Why we need diversity in the toy box
“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?”