Reflecting on society’s fear of physical abnormalities

Although Halloween is over, it’s not too late to take away valuable insight.  NPR Commentator Ben Mattlin discusses the historic and contemporary connections between disabilities and Halloween.

Two wheelchairs going in different directions with yellow background
Challenges of Haloween

Ben Mattlin was born with spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheel chair that he controls with his mouth.  He discusses the use of physical deformities in ancient myths and fairy tales.

For instance, Captain Hook was a mean torturous pirate, but this was not enough to develop his character.  He was created to have an amputated hand and a hook as a replacement.  This was strategic in his character development to play on society’s fears of physical abnormalities.  Therefore, the author and illustrator utilized and sensationalized a physical disability to promote fear.

Mattlin questions whether or not Halloween promotes opportunity to ridicule people’s differences.  He remembers what it was like as a child, trick-or-treating in a wheel chair and receiving more candy than the other kids.

However, as an adult he has wrestled with what Halloween means to someone with a disability who lives every day outside of the norm.  Mattlin juggles his position on Halloween through various personal experiences.  He now considers it a useful guide to encourage people to look, question, discuss and promote awareness of people living with disabilities and outside of societal norms.  Listen to his complete story on NPR audio.


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I am a BFA Photography major at Seattle University. I champion for civil rights from the perspective of one with disabilities that give me the abilities to do so. I am a passionate, educated and informed advocate of the arts in all aspects.