Why Disability Representation in Toys Matters

Toys play a vital role in shaping children's perception of the world and the people around them.

Toys help in developing children's cognitive and social skills, but they also shape their attitudes towards diversity and inclusion. Recently, Lego released a series of new diverse Friends sets containing characters with disabilities, including one with Down’s Syndrome. For children with disabilities, having toys that represent their experiences and identities can provide a sense of validation, belonging, and self-esteem. Therefore, it is important to have representation of disabilities in children's toys, particularly wheelchairs.

First and foremost, having toys that represent disabilities helps in normalizing differences and promoting inclusivity. Children with disabilities can often feel isolated and excluded from their peers because of their physical differences. When they see themselves represented in their toys, they feel seen, heard, and accepted, which can help in fostering a sense of belonging and self-confidence. Children without disabilities can also learn to appreciate and value differences, and develop empathy towards their peers with disabilities.

Representation in toys can also help break down stereotypes and misconceptions about disabilities. Children often internalise societal messages about what is considered "normal" or "abnormal", and this can lead to negative attitudes and biases towards people with disabilities. Toys that feature disabilities can help dispel these stereotypes and show children that people with disabilities are just as capable, valuable, and deserving of respect as anyone else. It can also encourage children to ask questions and learn more about disabilities in a positive and curious way.

Wheelchairs, in particular, are an important representation of disabilities in toys because they are a common mobility aid for many children and adults with disabilities. However, they are often not included in mainstream toy lines, or if they are, they are often portrayed in a medicalised or stigmatising way. By including wheelchairs in toys, children with disabilities can see themselves represented in their playtime, which can have a positive impact on their sense of self-worth and identity. It can also help children without disabilities learn about the experiences and challenges faced by their peers who use wheelchairs, and foster more inclusive attitudes towards disability.

Alison Honour, a Senior Mobility Therapist at Whizz Kidz said;

“Representation of disabilities in children's toys, especially wheelchairs, is crucial for promoting inclusivity, breaking down stereotypes, and fostering positive attitudes towards differences. At Whizz-Kidz, our vision is to create a society in which every young wheelchair user is mobile, enabled and included, so we are delighted to see more toy brands such as Lego being more inclusive.

It may seem like something small but having this representation in toys can provide a sense of validation and belonging for children with disabilities, while also encouraging children without disabilities to learn and appreciate diversity. By including wheelchairs and other disability representations in toys, we can help create a more inclusive and accepting world for all children.”

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