Journalist and co-founder of the viral online #ToyLikeMe campaign, Rebecca Atkinson talks about taking on the global toy giants Lego, the need for positive disability representation and gives us the #ToyLikeMe top five Christmas disability representative stocking stuffers!
Never mind Barbie and her cinched waist and impossible body dimensions, how can you find toys this Christmas that represent real human diversity?
Last April I noticed that my children’s’ toy box was lacking in any representations of disability. I headed to Google and found it wasn’t just our collection of dolls and figures that was void of incidental wheelchairs or white canes, but the entire toy industry. I had grown up myself wearing hearing aids and remember well the unease I felt in being different at my mainstream school. I never saw deafness represented positively around me, in the toys I played with or the cartoons I watched.
When I was in my teens Mattel brought out an American Sign Language Barbie. It was one of the few representations of deafness I’d seen in mainstream kids’ industries and it had a lasting impact on me. For a global brand as big as Barbie to embrace deafness sent a powerful message of inclusion and acceptance. It was more than just a toy. Unfortunately Sign Language Barbie has since been discontinued but the feeling I had when I discovered her has stayed, and when I realised the toy industry had not moved on since the 80s, I was impelled to establish #ToyLikeMe and call on the global toy industry to start representing the 150 million disabled children worldwide. Children learn what we, as adults, teach them. If we leave disability out of the toy box we risk sending out a message of exclusion. The kind of exclusion that sadly gets played out in playgrounds with children bullied or excluded for having a difference or disability. It’s frustrating to know that 50% of children with special needs experience bullying at school.
Since #ToyLikeMe was established in April this year, we have had an amazing response and now have nearly 30k followers spread over 45 countries. Makie dolls, who create bespoke dolls using 3D printing, have created a line of disability accessories in response to #ToyLikeMe and German toy giant, Playmobil responded when our change.org petition calling on them to take disability out of hospital sets and into the fancy dress box was signed by 50,000 people in under a week. A Playmobil set of figures inspired by #ToyLikeMe creations is due for release in 20016/17.
Now as Christmas approaches and the year is coming to a close, the #ToyLikeMe team are renewing the call on the largest toy brand of them all – Lego. Sadly, despite numerous approaches, tweets, posts, emails, petitions, TV appearances, radio call-outs, the world’s favourite little brick company have yet to show any commitment to representing positive disability imagery in their products. Whilst our Lego change.org petition has gathered nearly 20k signatures, it’s been met with silence, so this Christmas we are urging #ToyLikeMe supporters to vote on the Lego Ideas platform for a design which brings disability representation into the Christmas grotto and mixes up Santa beards with wands, white canes and wheels. The Lego Ideas platform allows fans to upload and vote for designs they would like to become reality. Once a design reaches 10,000 votes it is put forward for consideration by the Lego product development team. For a child with a disability, it would be hugely affirming to be reflected by a brand like Lego. It says that the brand is behind them, believes in them and that they are part of the mainstream. For children without disability, seeing a brand like Lego celebrate human difference helps to create a more open minded and positive attitude when they meet someone with an impairment in real life. Lego has huge cultural sway and the power to really change perceptions by incidentally including a wheelchair using character in their movies and products.
Children look up to global brands like Lego and learn through them. But if these brands don’t include representation, then what are they teaching children? That exclusion is OK in real life? #ToyLikeMe hope that we can make this the last Christmas that disabled children are ignored by the global toy industry. We urge people to log on to Lego Ideas and help us change the toy box for generations to come.
Fave Christmas stocking stuffers featuring positive disability representation
Makies Dolls – These 3D printed dolls are made bespoke to order and you can now get #ToyLikeMe® endorsed inclusive accessories including hearing aids, cochlear implants, diabetic lines, white canes and glasses. You can also get bespoke scars and birthmarks too!
The jigsaw from Orchard Toys is toy box diversity at its best. It features three characters with disabilities. And all ages too!
Monster High Finnegan Wake doll This guy’s got it rolling on. With wheels that turn and not a stereotype in sight, this is one of our favourite representative toys of 2015.
Weesie Pals – Creating bespoke cuddly critters with a range of inclusive accessories including hearing aids and ostomy pouches with Velcro stomas, we love independent toy maker, Weesie Pals.
Lottie Dolls – Super-cute dolls based on the dimensions of an average 8-year old girl. Promoting positive body images and with 25% of their characters coming complete with glasses, we love this brand!