Why we need di­ver­sity in the toy box

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature -

“It’s very im­por­tant for a child with dis­abil­ity to see them­selves rep­re­sented in the toy-box but also for all chil­dren to see di­ver­sity in the toy box, so it’s a twopronged ini­tia­tive,” ex­plains Re­becca Atkin­son, founder of Toy­likeme, an or­gan­i­sa­tion which strongly pro­motes the in­clu­sion of pos­i­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dis­abil­i­ties, or ‘diff:abil­i­ties’ in chil­dren’s toys.

“A child may be the only one in the class or school or fam­ily who has a dis­abil­ity or spe­cial needs, and that child might never see them­selves rep­re­sented in main­stream cul­ture, for ex­am­ple on TV, in a book or in the toy box.

“When these chil­dren see their ex­pe­ri­ence recog­nised by com­pa­nies like Lot­tie Doll, it gives them a sense of self- es­teem, be­cause it is a mes­sage that the com­pany knows about them and cares about them.”

While many hand­made dolls pro­mote di­ver­sity, says Atkin­son, she feels it is im­por­tant for the re­ally big toy brands to show they are in­clu­sive.

“Lot­tie is re­ally rad­i­cal in what they are do­ing,” she says, adding that the com­pany’s hugely suc­cess­ful Mia Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher doll pro­duced last year — she comes with a cochlear im­plant — and this year’s Loyal Com­pan­ion Doll carry Toy­likeme en­dorse­ments.

Hav­ing a range of toys which “in­ci­den­tally” carry the mes­sage of di­ver­sity is very im­por­tant, says Dr Sian Jones lec­turer in so­cial de­vel­op­ment at Queen Mar­garet Univer­sity in Ed­in­burgh.

“Toy com­pa­nies cre­ate whole cities but they also need to be think­ing about di­ver­sity in these toy sets, be­cause they are pre­sent­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the real world to chil­dren and if the di­ver­sity is miss­ing then the child does not have the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise.”

Toy box di­ver­sity in terms of eth­nic­ity, gen­der, dis­abil­ity is very im­por­tant, she ex­plains: “It’s about hav­ing these char­ac­ters be­come in­ci­den­tally part of life so that it’s not ‘all about’ the eth­nic­ity or the dis­abil­ity, it just hap­pens that a toy char­ac­ter has dis­abil­ity or eth­nic­ity.

“When chil­dren play with these toys they are in­ter­nal­is­ing a way of see­ing things, so they are prac­tis­ing this pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tion through play.

“When chil­dren with dis­abil­ity are not rep­re­sented, where does that leave them in terms of how they see their place in the world?”

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