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ToyLikeMe: Dolls with Disabilities

By Devyn Parsons--Ask anyone what their favourite toy was as a child, and they will likely have an answer ready for you. Toys hold a special place in children’s hearts, serving not just as sources of entertainment, but also as friends.

Children play with toys to discover their identities, explore relationships, and practice other important skills.  Given the importance of play in children’s lives, it seems clear that the range of toys available should reflect the broad diversity of their users. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case.

Rebecca Atkinson, Melissa Mostyn and Karen Newell are three mothers to children with disabilities who are fed up with the lack of representation for their children in the toy box. They founded the #ToyLikeMe campaign, which went viral after parents began submitting pictures of toys that reflect disability positively.

Many of these toys were hand-altered, and included a doll with a feeding tube, several toys with assistance dogs, and a Tinkerbelle doll with a hearing aid. The #ToyLikeMe founders also reached out directly to toy companies and implored them to begin manufacturing toys to which disabled children can relate. In other words, they wanted a #ToyLikeMe.

UK toy company Makies was quick to respond, as their 3D printed dolls already offer tremendous room for customization, including various skin colors, hairstyles, and facial features.  The company has already begun to produce doll accessories including cochlear implants, walking sticks, birthmarks and scars.

Makies is currently working on producing a 3D printed wheelchair, as well as custom printed facial birthmarks that would allow parents to design a doll with the same birthmark as their child. These inclusive accessories and customizations are a great victory for the #ToyLikeMe campaign, and will no doubt make some children and parents very happy.

But the #ToyLikeMe campaign is not over yet! True diversity in the toy box won’t be achieved until some of the mainstream toy manufacturers (e.g. Mattel, Playmobil, LEGO) begin producing relatable toys for children with disabilities at prices that are accessible to the families of these children. ToyLikeMe has created a Change.Org petition calling on the global toy industry to include disability in the toy box. Over 40,000 people have signed! Unfortunately, no public statements have been issued by any of these larger companies in response to the #ToyLikeMe campaign.

If profitability is an issue, perhaps these companies should take note of the overwhelming popularity of the #ToyLikeMe campaign and the whirlwind of positive media attention focused on Makies. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that these toys would only hold appeal for the families of children with disabilities.

If toys are the tools through which children learn, then open-minded parents will want to provide their children with diverse toys to teach them about the amazing assortment of people in our world. It is not through enforcing conformity but rather through embracing diversity that acceptance is achieved. What better way is there to teach children this lesson than through their toys? 

About this blogger: Devyn is completing her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Psychology at the University of Victoria this summer and will be entering her first year of medical school at the University of British Columbia in the fall. After struggling with body image and witnessing the similar struggles of many friends, Devyn realized the need for change in how bodies are represented in society and set out to address this issue through her blog, Hourglass and Class. She also likes cats and classic rock. 

Photos courtesy of the Makies Blog

For more on children's toys and self esteem:

Can Toys Really Play A Role In Your Self-Acceptance?

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