Rebecca Atkinson, co-founder of the Toy Like Me campaign, explains why the toy industry needs to wise up and start including positive representations of disability in their products.
As a mother with disabilities myself, I have long wondered why my children’s toys (and my own before that) have almost no representation of disability.
In the real world, 150 million children have disabilities. In the toy box world, almost no-one does. So in April, I co-founded the online #toylikeme campaign calling on the industry to rethink how they exclude disability from their products.
The campaign began by asking followers to post pictures on Facebook of toys that positively featured disability. There was near silence.
So we plundered our children’s toy boxes as they slept and began giving their toys makeovers to feature wheelchairs, hearing aids and white canes.
Like a match to a firework factory, within days #toylikeme had gone viral with an image of a deaf Tinkerbelle with a cochlear implant and a Moxie doll with a Kaywalker being shared and viewed by thousands of parents the world over.
Soon after, the world’s only 3D printing doll firm, mymakie.com, answered the campaign call and started to produce dolls with disabilities. Then the spotlight fell on Playmobil with an image we had created of their much loved plastic figures which juxtaposed disability with fancy dress box fun for the first time in toy box history.
We wanted to show Playmobil how they could represent disability in a new and exciting way and help reframe how children view human difference.
Disability representation doesn’t have to belong in hospital play-sets. You can have wheelchair wizards, hearing aid wearing pirates and blind princesses, too.
Inspired by the #toylikeme campaign, Playmobil, to our delight, have now become the first global brand to publically commit to including and positively representing disability in future play-sets.
Children with disabilities and their parents pose a huge global market which has until now been largely underserved and ignored by the toy industry.
There is a howling gap in the mainstream High Street toy market for toys which positively reflect disability to all children, and show that difference is a normal part of human life.
Makie and Playmobil have risen to the challenge.
Now we hope the rest of the toy industry will follow suit and help generations of children grow up with a more positive attitude to human difference.
Rebecca Atkinson is a freelance journalist and creative disability consultant. She is available for design and development consultation and disability toy market insight for companies looking to include positive representations of disability and difference in their products. Toy Like Me can be contacted at @toylikeme or at Facebook.com/toylikeme.