Costumes That Work With Wheelchairs

Robin Mobile Costume
Robin Mobile

Using a wheelchair need not hold you back from having an awesome Halloween costume. If anything, the chair can create opportunities to get truly creative to build a very memorable costume. Whether you're looking for ideas for yourself or need some inspiration for your child in time for Halloween, these ideas should get you rolling.

Wheelchairs as Vehicles

A wheelchair can act as an anchor for a more involved costume. Think of dressing up your wheelchair as its own character this Halloween. Turning your chair into another kind of vehicle lets you transport yourself or your child into a different life for the night.

Race Car

Pick up a large cardboard box that fits easily over the wheelchair. Don't break it down, as you'll be keeping it in one piece to emulate the front, back, and two sides of a car.

  1. Trace out the shape of a car onto the sides of a large cardboard box and cut it down to size.
  2. Cut craft foam for details like the spoiler, headlights, or side mirrors. Attach to the cardboard before painting if you use plain foam or after painting if you use colored foam.
  3. Paint the cardboard with spray paint in the color and design of your choice.
  4. Fit the cardboard around the wheelchair for a slick ride.
  5. Dress the part by donning a racecar driver uniform with helmet.

Using this same template, you could do a number of variations such as taxicab, fire truck, ice cream truck, ambulance, limousine and more. You could even use the same costume from year to year, repainting it to keep it new and fresh.

Airplane

Red Baron Airplane Wheelchair Costume
Red Baron Bi-plane Costume

Following the same basic idea as the car, turn your wheelchair into an airplane with a cardboard box.

  1. Use foam or cardboard cut outs for the wings and tail, attaching them with hot glue.
  2. Build the rounded nose from foam, sculpting it to fit. Cover with fabric or paper and affix to the front of the plane with hot glue.
  3. Allow the glue to dry before adding to the wheelchair.

Go for the WWII fighter pilot look by dressing in a leather jacket with a scarf, helmet and goggles.

Train

Children love trains, and they can be made in many styles, from the realistic to the cartoonish. The basic premise of drawing this out on cardboard is similar to the car, except you'll want to be sure to include a smokestack. This may need to be cut from a second piece of cardboard and glued or utility taped on the front of the basic outline if you cannot find a large enough box before you spray paint and add details.

Combine a denim shirt and cap with a red bandana for a classic train conductor look. You could also paint the train scarlet for a Hogwarts Express costume from the Harry Potter franchise that's sure to turn some heads.

Flying Saucer

A flying saucer, given its circular shape, may be best for a young child or someone with a small wheelchair.

  1. Use cardboard or paper mache to build a round disc. An extra-large hula-hoop makes an excellent base for paper mache.
  2. Spray paint it with a futuristic silver paint or cover it in foil.

Turn yourself into a simple alien by donning a headband with antenna coupled with a tight green sweatshirt for the classic "little green men" look.

Pirate Ship

Set sail Halloween night with a fun pirate ship.

  1. Build the hull from cardboard and flexible foam.
  2. Cover the main design with long strips of adhesive shelf liner or contact paper in a wood pattern to recreate a wooden ship.
  3. Use a large square of felt or poster board to make the sail and pirate flag.
  4. Attach the flag and sail using long lightweight wooden dowels to the back of the wheelchair.

Finish off the costume by dressing as a pirate, complete with hat and a stuffed parrot on your shoulder.

Chariot or Wagon

Decorate the wheelchair like a Roman chariot or old West wagon.

Princess Belle and Chariot Wheelchair Costume
Princess Belle and Chariot
  1. Cut the chariot or wagon shape out of cardboard and paint as desired.
  2. Attach two shafts made of pool noodles with large dowels through the center for stability to the front of the chariot or wagon.
  3. Cover the pool noodles in white paper for the chariot or brown paper for the wagon.
  4. Hang a stuffed horse between them, using heavy cord to tie it onto the pool noodles.

Finish the costume by dressing in Roman-style armor or cowboy/cowgirl attire.

Famous Wheelchair Users

Part of the fun of Halloween is dressing up as someone you admire, and there are plenty of disabled heroes to choose from. Wear your wheels proudly with a costume that keeps the chair front-and-center:

  • Professor Xavier: One of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel Universe, Professor X never lets his disability get in his way. The key elements of this costume would be a bald cap and a nice suit and tie. Those two elements alone would make the costume instantly recognizable. To build Cerebro, the professor's power-magnifying helmet, start with a batter's helmet and cut out the sides until you get the right shape. Next, use stiff wire strung with beads to create the cables on the front and sides of the helmet. Finish with a can of silver spray paint for a futuristic sheen.
  • Stephen Hawking: As one of the smartest people alive, this brilliant physicist is a hero for science-lovers everywhere. If he's your hero, too, you can easily create a costume by combining thick-framed glasses and a nice suit with your wheelchair. Attach a small netbook-style laptop or portable DVD player to the arm of the chair for the signature look.
  • Bran Stark: Although there are no wheelchairs in the Game of Thrones universe, no one will question your costume if you nail the details. Bran's signature look requires dark clothing, a leather jerkin, chin-length dark hair, and a fur stole around his shoulders. If you're lucky enough to own a husky, bring him with you; otherwise, use a stuffed wolf to represent Bran's loyal direwolf Summer.
  • Frida Kahlo: Boys aren't the only ones who can have disabled heroes. This famous Mexican painter was confined to a wheelchair for much of her life after a serious bus accident. This didn't stop her from being a hugely talented artist and iconic figure of Mexican history. The key to nailing this costume is the thick eyebrows and dark hair done up in buns. Combine this with colorful traditional Mexican clothing to emulate the look of her self-portraits.

Other Fun Costume Ideas

If the other ideas seem too common or just aren't to your tastes, here are a few more offbeat costume ideas that can use or hide a wheelchair creatively:

Queen of Hearts on Throne
Queen of Hearts on her throne
  • Throne: Drape your chair with cushions and rich-looking fabrics for a royal throne. Combine this with a royal scepter and crown to complete the look. For an alternative version, fashion swords from spray painted foam or cardboard, then decorate the wheelchair with these to create an iron throne like Game of Thrones.
  • Bubble bath: This is a fun costume idea that works for all ages. Use cardboard to create a bathtub shape, and fill it with foam or plastic baubles to create a bubble bath. A few finishing touches like a rubber ducky will really sell the look.
  • Rapunzel: Build a tower with cardboard decorated to look like bricks. Cut a window in the front so you can see out, like Rapunzel locked away in her tower. Combine this with a long blond wig and nice princess dress to complete the effect.
  • Cemetery: For the person looking for a spooky costume idea, try building a cemetary scene attached to the wheelchair. Use foam for the tombstones. Fake moss can be used to cover your lap and anchor the tombstones. Dress as a ghost in tattered white clothing or a zombie with plenty of blood and gore.
    Dracula Costume
    Dracula
  • Dracula: Everyone knows that vampires need to travel in their coffins. Dress up as a freshly-awoken Dracula by building an open coffin out of cardboard spray painted black and lined with red fabric. Arrange it so that you look as if you're rising up out of the coffin. Be sure to complete the costume with pale makeup, a cape and some blood-dripping fangs.

Basic Cardboard Wheelchair DIY Instructions

The basic steps for building a wheelchair costume out of cardboard are similar whether you'll be making a steam engine or a horse-drawn carriage:

  1. For most designs, you will want only the sides of the box; cut off the top and bottom as you'll be building up the top of the design (if needed) separately. Fit the basic cardboard shape over the wheelchair to be sure it's the right size before proceeding.
  2. Cut out the shape after drawing it onto the cardboard. Decide where it will sit on the chair. Will the chair wheels be visible and part of the design or hidden behind the box? Cut wheel spaces as needed.
  3. Complete the costume design by adding details. Useful materials include more cardboard, posterboard, tin pie plates, aluminum foil, and Styrofoam. Glue pieces together with hot glue or use utility tape to affix structural elements.
  4. When the entire costume is assembled, spray paint it and hand-paint any smaller details.
  5. To affix the costume to the wheelchair, you can use Velcro ties. Cut small holes in the cardboard and feed the tie through it, then wrap it around the frame of the chair to anchor it. Be sure that the occupant is already in the chair at this point. If you're making a costume for yourself, this step is a two-person job; get someone to help you fit you inside the costume.
  6. Test it out to make sure it'll be comfortable for the night. If you need to make any last-minute adjustments, like moving the anchor points higher, you can do so now. Velcro makes it easy to remove and re-attach the costume as necessary.

The blog Wheelchair Costumes has great photos and step-by-step tutorials for several different wheelchair costume designs you can adapt to your own needs if you need more detailed, specific instructions for your chosen costume.

Special Considerations

While the possibilities for building a costume around a wheelchair are nearly limitless, it's important to keep safety, mobility, and travel considerations in mind.

Safety

You don't want the costume to prevent the wheels from moving or to become tangled in the wheels. This means that you should measure carefully and give some space between the wheels and the cardboard or other materials outside of them to provide ample clearance.

Mobility

Also give some thought to mobility. Will the wheelchair be pushed or driven by the occupant? Is it manual or electric? This will affect the design. A manual wheelchair will need enough space inside the design for the occupant to comfortably propel it; an electric wheelchair can have a tighter fit.

Also be sure that the costume is high enough off the ground that it won't drag or get damaged. If you need to keep the costume components above the wheels to ensure safety, don't worry. Dark leggings or a blanket over your lap will hide any distractions, and all eyes will be on the other components of your costume anyway.

Travel

You'll also want to build the costume in a way that it will travel easily and without damage. One easy way to do this is to put it together with Velcro strips. These are adhesive on one side and Velcro on the other. Simply build the costume, then cut it down into a few pieces that can be reattached with Velcro. This allows you to stack the elements of a bulky costume and assemble it quickly when arriving at your destination. These Velcro pieces are besides the ones needed to attach it to the chair.

Frightfully Fun Costume Ideas

Whether you build a detailed costume to hide or include the chair or choose to simply emulate the look of a favorite chair-bound hero, incorporating your wheelchair into your Halloween costume makes the night a lot more fun. Using a wheelchair as the anchor for a costume opens up a wide range of props and possibilities sure to scare up plenty of compliments on the big night.

Costumes That Work With Wheelchairs