#ToyLikeMe's Rebecca Atkinson on a big year ahead for disability representation in toys

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

January 19th 2016 at 4:38PM
UPDATED January 22nd 2016 at 12:15PM
#ToyLikeMe's Rebecca Atkinson on a big year ahead for disability representation in toys

The #ToyLikeMe campaign launched last year calling for better disability representation in toys. Since then, firms like Playmobil, Makie and Orchard Toys have all come on board, and high profile names like comic Stephen Merchant have also pledged support. Billy Langsworthy talks to campaign founder Rebecca Atkinson about her plans to boost the project this year, including new partners and a tie-in TV series.

Where did the idea for the campaign come from?

#ToyLikeMe was created in April 2015 after I noticed the lack of disability representation in toys. I had spent nearly 20 years working in TV production and print journalism, and had always been interested in the way these industries represented disabled people, but this was the first time I had noticed the lack of representation in the toy industry. I called on some fellow mothers, and with their help, launched #ToyLikeMe.

How has the industry responded to your calls for better representation?

What started out as a simple idea, grew into a great big tentacled creature, which gobbled up my life. I’ve had to put my work on hold to nurture #ToyLikeMe, and grow it into something that I hope will have lasting impact.

The response from social media followers and global media has been phenomenal, and I hope to really shake up the way we think about disability in children’s industries. #ToyLikeMe has had conversations with many toy companies this year, but the ones who have really stepped up to the plate are Makies, Playmobil, Lottie and Orchard Toys.

Who else would you like to join?

I would love for LEGO and Hasbro to come out and play. These companies have the cultural sway to change our perception.

For a child with a disability to see a firm like LEGO represent wheelchair users would send out such a powerful message. I would love to hear from Hasbro about developing a #ToyLikeMe Mr Potato Head, which could feature interchangeable hearing aids and diabetic lines.

Of the companies that are yet to back the campaign, have you been given any reasons as to why not?

We have to be realistic, as I know that the cost of tooling toys can be high and for some smaller companies, producing toys such as wheelchairs, which might sell in small quantities, is not always financially viable.

But we should ask if the larger companies including LEGO, Mattel and Hasbro have any moral duty to soak up those costs, and represent and include disability even if it doesn’t turn vast profits?

Why is it important for children to see disabilities reflected in toys?

For disabled children growing up being the only one in your class, never seeing children like you in books, TV and films can lead to a sense of isolation.

To see yourself reflected by huge toy brands is about more than just a toy. It’s about these brands saying that everyone should be included and celebrated.

But #ToyLikeMe doesn’t advocate that toy firms should make disabled toys for disabled children per se. What we believe is that all children will benefit from disability being positively included in toys.

Can games firms get involved too? Yes definitely. The tentacled #ToyLikeMe beast could grow into #GameLikeMe for sure.

What are your plans for the campaign this year?

I hope to continue to consult toy companies looking to include positive disability representation.

I am looking to secure funding to create a lasting resource for parents looking for representative toys and roll out a ‘Loved by #ToyLikeMe’ programme. I am also working with Debbie MacDonald, former VP of Nickelodeon to develop a TV series based on #ToyLikeMe.