This is a post about avoiding ableist costumes at Halloween. I would also like to say that it is very important to avoid racist costumes too. Here is a link that explains what white people need to know.
I remember a couple of years ago seeing a video by an actor who had been in several performances on film, on stage and in Halloween events pretending to be various spooky things. She was giving tips on how to act physically scary on Halloween:
Walk in a funny way, as if you have a limp. Drag one foot behind you. Move erratically and unpredictably. Invade personal space. Generally just “act strange”.
Basically, a lot of things that disabled people might do unintentionally. These tips did not sit right with me at all. I mean, they were textbook horror stuff so I don’t think she’s a terrible person or anything, but when you think about it a lot of horror movies are pretty ableist, aren’t they? “Escaped mental asylum inmate” is a pretty well-worn horror trope.
There was a controversy a few years ago about a “Mental Patient” costume that was available in UK supermarkets. It was withdrawn after complaints but you can still get many similar costumes online; straight jackets and the like. There are also haunted house attractions with a mental asylum theme.
Honestly, the idea of mental asylums is scary to autistic people; many autistic people have suffered and died in institutions and it still happens today. That is some scary shit. But Halloween isn’t meant to be about genuine scares, it’s meant to be fun. It’s all very well giggling your way around a fake mental asylum when you don’t have to be worried you’re going to end up in a real one.
And of course, all this feeds stigma against people who don’t act the same way everyone else does. If we’re Halloween costumes and attractions, that’s giving everyone the message that we are something to be frightened of. Maybe we’re dangerous.
It’s much easier to dismiss, mistreat, hurt or even kill someone if you’ve been conditioned to be afraid of them. Dressing up as a mental patient or going to an asylum haunted house might just seem like a bit of harmless fun, but it all adds up. There are PLENTY of scary things you can dress up as that won’t contribute to discrimination against disabled people. Please be considerate when choosing your costume.
Enjoy your Halloween!