As the parent of a kid with special needs, I spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the little things, including toys that my five-year-old daughter Syona can (and cannot) play with independently. Syona was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and walker to get around.
My daughter loves playing with blocks. Due to her fine motor challenges, Lego Duplo sets (with bricks that are twice the size of traditional Lego pieces) are easy for her to handle. However, as she gets older, my hope is that she’ll get to play with regular Lego pieces like the other kids her age.
Needless to say, I was thrilled with the news that a new Lego set will include a minifigure using a wheelchair. The set, called “Fun at the Park,” features a boy sitting in a wheelchair (other pieces include a dog, a hot dog stand, a soccer net and a man pushing a baby in a stroller). The set was unveiled at recent toy fairs in Nuremberg and London, and will be sold to the public this summer.
Last December, a group called Toy Like Me launched an online campaign in the hopes that Lego would consider including minifigures with special needs. I can still remember how happy I felt when I first heard about this campaign: Advocating for inclusion and diversity is a major part of the everyday lives of parents of kids with special needs, whether it’s at school or on toy shelves. However, every once in a while I catch myself wondering why we need to launch campaigns directed at companies like Lego. Shouldn’t the toys our kids play with reflect the world around us? Do we really still need to point out that there are underrepresented groups in mainstream media?
When Syona got into dolls, a family friend found a wheelchair accessory set for her collection. Included in the set were crutches, a boot (an ankle and foot orthotic of the type commonly known as AFOs) and a hot pink wheelchair. The timing of this gift had perfectly coincided with Syona receiving her first wheelchair—which was also hot pink. We need more toys and merchandise like this wheelchair accessory collection. It hasn’t escaped my attention that Syona has started to notice how the kids in storybooks walk everywhere. She’s started to question why the characters she loves don’t need an educational assistant like she does.
So, kudos to Lego for listening to the more than 20,000 people who signed the Toy Like Me petition, and to the folks who organized this movement in the first place. I hope other toy companies follow suit to ensure their merchandise reflects all the kids that play with them.
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