CosAbility: Costumes for All Abilities with Kirsten Passmore
Editor’s Note: Fifteen-year-old Kirsten Passmore of Houston, Texas, is a comic fanatic. She loves cartoon characters and superheroes, and she’s not alone. Thousands of people all over the country are fans who are totally fascinated and excited about cartoon characters. With a creative artist [her cousin Kaitlin Thompson] and a salesman [her dad], she’s started her own company. She’s created a place where people with disabilities can become active comic book and cartoon character enthusiasts. Below, Kirsten shares her perspective on CosAbility and the role it plays for people of all abilities.
Cosplay (a contraction of the words, “costume play”) is a hobby where participants wear costumes to represent specific characters. People with disabilities can incorporate their disabilities into a costume of a cartoon character, a superhero comic book character or a movie character. Then when they go to Comic-Con events held all over the U.S., people with disabilities can join in like everyone else in the crowd, acting the characters our costumes represent.
Comic-Con events are where we can laugh, act silly and have fun with other people who enjoy dressing up like cartoon and comic book characters.
“Comic-Con events are held all over the country, including San Diego, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Houston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; New York; Orlando, Florida and elsewhere,” Brett Passmore, Kirsten’s dad, says. “Kirsten and I have been to Comic-Con events in three states.
Next year we plan to attend Comic-Con events in Atlanta, and San Diego. At Comic-Con, people dress up like their favorite fictional characters and share with each other what they know about these characters. They also buy memorabilia, and they often act like cartoon characters. A Comic-Con is a place where people with like-minded interests can get together and have a good time. Comic-Con is basically a pop culture expo.”
My dad is a small business owner, and he helped me form my nonprofit called CosAbility. I started CosAbility because it’s fun, and I’ve found a way for people with disabilities to get out more and have a lot of fun, just like I do.
“CosAbility is a play on the words cosplay, possibilities and ability, and we incorporated all three of those words into CosAbility,” Brett Passmore explains. “That’s how Kirsten came up with the name of her company.”
Our family holds fast to a verse of scripture in the Holy Bible, and I think it better explains CosAbility. Many people in the disability community want to know, “What did I do that caused this to happen to me?” Many people also might ask people with disabilities, “Why do you think this happened to you?”
But this verse of scripture in the Holy Bible helps everyone with disabilities better understand the big question, “Why?” John 9:1-3 says: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
So we see this as, Jesus said neither this man nor his parents had sinned, but that the blind man was this way so that the works of God could be displayed in him. I interpret this to mean each of us has a purpose, regardless of our physical or mental challenges. I need to constantly remember that God has a purpose for me. All I have to do is to continue to look for that purpose and fulfill it.
“CosAbility offers informational seminars on how people with disabilities can incorporate their disabilities into their costumes,” Brett Passmore reports. “The people who come to our classes will build costumes on their own, or they will come to our place, and we help them build their costumes. The idea behind our company is based on the fact that some people with disabilities can’t physically build the costumes of their dreams.
Another role we fill is giving people who come to our seminars ideas for building costumes. Kirsten has felt a big need exists for someone to help these people become a part of and enjoy this fun group of people at Comic-Con events.”
Kirsten and Comic-Cons
My dad helped me build my very first costume to go to our first Comic-Con event. When I showed up in my costume, many different people came up to us and asked, “How did you build a costume like this? Where did you get the idea for the costume? Do you think I could build a costume, or get my friends or family to help me build my costume?” We had so many questions from different people that we recognized there was a need for sharing this information with a large group of people interested in fictional characters.
I have cerebral palsy. We first learned that when I was 2. I’ve been in a wheelchair my entire life. Even though I was interested and fascinated by cartoon and comic book characters, I knew I couldn’t go into a costume store and buy a costume that would incorporate my wheelchair.
Yes, you can wear a costume and be in a wheelchair, but I wanted to incorporate my wheelchair as a part of my costume.
My first costume wasn’t wheelchair-related. I threw it together with items from my closet. It didn’t have anything at all to do with my disability.
“Kristen’s first character was made to look like an alien, Davros, from the ‘Doctor Who’ TV show – a British television show that started in the 1960s,” Brett Passmore explains. “This was the longest running science fiction show on television. When we went to our first Comic-Con, we got a lot of feedback about Kirsten’s costume.”
Many people at that first Comic-Com asked me, “Where did you buy your costume?” I told them, “We didn’t buy it. We made it.” I really enjoy Comic-Con, and I think many people with disabilities will enjoy going to these events just like I do. If you ever go one time, I believe you’ll be hooked on looking like a character, talking a lot and having fun. Often people with disabilities don’t go out much, because people generally see our disabilities and don’t see the persons with the disabilities.
But when people with disabilities show up at Comic-Con, the other attendees don’t see people with disabilities.
You’re just another cartoon character like them, and they’re very accepting of people with disabilities. Once I put on a costume, I can be anybody I want to be, and my disability doesn’t matter.
Comic-Cons Support People with Disabilities
It’s important to note that every major Comic-Con has a policy in place regarding support and access for people with disabilities. For example, DragonCon held during Labor Day weekend every year in Atlanta, published the following statement in advance of their event to ask guests to have the utmost consideration for participants with disabilities.
“This is a friendly PSA from your friends at DragonCon Disability Services. Elevators are a problem every year for people with disabilities. For people with difficulty walking, the elevators are not a convenience, they are a necessity. Please be considerate; if you CAN take the stairs or escalators, please DO. If you see someone in a wheelchair, cane, crutches, or otherwise mobility impaired, please understand that they can’t move as fast as you can. If they were waiting before you arrived, let them go before you. A little understanding, patience, and courtesy goes a long away.
If you are a person with a disability stuck in an elevator bank and unable to get onto an elevator, please look around the elevator bank for a phone– this will connect you to hotel staff. Let them know where you are and what you need. They can help you get where you need to go. We will also do our best to make sure staff are visible in these areas.
Also, please remember this: Just because a person does not have an obvious -visible- disability, this does not mean that they have NO disability. Many disabilities aren’t readily visible on the outside to strangers. They are no less disabling, and no less deserving of respect and consideration.”
If you have any concerns about accessibility or assistance when attending a ComicCon event, be sure to contact the event’s Disability Services team for advice and help. Planning in advance goes a long way to making your experience safe and enjoyable during the event.
We started doing our costume seminars in 2014. At the second Comic-Con we attended, Amazing Houston Comic-Con, we let people know what we would be doing at Comic-Con through social media. Then when we got to the Comic-Con, we handed out literature about our costume seminar – what time it started, and where it would be held. At that first session, we only had about seven or eight people. At our last Comic-Con, we had more than 100 attendees show up at our seminar.
“One of the reasons we had such a large crowd at our last Comic-Con was because we had an actor who was disabled come to our seminar and speak,” Brett Passmore says. “Normally, we’ll have between 30 and 40 people come and learn how to build costumes.”
There are several reasons people with disabilities attend our sessions. Either they don’t have ideas for a character, or they don’t know where to find the resources they need to build costumes.
So, we help them find characters from TV shows, comic books and movies that they can incorporate into costumes. Then we help them to incorporate their disabilities into their costumes.
The cofounder of CosAbility is my cousin, Kaitlin Thompson. While we’re conducting our seminars, she will begin to sketch a costume that will fit an individual with a specific type of disability. She is 17, and she’s been sketching and drawing her entire life. So, we’ve recruited her to sketch and draw the costumes for people with disabilities. Then they can see what the costume will look like, and how it can be incorporated with their specific type of disability.
Once we know the character that a person wants to have a costume built like, we explain and demonstrate how they can build that costume on their own or with the help of a caregiver, a family member or friends.
The Focus of CosAbility
We also have a Facebook page where people can see instructions for building characters and a list of leather makers and other resource people who can help people with disabilities construct their costumes.
According to Brett Passmore, “Our nonprofit CosAbility was created, so we could help people with disabilities build their costumes and sponsor scholarships for people who didn’t have the resources to build their own costumes. CosAbility could aid them in receiving the help they needed to build their costumes.
We also wanted to use the resources of the nonprofit to defray the costs of attending more Comic-Cons and teaching more people with disabilities how to build costumes and become a part of this fun-loving group. We wanted to have others who could teach people with disabilities at Comic-Cons to build costumes similar to what we teach in our seminars.
CosAbility helps people with disabilities become any character they want to be for 2-3 days and be included in the Comic-Con culture.
Once again, as Kirsten mentioned earlier, we’ve found the Comic-Con people quickly overlook disabilities, and they can relate to the person as a character.”
One of the costumes I wear now is a character in one of the Star Wars episodes called Ahsoka Tano. This character has what is called head tails with hair that looks like striped tentacles.
Brett Passmore’s Love of Cartoons
“I was a ‘Doctor Who’ fan back in 1982 and 1983,” Brett Passmore explains. “When Kirsten got older, she stared watching ‘Doctor Who’ with me. I took Kirsten to the Marvel comic book character movies and science-fiction movies with me. One year Kirsten asked me to go to a Comic-Con event with her. I looked at this Davros character and helped Kirsten build her Davros costume. Everyone at the Comic-Con enjoyed Kirsten’s costume. So, at the next Comic-Con we attended, we decided to do a seminar on how to build character costumes for people with disabilities.”
The first Comic-Con we went to was the Amazing Houston Comic Con, and we saw about 20 or 30 people with disabilities. But between 30,000 and 40,000 people attended that Comic-Con with some in costumes and some not. Some of the people we met who weren’t in costumes wanted to know what they needed to do to build costumes and become more a part of Comic-Con. We created CosAbility to meet that need. Since we’ve been doing our seminars, we’ve seen the number of people with disabilities coming to Comic-Con and wearing costumes increase.
Often when people with disabilities go out in public, they want to keep a low profile and don’t want to be noticed. However, as a cartoon character, they become more social, can be a participant as well as an observer and can have much more fun because of that costume.
No longer the persons they’ve been, they’re now cartoon characters or superheroes.
Editor’s Note: X-Men, who are stronger, better and faster than other people, due to mutations, have as their slogan, Mutants and Proud. Kirsten took that X-Man slogan and made it her own — Disabled and Proud. We’re proud to share her story too!
About the Author:
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.