Doing what he does best, Philip Schofield uncorked that bottle of the nation’s warm, fuzzy feelings and poured us all a large glass of the festive mood last night with the return of ITV’s How to Spend it Well at Christmas; the first episode in the fourth series of the annual show, and one that kicked off proceedings with a huge helping of toys.
While retailers, toy company marketing teams, and PR agencies across the country would no doubt have been glued to the television from 8.15pm on Tuesday, November 17th, to catch a glimpse of product on what has become one of the most hotly anticipated seasonal reviews of top products for the festive season, it was one emerging sector of the toy industry in particular that took home the biggest win.
Messages of empowerment and inclusivity held a prime time audience’s attention when Schofield, joined by broadcaster and disability campaigner Samantha Renke, focused in on just some of the toys found on today’s market in a segment dedicated to toys designed to create better choice and representation for the 150 million disabled children worldwide.
From Lottie Dolls’ Mia with her cochlear implant to Mattel’s Barbie Wheelchair, it has been billed as a “brilliant moment for the campaign to encourage better representation within the toy industry,” and a major win, reflective of the growing consumer demand “to see more diverse products on the market.”
Rebecca Atkinson is the brains behind the Toy Like Me campaign, one that has for the last five years been making herculean efforts in bringing the conversation of representation and inclusivity to the toy industry. Through her work, companies like Arklu and Mattel have begun to take steps in encouraging messages of empowerment and diversity through their toy lines, with plenty more sitting up and paying the topic the attention it requires.
“I can’t tell you how happy and proud I feel of what Toy Like Me has achieved by raising the issue in the global toy industry,” Toy Like Me’s Atkinson told ToyNews.
“Five and a half years ago we called out the cultural marginalisation of millions of children with disabilities, and today more and more brands are stepping up and sending out powerful messages of acceptance and inclusion through their products. I literally feel like a kid in a toy shop on Christmas Eve right now.”
In recent years, Atkinson has found the toy industry increasingly receptive to start conversations around representation and inclusivity through the toys it produces. It’s her belief that the misinformed notion that ‘disability is not commercially viable’ has recently been weakened.
“What has been really interesting is to see that consumers do actually want diverse products. For years there has been an assumption that disability is not commercially viable. But in actual fact, we can see from sales of products like the Barbie Wheelchair doll and Lottie with a cochlear implant that consumers do want these products,” she continued.
“This year I was approached in a shop by a stranger whose daughter had bought a Lottie Mia with her Christmas money. It opened up a conversation in the family which led to them all learning to sign language to support their child further.
“This is how powerful the concept of ‘toy like me’ is. It’s not about just toys. It’s about fundamental feelings of acceptance, inclusion and value.”
With representation in toys now finding its place in a prime time TV show such as ITV’s How to Spend it Well at Christmas, there’s a recharged energy around Atkinson’s ongoing campaigning. Earlier this year, the co-director revealed her own children’s series project, MixMups, was entering production. It will be one of the first children’s series to represent a variety of disability in an overt way.
With mainstream media now focusing its attention on diversity and inclusivity in the children’s sector, it is Atkinson’s hope that the movement can continue its momentum.
“I think that we have certainly moved the conversation forwards in the last five years and the toy box is a very different place today,” she said. “My work will continue through the creation of MixMups, a pre-school brand I have created. The brand is in advance talks with a major UK broadcaster and global publishers and promises to really shake up toys, books and TV even further.
“The show builds on my work at Toy Like Me and will hopefully lead the toy industry to see how disability representation and play are truly bursting with possibility for evolution.”