The best toys like us for young wheelchair users this Christmas

Celebrating toys that represent disability positively with play pioneers ToyLikeMe

From Black Friday to Christmas, toys take over. They’re mobbing the shops, stacked high in Santa’s workshop/North Pole fulfilment centre and filling your child’s every thought. And in just over a month, you’ll be picking some new ones up off the floor.

Now, while young wheelchair users will be as happy squeezing a Squishmallows Drew the Dragon or unleashing a shark from the bubbling green slime in a Beast Lab as the next child on Christmas morning, we know that representation in toys matters. If the contents of the toy box exclude disability, what does that teach kids as they grow up? That disabled people can be left out.

The reason more of us know this is down to ToyLikeMe. This not-for-profit organisation went viral in 2015 when it kicked off its campaign calling on the global toy industry to positively represent 150 million disabled children worldwide by making toys that look like them.

“How would you feel if you didn't see yourself reflected in any of the toys that were made for you?” says Karen Newell, co-founder with Rebecca Atkinson of ToyLikeMe. “Invisible, unimportant, forgotten. All children have a right to see themselves reflected in the toys and products created for them. We believe that positive representation builds self-confidence and self-esteem in disabled children and grows the open minds of their non-disabled peers. Win-Win!”

With the toy companies only representing disability with tired hospital, baddie or geeky themes, ToyLikeMe started customising toys so they celebrated difference. Fairies got guide dogs, and wizards were fitted for wheelchairs. The charming photographic results (like this wheelchair Superman mini-figure from their Toy Box Tales exhibition) went viral, and the toy industry began to notice. 

A toy box revolution started when Playmobil became the first global brand to back #ToyLikeMe. A petition with 50,000 signatures led to them introducing a line of characters representing disability positively. ToyLikeMe then uploaded a wheelchair Father Christmas on the Lego Ideas platform, where fans can vote for user-created designs. Christmas Wands ’n’ Wheels featured wheelchair and white cane using mini-figures. In January 2016, Lego unveiled their first ever wheelchair-using mini-figure at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. More mainstream toys have followed since then, including Barbie, Lottie, Sequin Art and others. ToyLikeMe has run school workshops, held art exhibitions, advised giant toy companies, and given every toy from Incredible Hulks to teddy bears 3D-printed cochlear implants and hearing aids. The whole world of toys is more representative than ever before, although there’s still a way to go.

What’s the best approach for taking on huge toy companies that are so precious with their brands and characters? we asked Karen. “Show, don't tell! Through our work, we have shown what could be achieved, and we are pleased that the toy landscape has changed for the better during the last eight years.”

One of the most rewarding things since ToyLikeMe started has been the reaction from parents and children when they get to play with a toy that positively represents disability. They say, “It's a toy like me!” Karen says. “Seeing the children's faces as they play with a toy that looks like them. Hearing from families that have used the toys to initiate conversations about disability and diversity: ‘My daughter wouldn't use her cane until she saw the toys you had created.’ Or ‘I couldn't get my daughter to wear her AFOs until we received a doll with them; now she happily put them on with her doll next to her.’

Toys have an important role to play in childhood. ToyLikeMe has initiated academic research with Dr Sian Jones at Queen Margaret’s. It found that after playing with disabled toys for just three minutes, children develop a more positive friendship attitude towards their peers with disabilities. That’s an amazing result that shows how much toys matter.

That research goes down as one of their proudest moments so far, Karen says,  along with building “a community that is inclusive, connected and vocal”, creating educational resources, and shifting the narrative around disability representation by getting rid of the “dusty, grey and chewed old disabled toys and replacing them with toys that all children want to play with.” 

Karen’s personal highlight? “I have loved using my own lived experience of being a mum to my son, who is visually impaired, to drive the ambitions of ToyLikeMe.”

Although play is a serious business, ToyLikeMe helps us remember that ultimately, it is all about fun. They take a child’s love of improvisation when playing, with their Makeovers. These see mainstream toys get different abilities from what they had when they came out of the box, including wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and guide dogs. Existing toy sets are also combined to help smash stereotypes. So, for example, Sylvanian Families' medical wheelchair in their Country Nurse Set gets mixed up and combined with the Popcorn Cart Set to give the Milk Rabbit wheelchair user a more fun setting.

There’s also the not-exactly teeny tiny matter of Mixmups, the first preschool TV series with such a positive, natural representation of disability, that Karen helped co-founder Rebecca to create. Now showing on Channel 5’s Milkshake!, if a range of Mixmups figures is made, it will bring ToyLikeMe full circle, all in the name of toys.

So what would they tackle next in the toy industry when it comes to the representation of disability?  

Karen says: “I would want to see more disabled people in leadership positions to drive the authenticity of representation. To ensure that more authentic stories are created by the disabled people themselves.”

Top toys like us from Toylikeme

Here are some of the best toys that represent wheelchair users positively, as expertly selected by ToyLikeMe, with some bonus picks from Whizz Kidz’s community. ToyLikeMe will get a small share of the profits if you buy them through their Amazon storefront to put towards their work in schools.


Barbie Doll with Wheelchair and Ramp

“Barbie using a wheelchair was a welcome addition to the fashionista range. Importantly, this doll fits in the Dreamhouse, which also boasts a lift.” 

Barbie Chelsea Doll & Wheelchair

"We love the Chelsea wheelchair-using doll as it's perfect for smaller hands. It's important to have a diverse offering as everybody needs to see themselves reflected in their toys.”

Barbie Para Alpine Skier Doll

 “Barbie being depicted as a para skier sends a strong message to all disabled girls that they can achieve anything! Why not take Barbie outside when it snows!”


LEGO 60290 My City Skate Park

“The skate park is a really fun kit! I love how all the mini-figures, one of whom is a wheelchair user, are playing and doing tricks together! You can add this to other sets, too.” 

Lego City Bus Station

“This bus offers a real opportunity to roleplay with Lego. All thats left to decide is where the bus will take you. All aboard!” 


Playmobil City Life School Van

“The school bus and school is another great combination of sets to encourage role-play through the small world. Children love to recreate their day, and it opens up opportunities for children to work things out and play out situations that might be challenging in real life.”

Sylvanian Families

“If you can't find what you are looking for, then you might have to combine sets; we have combined the hospital set with the glasses-wearing characters to create a diverse family of animals.”

Build a Bear Wild Wheels Wheelchair

“Build a bear boasts a whole heap of accessories for your bear. Grab a wheelchair and pimp it up with some fairy wings! You can also get hearing aids and helmets.”

The Our Generation wheelchair 

“Take this wheelchair out of its hospital set and combine it with your favourite Our Generation doll to create your own wheelchair-using doll.” 

Just Dance 2024

Clear some floor space; this wildly popular dance series features extensive accessibility settings and seated dances that mean everyone can join in. Wheelchair dancer Florent Devlesaver starred in last year’s edition. For Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles.

Hot Wheels RC Wheelz Stuntin’

Perform epic stunts and spins with a remote control Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham, Wheelchair Motocross World Champion. He reaches up to 30 scale mph and has a wheelie boost special move.

Disney Adaptive Wheel Chair Cover and Costumes

Include your wheelchair in dressing up with Disney’s extensive range of awesome wheelchair cover sets. They include everything from Star Wars: The Mandalorian to Buzz Lightyear, the Incredibles to Disney Princesses. Costumes are designed to make dressing easier. They're made of stretch fabric that opens at the back. The adaptive line is also designed to be wheelchair-friendly, with longer inseams.