

Being Recognized for Your Work

As a cosplayer, Ben has had a multitude of positive experiences. While the conventions themselves play a large part of that, one of his favorite moments is related to what happened after Dragon Con 2016: "I was in the lab for one of my engineering classes and my friend walked over to me and rather excitedly said, 'My roommate just told me that you need to go onto Reddit. Now.' I asked him his subreddit I needed to look at and was simply told just to go to the front page. I didn't have any clue what it was about, so I was extremely surprised to see my bloodbag Max cosplay sitting at the top of the front page. It turns out that someone had taken and posted a picture of the cosplay onto Reddit. About an hour later, all of my friends were texting or calling me about it, I was getting tagged in reposts of the picture all over the internet, and quite a few different sites had reached out to me about writing articles about the cosplay. I even jumped into the comments of the original Reddit post just to say thank you and ended up inadvertently doing an Ask Me Anything." There was no way that Ben could have predicted that his cosplay would reach so many people and receive so much praise. As you can see in these photos, Ben's efforts definitely warranted such a positive response.

Ben cosplaying Mad Max: Fury Road with a group

The most powerful part of our interview took place with Ben's next words. Often, the disabled community seeks to transcend any kind of mobility equipment. We are taught to use "Me First" language, to put ourselves before our disabilities and try to shrug off the term "disability" in its entirety. By doing so, I believe that it dismisses disability altogether. Our disabilities are a large part of who we are, and denying that would be to deny an important part of our identities. I embrace that principle, just as Ben does: "However, it was not the popularity brought on by the post, or anything like that, which really makes me love that day and that event. It's the fact that people weren't saying, 'Look at what he is doing with his wheelchair.' That's a sentiment that I've always carried with me ever since I was a little kid. I never strive to be good anything because I am in a wheelchair, or despite the fact that I am in a wheelchair; I strive to be good at what I do, and I just bring my wheelchair along for the ride. Seeing other people recognize that, and share that same ideal really hit home for me." Whether you identify as a nerd, cosplayer, wheelchair user, or celebrity, this lesson is one of the most important opportunities to learn about life. By embracing who he is, Ben's cosplay becomes an art form, which has a lasting impact on those who are fortunate enough to witness it.

If writing this pair of blog posts about cosplay has taught me anything, it's this: authenticity is the most important quality of a cosplayer's identity. If you think about it, that's kind of ironic, since the act of cosplaying requires the individual to pretend to be someone other then themselves. It requires Melissa and Ben to weigh the content of their lives, to determine what is and isn't important. It encourages them to be confident. Most importantly, their love for cosplay has shown me that they take pride in themselves and are proud of their creations. We should feel that same pride in ourselves.

I'd like to thank both Melissa and Ben for their interviews, and for aking the time to respond to all of my emails. I'll leave you with a few words from Ben for those wheelchair users who want to begin cosplaying: "My best advice would be to forget about your wheelchair at the beginning, and just focus on the character you're wanting to portray. Focus on characters which mean something to you personally, and which [you] would take pride and honor in portraying. Portraying a character that you love will remove any fears or doubts in your mind pertaining to being in a wheelchair, and will cause you to become more and more driven to simply portray the character in the way that you find to be the best. If you are proud of what you have created, that is all that matters." Start small, get used to building a cosplay, and don't be afraid to reach out to the community for advice.

About the Author


Around the age of one, I contracted bacterial meningitis. When I was three, I began using a power wheelchair. I've always embraced my disability and taken pride in knowing that I was different than my peers. My desire to learn more about disability led me to study critical disability theory both as an undergrad and a graduate student. I've always been passionate about gaming, which influenced me to write my Master's thesis on accessibility and video games as it relates to gamers with disabilities. In my spare time I love competing in local tournaments for Super Smash Bros., reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, and writing.

Kyle's ride is a QUICKIE S-636.

Most of the stories here on LiveQuickie.com were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 10/30/2018 12:00:00 AM

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