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Superheroes with disabilities join forces at the 5th Annual ‘Cripping’ the Comic Con

Courtesy of Cripping the Comic Con

Daniel White's comic "Department of Ability" features a team of superheroes with disabilities.

When his daughter got her first wheelchair, Daniel White knew she needed strong, relatable characters to represent her in the media. She needed a wheelchair-using character, White said, not used for “charitable purposes.” He couldn’t find any, but being an artist and writer, he came up with his own series of characters.

“I wanted to create something that would be completely accessible for all children to enjoy, but that would be based around the concept of disability in a manner that’s never been seen before,” he said. “Something that’s mainstream, and could hopefully keep the door open for global wide inclusion for all these brilliant children who just miss out.”

White then created the Department of Ability, a comic book about a team of superheroes with disabilities based in the U.K., and is in communication with Stan Lee of Marvel to globally publish the comic by the end of the year. And this Saturday, White will be participating in his first “Cripping” the Comic Con alongside his daughter, Emily.

The 5th Annual “Cripping” the Comic Con, an all-day, international summit on disability rights and culture, will be held from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Schine Student Center at Syracuse University. The annual symposium is hosted by the SU Disability Cultural Center, and is free and open to the public. Students, faculty and staff can pre-register online.

The idea behind “CripCon,” — as co-creator Diane Wiener, director of the Disability Cultural Center, affectionately called it — came from a conversation she had with a colleague and friend, Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri. Zubal-Ruggieri, one of the founding members of the Disability Student Union, has worked at the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at SU for more than 30 years. They knew each other online through an international disability studies Listserv interface before meeting in person when Wiener joined SU in the fall of 2011.

“She’s Batman woman and I’m Robin — this is all her fault,” Wiener joked. “As we started getting to know one another, she asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of doing a disability-themed comic con?’ Cause we knew within five minutes of meeting each other, we were both colossal nerds.”

After agreeing with the idea, she discussed it with the university, the Division of Student Affairs and the Disability Studies department, receiving feedback. Wiener and Zubal-Ruggieri then planned the first event in 2013 and decided to call it “Cripping” the Comic Con because “we wanted to mess with the word ‘crip’ and take the word that has often been used negatively and reclaim it,” Wiener said.

Their idea caught the attention of José Alaniz, a professor from the University of Washington, who was writing the first full-length manuscript on disability and superheroes. Alaniz came to the event and was the CripCon’s first keynote speaker.

With each Crip Con, Wiener looks forward to being in a “Crip Space,” or a welcoming space “where everyone has a place at the table.”

“My goal is for people to have a sense of belonging,” Wiener said. “We talk about diversity and we talk about inclusion, but we have to go further than that.”

Previous CripCons included themes on zombies, gaming and deaf cultural pride. This year’s theme, “Our Own Icons!” was inspired after Wiener learned about White and the Department of Ability. Wiener, Zubal-Ruggieri and Gilles Stromberg, an SU alum who worked for the LGBTQ Resource Center, had also created a team of “disability-positive superheroes,” Access Avengers. She then thought of having an international summit between the two teams of disabled superheroes in New York.

White will be participating in a morning panel with his daughter, other comic book artists and disability rights activists. They will also be participating in a “Create your own CripCon mascot” workshop with his wife Aimee, one of many inclusive workshops including those on cosplay, Lego and collaborative design. Emily White and Abby Kessler, a 13-year-old with multiple disability identities, are the CripCon’s youth co-ambassadors. There will also be live music in the evening from Sarah and Jessica Renehan of Calling Utopia, a pop rock band from Melbourne, Australia, that wrote the theme song for the Department of Ability.

The concert, morning panel and workshops will be livestreamed, video recorded, captioned and American Sign Language-interpreted. Wiener decided to live stream the day’s events after several people from the disability rights community couldn’t attend previous CripCons.

“We managed with creativity, flexibility and collaboration to put together what is going to be an accessible live stream because it’s important to me that we have scripts embedded and to make sure that someone’s tuning in,” Wiener said.

The CripCon will also feature an accessible photo booth, gaming room, inclusive food and communication badges, which allows people to signal whether they want to interact through simple shapes.

White is most excited about taking in all the artwork, cosplay, comics and live music during the day. The CripCon, he said, is an event people won’t want to miss.

“The whole thing is just completely accessible to everyone — it’s based around fun and diversity,” White said. “They’ll be witnessing the birth of a new movement of inclusivity, and this CripCon will be that one that puts it all on the map.”

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