I love Halloween. Growing up, my mom always put in special effort to make sure I could dress up in a costume to trick-or-treat with my siblings.
But unlike my siblings, there wasn’t an option to shop for costumes at the store. Because I used crutches to get around, my mom had to be creative.
One year I remember being teased for my red M&M costume. My mom also made herself one too! I was walking with my crutches to houses with my stepdad and mom in tow.
A kid says sarcastically as he passes by "Oh isn't that cute an M&M on crutches." I was humiliated. I didn't know the word then but that's how I felt. I will always love my mom for her momma bear instincts because she said under her breath "I'll show you how cute you are on crutches ..." Thinking back on that moment I find it so funny how my mom was so protective of me.
I was thrilled to see my favorite store, Meijer, has added accessible, adaptive children's costumes to its already wide selection of costumes. It was great to read that the Michigan-based retailer’s decision was based on listening to the needs of customers.
"We aim for our stores to be a welcoming and supportive environment where every customer sees themselves reflected in our team and their needs are met in our products," Ryan Yarnell, seasonal décor buyer for Meijer, says in a news release. "So, when our customers explained how the addition of adaptive costumes would help families get more joy out of Halloween, we listened. It was a natural next step for us."
The adaptive costumes come in assorted sizes and include an astronaut, mermaid, skeleton, and witch. Each costume is designed to be accessible, featuring magnets, Velcro, and pull tabs rather than zippers and snaps, as well as inner linings, secret pockets, and hook-and-loop openings for children with arm and leg braces. They are also made from softer fabrics and flat seams to reduce tactile sensitivities. They also offer a more comfortable fit, even with other clothing worn underneath.
Meijer is among major national retailers such as Target and Walmart to offer adaptive costumes.
Opportunity to participate
It’s important to see retailers playing a role in making Halloween feel more inclusive, says Jeffrey VanDyke, a peer mentor at Disability Network West Michigan, which serves Muskegon, Oceana, Newaygo, Lake, and Mason counties.
“Halloween always felt rather isolating,” says VanDyke. “While your friends could go out as whatever they felt like … oftentimes my selections were reduced to what could go alongside or fit with my chair – unless you knew of someone who could create one by hand. This development opens up a whole new world for people with disabilities, both from an inclusive standpoint and just an opportunity to participate in the festivities on a whole new level, which leaves me feeling extraordinarily encouraged for the development this change could lead to in the future for other areas, too.”
Stephanie Deible, who also works at Lakeshore West Michigan as the community inclusion specialist for Newaygo County, calls the addition of inclusive Halloween costumes another stride forward in recognizing disability as a natural part of the human experience.
“There are many facets to disability,” she says. “It’s not all about struggle and hardships. It’s also about the desire to experience connection, build relationships with others, and find joy in the midst of everyday life. Inclusive Halloween costumes help break down barriers, allowing people to authentically be themselves, and provide an opportunity to create traditions, have fun, and embrace time with those around them.”.
‘A place in the community’
Amanda Rhines, executive director of Disability Network, which serves Ottawa and Allegan counties, points out that eliminating participation barriers to traditional community celebrations is important in supporting disability rights.
“Community inclusion is more than just being able to trick-or-treat. It’s about having a place in the community and a costume to go with it. We are thrilled that major retailers have noticed that they play a role in ensuring that people with disabilities are truly part of our communities,” Rhines says.
That’s why I’m glad to see Meijer’s overall commitment to accessibility continue to grow. Over the summer, the retailer earned the title of Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion from the Disability Equality Index
(DEI) for the sixth year in a row, demonstrating its ongoing commitment to championing a culture of dignity and respect for its team members.
The DEI is a unique, joint initiative of Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). It measures key performance indicators across organizational culture, leadership, accessibility, employment, community engagement, support services and supplier diversity.
I would love to hear what you think about accessible costumes and other disability inclusion issues. Share your thoughts below in the comments or send us an email at [email protected]
This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.