Last year VMI had an online contest in search of the best wheelchair halloween costumes out there. To say we were blown away by the community’s creativity would be an understatement.

This year, we followed up with two of our winners to get a step-by-step list of instructions for how they put the costumes together and what special considerations they kept in mind.

Each costume was put together extremely differently, with one taking a whole month of prep work and the other taking essentially one day. Whether you go with a more intense option, like Allison’s bookworm, or a simpler option, like Shannon’s crazy cat lady, one thing is for sure: putting together an amazing wheelchair Halloween costume is possible no matter what the time constraint.

How to make a wheelchair bookworm costume, by Allison Bungard


How long did it take to make?

I usually think about and collect ideas throughout the year, including pictures of costumes for persons using wheelchairs and costumes for persons who do not use wheelchairs. The website Coolest Homemade Costumes and social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are great resources.

About a month prior to Halloween, we make a decision, buy materials and begin work on the costume. We usually need sufficient time to account for drying time between steps, weather that might affect drying time, work and school activities, and medical and therapy appointments. Because our son uses his wheelchair at school during the day, we can only do “costume fittings” after school and on weekends.

What materials did you use?

  • Several pieces of foam insulation board – 2″ or 3″ thick (available at hardware store)
  • Gorilla glue
  • Hot wire foam cutter and hot knife foam cutter
  • Newspaper
  • Bulletin board paper
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic resin glue
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Fine point black marker
  • Cardstock (for lettering on books)
  • 4 Swivel plate casters
  • Screws (to attach casters)
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Mask with filter (to protect from fumes)
  • Tarps (to protect work surfaces)

How did you put the costume together?

I used a book as a model for the two books in the costume. I measured the wheelchair and used algebraic proportions to calculate the dimensions so the costume would cover the length, width and height of the wheelchair.

Outline and Cut
I outlined the pieces of the books on the foam insulation board. Then, using a hotwire foam cutter and a hot knife foam cutter, I cut out the pieces.

Calculate Number of Pieces Necessary
Each book has six pieces. The top and bottom of each book are the same size, so I cut out four rectangles of the same size for the book covers, two for each book.

The pages of each book consist of two rectangles of the same size on the ends and two longer rectangles of the same size running down each side of the book. For both books, I needed four of the smaller rectangles and four of the larger rectangles.

With Gorilla glue, I glued the pieces together in the shape of the books. The glue needs to dry for approximately 24 hours.

Cut a Hole for the Wheelchair
Using the hot knife, I cut into each book a hole for the wheelchair. The hole for the wheelchair fit within the entire rectangle portion of the book, but the wheelchair hole is off center inside of the rectangle because it is actually centered in the structure of the entire book and binding (which was added later).

Create the Book Binding
To make the binding, I drew five semicircles on the foam and cut them out using the hot knife. I glued the semicircles to the book.

Next, I attached strips of masking tape between each semicircle and stuffed the area between the strips of tape with wadded up balls of bulletin board paper. Once there was sufficient stuffing, I enclosed the entire binding with masking tape.

Cover the Foam Boards with Masking Tape, begin Paper Mâché Process
Prior to starting the paper mâché process, I covered each book in masking tape to protect the integrity of the foam board. Then, I tore the newspaper into long strips. I followed the directions to make the plastic resin glue. The plastic resin has terrible fumes, so while applying the paper mâché, you should keep the books in a well-ventilated area. I wore the mask to help with the fumes as well. I used the plastic resin glue and newspaper strips to cover the books in paper mâché. The paper mâché needed to dry for at least 24 hours. The plastic resin glue produces a sturdy paper mâché, and we did not need to cover the books in a second coat. If you use another type of paper mâché medium, you may need multiple coats and additional drying time.

Once the paper mâché was completely dry, I painted the book covers and binding. Then, I painted the pages in a shade of white. Once dried, I applied a second coat of paint. I drew lines for the pages using a fine point black marker.

Cut out Book Letters, Glue them on
I used a Cricut Expression to cut the letters for the titles and authors as well as the designs on the cover and binding. I decoupaged the letters and designs onto the book.

Using a drill, I placed holes for the swivel plate casters on the bottom cover of the book and then screwed the casters onto the foam. The casters are part of why you need thicker foam board. Swivel wheels will also help with uneven sidewalks and roads during Trick or Treat.

Get dressed
The worm costume was not homemade. We ordered the worm costume, graduation cap, and glasses from an online costume store.

What were some of the special considerations for decorating your child’s wheelchair?

We usually have to think about where the costume will be worn — the school costume parade, Trick or Treating, Halloween parties, etc. We try to consider any door widths and whether we will need to transport both the wheelchair and the costume in our vehicle at the same time. [Consider whether you have a wheelchair accessible vehicle or not] as these issues will affect the size of the costume.

If you want the wheelchair costume to go everywhere, then you need to create something that will fit through doors. If you need to transport both the wheelchair and the costume at the same time, then both need to fit in your vehicle at the same time.

Thus far, most of our costumes have had two components: a costume for our son that can be worn with and without the wheelchair costume and the component that is made to costume his wheelchair. This allows our son to wear a costume even when we go places where it might not be practical to bring his wheelchair costume.

What were some additional steps taken to ensure the safety & comfort of your child in their costume?

As you are designing and making the costume, you have to make sure your child has enough room to move without damaging the costume. You also need to make sure your child can carry his or her treat bucket to present it to people who are passing out candy.

You also need to consider how you will push, stop and set the wheel locks (brakes) of the wheelchair while using the costume. You also need to consider how the costume will handle any curbs and uneven surfaces.

How did you come up with an idea that could incorporate the chair?

My inspiration for costumes is my son — his interests, things I want him to learn about our family, and concepts that I want him to learn about the world around him. We have made six costumes incorporating our son’s wheelchair.

To celebrate the memory of his grandfather, our son dressed as a postal worker driving a postal truck that we made for his wheelchair. One year, I was anxious for him to learn about community helpers, so he dressed as a firefighter, and we made a fire truck for his wheelchair. Last year, I wanted him to understand that books and reading are important, so we decided upon the bookworm costume.

The base is the hardest part of the costume to make. You can either create a base for the costume around the frame or handles of the wheelchair. Or, as with the bookworm, you could make a base with wheels that goes around the wheelchair, and the wheelchair essentially pushes the rolling costume.

Remember: you don’t necessarily need to start from scratch each year. In some years, we reuse our base because it’s the most time-consuming component to make. For example, we repainted the postal truck to become the fire truck. We got two great costumes out of one cardboard truck.

How to make a crazy cat lady costume for wheelchair users, by Shannon Feiler

How long did it take to make?

This costume was very easy to make and didn’t take long to put together. The longest part was attaching the stuffed cats to her chair with duct tape.

What materials did you use?

Lots of stuffed cats: we found many at garage sales and borrowed from friends to keep the cost down
Duct tape to attach the cats to her chair and the box
A box to fill with a bunch of stuffed cats
Robe, slippers, crazy glasses and curlers for her hair

What were some of the special considerations for decorating your child’s chair?

We made sure nothing dragged on the ground or would get caught in the wheels. We also wanted the cats visible, so we attached them after she was sitting in the chair and used a belt to keep the box of cats on her lap.

What were some additional steps taken to ensure the safety & comfort of your child in their costume?

We had to make sure her robe wasn’t too long so it wouldn’t get caught in her wheels. The costume was super comfy because she could wear her PJ’s under her robe and stayed warm as well.

How did you come up with an idea that could incorporate the chair?

We are always looking for a way to incorporate her chair on Halloween. This was perfect because we could just make it look like she was sitting in a chair. Not much extra [work] needed. My daughter loves animals and has a ton of stuffed animals, so for her this was a perfect costume. She loved having all the cats around her! We saw a picture of a similar costume online, but the child was walking…I thought this would be so much more fun to make with her sitting and we could have so many more cats using her chair. It all worked out, and she was the hit of our Halloween adventures!