EWU Students Treat Kids to Adaptive Costumes

October 31, 2023

Decked out in her pink pantsuit, surrounded by a cardboard box of her very own, Barbie rolled through the atrium of Spokane’s River Park Square mall on a determined quest for candy.

Among those accompanying her during the Oct. 28 trick-or-treat event were Lightning McQueen and Silver the Hedgehog, who each raced ahead seeking their own sweet reward as a postal worker and Harry Potter followed close behind.

This joyful version of trick-or-treating was part of the fifth annual Inclusive Halloween event. The event features adaptive costumes – each constructed with the help of EWU occupational and physical therapy students – for kids who need a little extra support to experience the spooky fun of the haunted holiday.

Prior to the Inclusive Halloween event, each participating child was assigned a team of EWU students. The students volunteered dozens of hours adapting kids’ preferred costume themes around their wheelchairs or walkers, ensuring that each costume encapsulated the wishes and personalities of individual trick-or-treaters.

Emmett, 8, certainly seemed a good fit for his Silver the Hedgehog costume. “Silver the Hedgehog is really powerful,” Emmett said. “He can use his powers of superstrength and he has very fast reflexes.” The students who worked with Emmett clearly admired Emmett’s own superstrengths.

At the mall, followed closely by their entourage of families and student helpers, the nine children traversed the crowded corridors to an enthusiastic welcome. Smiling store employees waited at the doors of their respective shops to hand out candy, while shoppers stopped to admire the kids’ creative costumes.

“I don’t know how to put it into words. It makes me so happy for Elliana to be able to do the things like typical children can do,” said Jessica Ziegler, mother to 6-year-old Elliana. “Other than this, she doesn’t get to trick-or-treat.”

For many of the children, all of whom live with medical and mobility challenges, the inclusive trick-or-treating annual event represents an opportunity to fully participate in Halloween activities. That’s why EWU physical therapy and occupational therapy graduate students such as Anna Peltier work tirelessly to make this experience truly special.

“In September we got to meet the kids we were working with. They told us what they wanted to be, and we met every Thursday to design the costumes,” Peltier said. Grouped in teams of six to eight, the Eastern students spent over 60 hours in October bringing the characters and costumes to life.

This began with cutting pvc pipe to make a frame to fit around mobility devices, then shaping the cardboard, chicken wire and paper mache — along with fabric and tissue paper — to bring the costumes to life.

Peltier, a student in the physical therapy program, was assigned to Elliana, who tasked her team with transforming her wheelchair into a super-special “under-the-sea” oasis.

“We had to figure out all the attachment points on her chair and mold the cardboard from there,” Peltier said. What followed was Elliana’s vision coming to life as seaweed, shells, fish and anemones adorned her costume.

“It’s so rewarding getting to see their faces when they put on the costume for the first time,” Peltier said.

For the EWU graduate students, the experience has been both rewarding and educational, serving as a cross-collaboration between disciplines that will serve them in the professional setting. They used skills of innovation and adaptation that can be applied to their work, and they can likewise show parents how to inexpensively adapt things for their children.

Parents at the event said they were grateful for the time and dedication of the EWU students.

“The attention the EWU students have given him is second to none, said Rachel Ayerle, mother of 4-year-old Beckett; aka, Lightning McQueen. “He’s had so much fun.”