October 31, 2008 was an ordinary Halloween for most of us. We tricked and treated, indulged in candy by the handful, and surveyed an array of creative costumes that ranged from fantastical to absurd to epically awesome.
Yet for the Weimer family, Halloween 2008 was the day that everything changed.
At nine months old, Keaton Weimer was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic disorder that affects muscle control and movement. The diagnosis meant, among other things, that Keaton would at some point be confined to a wheelchair.
Flash forward to 2008. It’s Keaton’s first major Halloween, and he tells his dad, Ryan, that he’s dreamed of dressing up as a swashbuckling pirate! A self-described “regular dad” who’s actually seriously talented, Ryan thinks much bigger than an eye-patch and parrot, building a massive pirate ship complete with mysterious black sails. Keaton will be the ship’s captain.
Cruising through the streets in his epic ship, “Captain Keaters” was nothing less than a superstar that Halloween—the kid with the coolest costume. He even landed a spot on the front page of a local newspaper.
For Ryan, the experience was truly magical: “It changed Keaton’s experience, and it changed people’s experiences with him. For once, they weren’t staring because he was in a wheelchair, they were staring because he was awesome—he spent Halloween sailing around in a full-on pirate ship.”
It was as if the world was finally seeing his son the way Ryan did—as a vivacious, imaginative kiddo who was full of life.
Ryan kept creating epic Halloween costumes for his kids over the years (of his five children, three are impacted by SMA). Then he got the idea to create the costumes for other kids, too. After a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign and some serious press from BuzzFeed and other big-name newsgroups, Ryan and his wife, Lana, officially founded Magic Wheelchair as a nonprofit organization. Their mission: “to put a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness.”
iD Tech + Magic Wheelchair
I’ve yet to meet someone who’s not blown away by the work of Ryan and other volunteers at Magic Wheelchair. Glancing through photos of previous costumes they’ve created, you can see—literally see—the unbridled joy written across each child’s face. It’s awesome. Life-changing.
While technology is our focus, changing the lives of kids and teens around the world is our passion. And what better way to impact kids than by showing them that the objects of their imagination aren’t out of reach?
As you can see from the photos, Magic Wheelchair isn’t creating ordinary costumes. The attention to detail is impeccable, and every costume must be custom designed and fitted to the child’s chair and range of function. To see just how involved the creation process can be, check out this behind-the-scenes look at a team of volunteers creating Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon:
To help Magic Wheelchair, our main office employees will be creating a team of volunteers to help build costumes throughout the year. We’re not geographically close to the nonprofit (Magic Wheelchair is based out of Oregon), but that isn’t a roadblock. In fact, Magic Wheelchair hopes to eventually create volunteer teams throughout the country, turning the project into a movement of communities helping communities.
Magic Wheelchair Needs Your Help, Too!
While it’s too late to help craft an awesome costume in time for Halloween 2015, that doesn’t mean Magic Wheelchair doesn’t need your help. More than 121,000 children under the age of 15 are currently confined to wheelchairs. Many of these kids have sent the organization videos dreaming up costumes for a variety of occasions, including birthday parties, parades, and holidays.
Magic Wheelchair is especially in need of volunteers with experience in robotics, engineering, animatronics, and other STEM-related skills. We couldn’t think of a better way for iD Tech alumni to use the skills they’ve learned at camp to positively impact the world.
Please check out Magic Wheelchair for more information!