When Christine Getman was a child, she discovered that dressing as Ariel from The Little Mermaid could light a fire inside her. As the Disney princess, Getman could wear Ariel's iconic red hair, her violet bikini top, and a silk mermaid tail. Best of all, Getman tells SYFY WIRE, "Mermaids don't walk, either!"
Getman, who harnessed the power of cosplay at an early age, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and uses a wheelchair. She leveraged a career of working in non-profits to start the company Magic Wheelchair with Ryan Weimer, a builder whose children both have SMA. Through Getman and Weimer's efforts, kids all over the country are able to commission their dream cosplays, with hand-made pieces built around their wheelchairs, therapy dogs, and assistive technology.
By blending imagination and fandom with all the tools these kids use in their daily lives, Magic Wheelchair creates a space in geek culture for everyone who seeks to enjoy it. The crowd at comic conventions loves the reveals, too. As Getman describes, "You don't know you need to witness a Magic Wheelchair experience until you're crying at a con."
Getman spoke via email with SYFY WIRE about Magic Wheelchair, cosplay, and her life in fandom.
How did you get into cosplay? What kind of geeky media did you find transportive as a kid?
My Ariel cosplay was almost like a "perk" of being in a wheelchair! Another time I turned my wheelchair into a Diet Pepsi box... because, again, [I was a] cheesy kid in the '90s. I used cardboard back in the day. Now I'm just so lucky to have Magic Wheelchair take cosplay and my appreciation of it to the next level.
Growing up, I geeked out on music and video games, especially when my hands were stronger and I could use the controller. Anything outer-space was my escape.
Why is it so important to make sure geeky spaces like cons are accessible for everyone?
Attendees aren't getting the full experience of their fandom if certain fans are excluded. You're not getting the full picture, the whole story, if you aren't meeting everyone who loves what you love. The more we can raise awareness for inclusion and diversify accessibility within cons and cosplay, the more we will be able to learn and connect to our geeky tribe on a deeper level. It's cathartic for everyone. Ultimate inclusion will change the world!
Can you describe your non-profit experience?
I've worked for nonprofits with missions ranging from art therapy to improving employment rates, and have almost a decade of experience providing program development, volunteer coordination, curriculum implementation, and grant writing.
Growing up with a disability, I was sometimes on the receiving end of the nonprofit program pipeline. Between that and my family's nonprofit, The Wheel To Walk Foundation, I was immersed in fundraising and community events. It's in my blood. That first-hand experience not only taught me about nonprofits but it has allowed me use a different lens when I plan events or develop new programs.
What does into training volunteer crafters? What kinds of skills are necessary to build your costumes?
Anyone can build a Magic Wheelchair! We match volunteer builders with kiddos in their community, and support them every step of the way. The Stan Winston School provides free and unlimited access to their online courses and we match builders with a Magic Wheelchair build mentor.
What has your experience cosplaying at cons been like? Do you find that geeky communities are generally supportive and impressed by your work?
It's amazing! A Magic Wheelchair has something for everyone — from being a fan of the character, to appreciating the craftsmanship and electronics, to being touched by the powerful reveal moment.
If you had unlimited resources and time, what would your dream cosplay be?
At comic cons and Magic Wheelchair reveals, people often ask me, "Where's your Magic Wheelchair?" and I respond, "It's for the kids!"
I'm not sure I could tackle my own cosplay until our waitlist is completed but, I actually have two dream cosplays… The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland or Barbarella and her ship!