Breaking Down Social Barriers: Comic-Con Edition

Community EngagementBlog

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Finding a community based on a similar interest can lead to a nirvana of self-expression and self-realization. My name is Cody Williams and I share IRC’s goal of integrating individuals with disabilities into mainstream society. I have Cerebral Palsy which leaves me wheelchair bound for life, and I’ve recently made a personal discovery on how I can connect with other people. This July was my first time attending Comic-Con in San Diego! Despite what the name implies, Comic-Con incorporates anime, gamers, and other pop culture fan bases, in addition to comic book superhumans. Costumes and cosplay can act as an icebreaker because one may instantly recognize a common interest, the lifeblood to social activity.

An average day in my life consists of awkward interactions because there’s no “real” reason for two strangers to engage in conversation. In my case specifically, eye contact is scarce and with that so is the opportunity to establish and build a connection.  The one big exception? Halloween. My parents started creating costumes that transformed my wheelchair to other vehicles; so, the object that deflected people eyes would draw their attention. My experience in San Diego was on a whole other plane regarding the category. During the trip to Comic-Con there was nothing hiding the chair and yet people gave enthusiastic comments unsolicited because they recognized the character. For the first time, strangers were engaging me socially with no regard, negative or positive, to the chair! While I had cosplayed once or twice before, never had it been in a crowd this large and diverse.

My Comic Con experience lasted 4 days, allowing me to alternate between different outfits. I was a lesser known Batman villain called The Mad Hatter, a dark Jedi from Star Wars, and a character from my favorite video game, an antihero named Riku. Each one elicited a connection with people from the same work of fiction. Although Riku is from an obscurely known video game title, I was widely recognized within that particular community. I sought out people portraying characters from different works of fiction who shared similar traits for surreal and creative pair-ups. Cosplay is my personal method of self-expression because there are characteristics that reflect common interest and personality. On average, people’s interests, personalities, behaviors, and belief systems are all internal and not always openly shared. Now, this specific outlet, where my disability was not noticed, is available to me, providing more opportunity to build connections and relationships. There’s got to be something different for everybody to unite people.

I had been searching images for cosplayers on the internet for months before this event. I had built up in my mind that this would produce the perfect social conditions to result in long lasting connections, which didn’t really happen because of the scale the event. What Comic Con lacked in social atmosphere it made it made up for in reception. Individuals with disabilities remain one of the most underrepresented groups, leaving our public reception to progress slowly. For me, cosplay provided an extended respite from typical reality as different genres of fantasy came to life. I look forward to searching the internet for more events like this, as I continue to chase this feeling. Finding a community bound by a common interest emphasizes a self-imposed sense of identity rather than one imposed by society.

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Community Engagement

Inland Regional Center's Community Engagement Unit can be reached at [email protected]

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