Non-profit Magic Wheelchair has been making badass costumes for children who use wheelchairs since 2015, and each year their projects get even more impressive. This year's costumes, many of which were revealed over the weekend, include a hyper-realistic hummingbird with a light-up beak, a Jurassic World-themed chassis "pulled" by life-size a velociraptor, and an animatronic recreation of Fluffy, the three-headed dog from the Harry Potter series. These and a dozen other amazing outfits were built by Magic Wheelchair's volunteer teams located all over the country.
Magic Wheelchair was born in 2015 when self-described "garage monkey" Ryan Weimer and his wife Lana Weimer decided to take their personal hobby of making wheelchair Halloween costumes for their own children to a wider audience. Since then, they've established a network of 40 volunteer teams nationwide that will produce around 50 costumes over the course of 2017. The costumes are free for children between the ages of 5 and 17 who apply via an online portal. To get as many costumes built as possible, the Weimers organize volunteer teams of builders, fundraisers, marketers, and documentarians to raise funds and awareness of the individual costume projects.
Though Halloween is a primary focus, Magic Wheelchair also builds costumes for events like Comic Con and local parades. Work for each outfit begins up to four months in advance of the events, and requires extensive planning and fundraising to execute. Weimer says builder teams around the country are made up of set designers and special effect specialists, but also regular tinkerers like himself.
To assist with some of the less-experienced teams, Weimer has established a partnership with the Stan Winston School of Character Arts (the legendary special effects company behind Jurassic Park's dinosaurs and the killer cyborgs in The Terminator), which allows Magic Wheelchair to access extensive tutorial materials online and even talk to special effects experts throughout the builds.
Though the 2017 costume building season is coming to a close, it's never too early to start planning for next year. If you're interested in joining a Magic Wheelchair team or donating, visit their . And if you know a child who uses a wheelchair that you'd like to build a costume for, check out some of these tips from Weimer — which the Seniorhelpline team tested out themselves to build an awesome wheelchair tank over the course of a few hours.
Tips for building a Magic Wheelchair of your own:
- Plan on using materials that are light and won't weigh the chair down, such as PVC pipe, closed-cell foam, or even cardboard.
- Attaching the costume to the chair can be the trickiest part. Consider building a separate frame for the costume that can support itself, complete with caster wheels, so the whole structure can be dropped over the chair in one piece and secured with Velcro loops or zip ties.
- Draw out your design before trying to execute. It will make the process much easier than trying to wing the whole project. And when building a costume at the last minute, remember that the simpler the design, the better.
- Even the simplest costume can be dressed up with great details, such as carefully placed paint or decals, a fake dashboard, textured wheel treads, or battery-operated tap lights in place of painted headlights.
- Remember to make the costume attractive from the child's point of view. It's great to look nice to other people, but the child wearing the costume should also feel like they're wearing something special while they're in it.