A special thank you from #ToyLikeMe to Ol and Lesley Rappaport.

We would like to tell you a story about human kindness and connections. How seeds of ideas can grow from generation to generation to eventually bear fruit, and how good things can bloom from sadness and loss.Lesley and Ol

Thirty five years ago, when I was a child hiding my hearing aids from the world, a man named Ol Rappaport wrote to Playmobil asking them to better represent spectacle wearers and improve gender and ethnic diversity in their products.  He and his wife Lesley, who was the daughter of Jewish Holocaust refugees, believed in inclusivity and equality for all. They recognised the need for children to grow up seeing themselves positively reflected in the world around them. Ol’s letter was the seed of an idea. He planted it, but it did not grow. Perhaps the climate was not right. Maybe he was a season too soon. Playmobil responded, but nothing changed.

Time passed. Years rolled. I grew up.  In 2014 Lesley grew ill.  Cancer had come. All the while that seed was still there. Germinating under the soil.

In April 2015, one month before Lesley passed away, #ToyLikeMe was born and threw sunbeams down onto that seed of an idea, 35 years after Ol had first planted it. It warmed and sprung to life. The time was right. A shoot pushed through the earth. #ToyLikeMe started a change.org petition calling on Playmobil to better represent disabled children. 50k people watered that shoot with their signatures. One of them was Ol Rappaport.  He had always known that when you don’t persuade someone, you haven’t failed – you’ve just made it easier for the next person to succeed. And when they do succeed, it’s because someone else has tried before them.

Ol’s seed of an idea bloomed in the very same month that he lost Lesley. In May 2015 Playmobil agreed to work with #ToyLikeMe to start positively representing 150 million disabled children worldwide. Change was coming.

Nine months later #ToyLikeMe had grown from a shoot to a sapling. Our message had flown the globe. We asked the world to water our ‘toy box revolution’ in the form of a crowd fund. We wanted to raise money to create a website, a space where we could celebrate disability in toys and provide information and resources for parents and carers looking for hard-to-find products and continue our call on the global toy industry.

We watched small but plentiful donations roll in. Then one day an anonymous someone gave £1000. We almost fell off our chairs. Then two weeks later, just as our crowd fund was about to end £2600 shy of our target, that same someone, in a gust of goodness which seemed to just blow in from nowhere at the 11thhour, gave us that exact amount.

That someone was Ol Rappaport, inspired and empowered by Lesley’s generous and embracing spirit. Back to water the seed he planted all those years ago. Back to grow a tree in memory of his wife, Lesley Rappaport.

Our website can happen because of Lesley and Ol and 700 others who backed our crowd fund. We shall never forget who went before us and came back after us to tend the branches of #ToyLikeMe with kindness.

Ol, and in memory of Lesley, from the bottom of our playful hearts, Thank you!

Love #ToyLikeMe


Press Release – Lego Unveil Wheelchair-Using Minifigure in Response to #ToyLikeMe Campaign

********PRESS RELEASE *******

Lego Unveil Wheelchair-Using Minifigure in Response to #ToyLikeMe Campaign  



Global toy giants Lego have unveiled their first wheelchair using mini-figure at Nurumberg Toy Fair this week. The figure of a young man using a wheelchair and accompanied by an assistance dog is part of a new Fun in the Park set from Lego and comes after 9 months of lobbying by the #ToyLikeMe group, led by UK journalist and creative disability consultant, Rebecca Atkinson.


Atkinson, who is herself partially deaf and partially sighted, established the online #ToyLikeMe movement in April 2015 to call on the global toy industry to positively represent 150 million disabled children worldwide. With over 30k followers in 45 countries, Atkinson has since enlisted brands such as Playmobil, Orchard Toys, Lottie dolls and now Lego to her ‘toy box revolution’.

“We are beyond happy right now,” says Atkinson of the news. “Lego have just rocked our brick built world and made 150 million disabled kids, their mums, dads, pet dogs and hamsters very very happy. We’re all conga-ing up and down the street chucking coloured bricks like confetti! But on a serious note, this move by Lego is massive in terms of ending cultural marginalisation, it will speak volumes to children, disabled or otherwise, the world over.”

#ToyLIke me are currently crowd funding to continue their work and grow their organisation to celebrate representation of disability across children’s industries. They plan to create an online hub to connect customers with products which represent disability and keep up pressure on the industry. The crowd fund has already raised 20% of it’s target, four days after launching.


“#ToyLikeMe has received no funding to date,” explains Atkinson. “We’ve called in hundreds of favours since establishing, but if we are going to carry on we need to pull our heads out of the toy box and get some real funding to build on what we have already achieved and change the toy box for disabled children today, and those yet to be born.”

Note for editors –

  • #ToyLikeMe was established in April 2015 by British journalist, Rebecca Atkinson, and parents of children with disabilities who were tired of not being able to find positive disability representation in toys. The group started to makeover toys to give them disabilities and invited followers to send in their creations. The results went viral and have been shared and viewed thousands of times.
  • There are 770,000 children with disabilities in the UK and 150 million worldwide
  • A change.org petition calling on Lego to include disabled mini-figures received over 20k signatures. A similar one aimed at Playmobil received over 50k supporters.
  • #ToyLikeMe has has received global press, TV and radio coverage, including Fox, CNN, Sky, BBC, Guardian, Mail, Upworthy, Dystractify.
  • #ToyLikeMe has received celebrity backing including comedian Stephen Merchant and Gruffelo author, Julia Donaldson.
  • Playmobil became the first global brand to back #ToyLikeMe and are working to produce a line of characters that positively represent disability for released in 2016/17

For more information, press pack or further images visit – facebook.com/toylikeme





Wheelchair Santa Becomes Most Popular Design on Lego Ideas Platform

********PRESS RELEASE *******


Wheelchair Santa Becomes Most Popular Design on Lego Ideas Platform







Wheelchair using Santa and friends becomes most popular design  on Lego Ideas platform as parents flood site to vote. 

A model of a wheelchair-using Santa and Christmas Fairy becomes the most popular design on Lego Ideas platform just days after being uploaded by journalist and co-founder of #ToyLikeMe, Rebecca Atkinson.

The design entitled Christmas Wands ‘n’ Wheels, which features wheelchair and white cane using mini figures quickly started gathering votes, overtaking Lego Jeep, Rocket and Vintage Tram designs to become the most popular design of the week, after parents of disabled children flooded to the site to support the idea.

“There are 4 billion Lego mini figures on the planet,” says Atkinson, “But not a single one has a disability. I’d love to see that change and for Lego to celebrate their disabled fans by including positive representation of disability in their products.”

The move to submit the ‘Christmas Wands ‘n’ Wheels’ to Lego Ideas comes after Atkinson gathered nearly 19k signatures on a change.org petition calling for disability representation in Lego products. Despite thousands of signatures, Lego have yet to respond.  The Lego Ideas platform allows fans to upload and vote for designs they would like to become reality.

Lego Ideas – https://ideas.lego.com/projects/121896

“For a child with an impairment it would be hugely affirming to be reflected by a brand like Lego,” says journalist and #ToyLikeMe co-founder Rebecca Atkinson. “It says that the brand is behind them, believes in them, and that they are part of the mainstream. For children without a disability, seeing a brand like Lego celebrate human difference helps to create a more positive attitude when they meet someone with an impairment in real life.”

Despite being emailed tweeted, tagged, petitioned and numerous TV and radio appearances by #ToyLIkeMe, Lego have sadly remained silent.

“Lego has huge cultural sway,” says Atkinson, “And the power to really change perceptions. Children look up to global brands like Lego and learn through them. But if these brands don’t include positive disability representation, then what are they teaching children? That exclusion is OK in real life?”

#ToyLikeMe hope that Lego will join the ranks of Playmobil, Orchard Toys, Lottie and Makie dolls, who have already answered the campaign call for positive disability representation in the toy box to help create a more inclusive play landscape and change perceptions of disability for generations to come.

Note for editors –

  •  Lego is the world’s largest toy company with annual sales of 2.8bn. There are 4 billion Lego mini-figures worldwide but none with a wheelchair or other disability.
  • Lego were criticised earlier this year by UK disabled charities after using the derogatory and outdated term ‘window licker’ to market their line of Mixel toys.
  • 19,000 people sign change.org petition calling on Lego to represent disability. Lego do not respond. Playmobil responded to similar petition signed by 50,000 and are making toys with disabilities in response to #ToyLikeMe for release next year.
  • #ToyLikeMe was established in April 2015 by British journalist, Rebecca Atkinson, and parents of children with disabilities who were tired of not being able to find positive disability representation in toys. The group started to makeover toys to give them disabilities and invited followers to send in their creations. The results went viral and have been shared and viewed thousands of times.
  • There are 770,000 children with disabilities in the UK and 150 million worldwide
  • #ToyLikeMe has 29k followers in 45 countries since establishing in April 2015. The campaign has received global press, TV and radio coverage.
  • Playmobil became the first global brand to back #ToyLikeMe and are working to produce a line of characters that positively represent disability for released in 2016/17

Why #toylikeme think it’s time Lego left disability stereotyping behind

We, like millions of others love Lego. We grew up with Lego and now our kids love Lego too. But as the world’s largest toy firm we know the brand carries massive cultural sway. For a super-brand such as Lego to positively represent disability would have an amazing impact on the self esteem of kids with disabilities. But also incidental disability inclusion in Lego products could send a powerful message to ALL children. But in disability representation ‘positive’ is the operative word.


Captain-Hook-Wallpapers-PictureThe scant representation of disability in children’s industries (TV shows, films and toys) has long fallen into three enduring stereotypes, none of which are very positive or promote self esteem playmobchairin children with disabilities – The elderly (grandparents with sticks and wheelchairs), the evil (pirates with patches and hooks as manifestations of wrongdoing) and the sick or medical (the disabled body as broken and fixable with a stay in hospital).

As part of the #ToyLikeMe campaign we’ve made-over countless toys giving them disabilities to create an entirely new aesthetic by mixing fantasy, celebration and vibrancy with impairments.legologo

Whilst we applaud Lego for including a wheelchair user in their Lego Education Community Set we are disappointed with the design of the wheelchair which is grey and medical in appearance and does not appear to have wheels that turn, as well as the choice of the elderly figure to use the chair in promotional images.

45010_713x380_MainProductThere is a pervasive stereotype that disability is the preserve of the elderly when in fact 70,000 children in the UK use wheelchairs. Unfortunately this elderly figure doesn’t celebrate childhood disability in any way. Whilst we know many older people have disabilities, a large part of the problem occurs when you only have one character with a disability because by default you create a tokenistic  stereotype in its isolation. If this Grandpa figure was one of many, stood aside a range of other vibrant characters with disabilities varying in age, then there would not be an issue.

We know Lego is a creative power house. A place where the greatest playful minds create Wonka-esque building fun. We know they could conjure up the most amazing positive disability representation if they just left the stereotypes behind. Please Lego, think outside the box, do it for the kids!

Why We Are Asking Lego for a #ToyLikeMe

In June of this year Lego sent ripples of offence through the disabled community when they used the term ‘window licker’ (an outdated derogatory term to describe a person with learning difficulties) to market their new Mixel products. The company were slammed by leading UK disability charities and social media users globally.

legologoWhilst quick to issue an apology, Lego have seemingly failed to repair the damage sufficiently in the eyes of the disabled community with one mother blogging that an apology is not enough. “I would like to see amends being made,” says The Eventual Mother blog. “I would like to see a big gesture… A gesture that will make a positive impact on people, including children, living with disabilities.”

The #ToyLikeMe campaign group are now calling on Lego to do just that with the launch of a change.org petition asking Lego to positively represent disability in their products and help generations of kids grow up with a better attitude to human difference.

Globally there are 150 million children with disabilities, yet these kids, and their peers, are growing up rarely seeing disability included in toys. Global toy brands like Lego have huge cultural sway. Their toys and characters are admired, desired and emulated in playground games the world over. Yet the company is sending out an enduring message of disability exclusion. The vast Lego range does not feature a single wheelchair, there are no mini-figures, Duplo characters or Lego Friends with disabilities and wheelchair ramps and access features are invisible in all Lego buildings.

As Australian academic, Katie Ellis, said in her recently published book, Disability and Popular Culture, “Toys… mirror the values of the society that produces them.” If disability representation is non-existent across all Lego products and the brand’s only reference to disability is a ‘window licking’ Mixel, what values is that mirroring? What are they saying to children?

In April 2015 I co-founded the online #ToyLikeMe campaign along with some parents of children with disabilities who were fed up of not being able to find positive representation in toys. It was a cause close to my heart as I had grown up in the 80s wearing hearing aids and spent my childhood trying to hide them. I never saw myself reflected positively anywhere. We started to makeover toys to give them disabilities in a call to the global toy industry to modernise and start representing ALL children.

We created wheelchairs and guide dogs for Playmobil characters, gave Tinkerbelle a cochlear implant and hearing aids to Lottie dolls. The results went viral and have now been shared and viewed thousands of times. In May, London based 3D printing doll company mymakie.com answered our campaign call and started producing the world’s first dolls with disabilities. Lottie dolls have engaged and are now producing glasses for 25% of their dolls after a child contacted them asking for a toy like her.

Our change.org petition calling on Playmobil was signed by 50k people causing the German makers to happily start developing an upcoming line of characters with disabilities inspired by #ToyLikeMe. Sadly, to date, despite our friendly approaches, Lego have remained silent. It seems the brand just want to hide, turn away awkwardly when it comes to disability.

#ToyLikeMe are not the first to call on Lego for disability representation. The ‘Lego Ideas’ platform invites fans to submit and vote for designs they would like to see made into a reality. Those receiving over 10,000 votes are submitted to the design team for possible development. There have been numerous previous submissions which include wheelchairs and assistance dogs for mini-figures but none have achieved the required 10k votes.

#ToyLikeMe have created a Lego wheelchair skate park to accompany our change.org petition (photograph above) to inspire Lego and as an example of how disability representation might fit within their brand. It’s been suggested we submit this design to the Lego Ideas platform. So far we’ve resisted. We want to see real commitment to positive disability representation coming from the heart of Lego, written into the core brand values and commitments, not left to the public vote.

This article appeared in the Huffington Post

Toy News – why the toy industry needs to wise up.

Rebecca Atkinson, co-founder of the Toy Like Me, explains why the toy industry needs to wise up and start including positive representations of disability in their products.

As a mother with disabilities myself, I have long wondered why my children’s toys (and my own before that) have almost no representation of disability.

In the real world, 150 million children have disabilities. In the toy box world, almost no-one does. So in April, I co-founded the online #toylikeme campaign calling on the industry to rethink how they exclude disability from their products.

The campaign began by asking followers to post pictures on Facebook of toys that positively featured disability. There was near silence.

So we plundered our children’s toy boxes as they slept and began giving their toys makeovers to feature wheelchairs, hearing aids and white canes.

Like a match to a firework factory, within days #toylikeme had gone viral with an image of a deaf Tinkerbelle with a cochlear implant and a Moxie doll with a Kaywalker being shared and viewed by thousands of parents the world over.

Soon after, the world’s only 3D printing doll firm, mymakie.com, answered the campaign call and started to produce dolls with disabilities. Then the spotlight fell on Playmobil with an image we had created of their much loved plastic figures which juxtaposed disability with fancy dress box fun for the first time in toy box history.

We wanted to show Playmobil how they could represent disability in a new and exciting way and help reframe how children view human difference.

Disability representation doesn’t have to belong in hospital play-sets. You can have wheelchair wizards, hearing aid wearing pirates and blind princesses, too.

Inspired by the #toylikeme campaign, Playmobil, to our delight, have now become the first global brand to publically commit to including and positively representing disability in future play-sets.

Children with disabilities and their parents pose a huge global market which has until now been largely underserved and ignored by the toy industry.

There is a howling gap in the mainstream High Street toy market for toys which positively reflect disability to all children, and show that difference is a normal part of human life.

Makie and Playmobil have risen to the challenge.

Now we hope the rest of the toy industry will follow suit and help generations of children grow up with a more positive attitude to human difference.

Read the article in Toy News here.

How to approach disability representation in toy design

This article appeared in Toy News inventors bulletin. Toy Like Me campaign co-founder and creative disability consultant Rebecca Atkinson discusses how to approach disability representation in your early-stage toy designs.


Oh toy industry, where are your wheelchair wizards, princesses with guide dogs, hearing aid wearing fairies?

There are 150 million children with disabilities worldwide who currently never see themselves positively represented in the toy box. Toy Like Me is a online campaign calling on the global toy industry to change this and help generations of children grow up with a more positive attitude to human difference.

Here some useful steps in how to approach disability representation in your early-stage toy designs.

1) Avoid the medical model of disability. All to often wheelchairs and white sticks are left to the domain of hospital play sets. This is useful for preparing children for a hospital visits but what does it tell them about real life disability?  Disability exists outside of hospitals in every walk of life so why shouldn’t it exist in the fairy glade, the castle or fantasy spy cave?

2) Avoid tired stereotypes. Disability representation has fallen into three camps in the past. Evil stereotypes where their disabilities are physical manifestation of wrongdoing (think Captain Hook) comical, where the disability is the butt of the joke, (Mr Magoo) or passive and pitied. Think outside the box. Add a bit of fun, sparkle and magic. Give a fairy a white cane with flowers adorning the handle or a pirate an electric chair with a skull gear stick! Disability doesn’t have to be worthy. Mix it up bit. Stick some wings on the back of a pixie’s wheelchair, give a hippo a hearing aid, a clown a sausage dog guide dog with a polka dot harness and white neck ruffle. It doesn’t have to be an accurate representation! Most toys aren’t!

3) Have incidental characters with disabilities in play sets. Representation of disability in toys shouldn’t be left to niche products but considered across the board. If you’re creating a toy bus, think about having a character with a wheelchair amongst your passengers. Or a fold down bus ramp!  If you’re designing a tree house, have a lift and a spiral ramp snaking round the tree trunk for a wheelchair using squirrel!

4) Watch your words. Place the child first in all product descriptions. Use the term ‘children with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled children’. Call someone a ‘wheelchair user’ rather then ‘in’ a wheelchair.  It’s all more positive!

For more inspiration you can find lots of photos and toy makeovers at facebook.com/toylikeme.

Rebecca Atkinson is a freelance journalist and creative disability consultant. She is available for toy design and development consultation and disability toy market insight for companies looking to include positive representations of disability and difference in their products.

Images courtesy of Beth Moseley Photography.

Barbie just got more diverse, but not diverse enough!

Barbie just got more diverse, but not diverse enough argues Toy Like Me co-founder, Rebecca Atkinson.


The undisputed plastic queen of the toy box just got a whole lot more diverse, or at least global toy giants Mattell have given a nod in the right direction with the creation of the new Barbie Fashionista range, set to include dolls with 8 different skin tones and a larger range of eye and hair colours then the enduring blonde and blue.

Barbie’s got new feet too, that means for the first time ever she can choose to wear flat shoes and not be stuck in bunion-inducing tumble-taking high heels. She’s also got a more diverse range of facial features, oddly billed by Mattell as facial ‘sculpts’, a term that can only conjour up images of Barbie on the surgeon’s table undergoing procedures to slim down her already pinched nose and further widen her bambi eyes.

After Barbie’s annual sales figures were reported in April to have fallen by 13% year on year this new incarnation of Barbie appears to be Mattell’s attempt to reverse the ailing fortunes of the toy box grande dame and produce a range more relevant for today’s market where personalisation and choice are paramount.

The move also falls in line with a seeming general shift it the doll market towards more ‘realism and representation’ with small but rising brands like Lammily, the ‘normal sized Barbie’ with stick on spots and cellulite receiving growing attention and Lottie dolls, with a body based on an average 8 year old and already sporting flat shoes and a range of skin tones reportedly seeing sales up 400% in 2014.

But whilst parents and children will be welcoming the news of greater choice for Barbie fans and the chance for children to own and play with more ethnically diverse toys, Mattell have failed to incorporated disability into their new range and positively represent the 150 million kids with disabilities worldwide.

In 1997 Mattell produced a wheelchair using friend for Barbie, with the unfortunate and patronisingly sunny name of ‘Share a Smile Becky’. The ill fated Becky, whilst loved by wheelchair using children was discontinued leaving Barbie and friends bodily perfect again.

Disability is the last bastion of representation in the toy box. Global brands have failed to include disability in their ranges whilst smaller independent companies who appreciate the need find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of making returns on product ranges perceived to have a limited appeal.


Arklu, the makers of Lottie dolls, who have engaged with the recent online Toy Like Me campaign calling for greater disability representation in toys, explained that whilst they support the need for toy box diversity (currently producing 25% of their dolls with glasses after receiving a request from a glasses wearing child), tooling and manufacturing a Lottie sized wheelchair could cost the small but growing firm in excess of £40,000 to develop. A prohibitively large figure for a kitchen table start-up when sales of this more niche item may always be relatively small.

London based 3D printing toy company, Makielab, are better equipped to respond to the Toy Like Me campaign call without the need for expensive moulds and large minimum orders from manufacturers overseas. In April the firm began producing dolls with a range of diversity accessories including cochlear implants, diabetic lines and white canes. These can be printed in batches of one or two at their East London based factory. Makielab have been swamped with orders from parents around the world and received global press and praise for their ground breaking delivery of the world’s first range of dolls with disabilities.


With the difficulty of producing diverse toys experienced by small and well meaning toy firms, (aside from those with a futuristic 3D printing business model), it’s left to the global giants of the toy world to reframe the inclusion of positive disability representation in the toy box.

Playmobil’s upcoming plans to produce a set of characters with disabilities after 50k people signed a change.org petition calling for wheelchair wizards and princesses with guide dogs, begs the question of why global giants alike Mattell and Lego aren’t following suit. Why are these companies with billions of pounds of annual sales and the kind of economies of scale and manufacturing leverage that could soak up any small losses in exchange for reams of positive PR and happy kids and parents the world over, doing nothing at all?


The toy industry shuts out children with disabilities.

Since my last child was born five years ago something else has bred in my house. Toys. We started off with a few rattles, and as the years progressed the plastic proliferated into an army of Playmobil figures, a soup of Lego, a sea of cutesy Sylvanian rabbits. But four weeks ago I stood back and looked at our toy box in a new light. A penny dropped. Not one plastic figure had a wheelchair, or a hearing aid, a white cane or any kind of disability at all.


Photo credit: Beth Moseley Photography

There are 770,000 children in the UK with disabilities and more than 150 million worldwide. Yet these children arrive into a world where, even before they have left their mother’s lap, they are excluded by the very industry that exists to create their entertainment, the objects that fuel their development, the starting blocks of life: toys.

The global toy industry is worth £2.9bn but there are no wheelchair-using Barbies (Mattel’s toe-curlingly named Share a Smile Becky was discontinued several years ago along with American Sign Language Barbie). Playmobil’s answer to disability is a boy with a broken leg and an elderly man being pushed in a wheelchair by a young blonde woman. What does this say to children? That only old people need wheels? That childhood disability amounts to a few weeks with your leg in plaster and then goes away?

We asked people to send pictures of toys that reflected disability positively
When I thought about the level of exclusion that was being carried out by these powerful global brands, the pied pipers of childhood, my rage rolled. I wanted to do something. You see, I was one of those kids. I’d grown up wearing hearing aids and never seen myself represented anywhere. There were no deaf people on TV, in the comics I read or the toys I played with.

So I messaged two friends with children with disabilities: Karen Newell, a former play consultant for Ragdoll Productions who has a son with visual impairment, and the deaf writer Melissa Mostyn who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. We set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account and started using the hashtag #toylikeme.


We asked people to send pictures of toys that reflected disability positively. Someone sent an American Girl doll with a hearing aid, then a bald Moxie doll. Then silence. So we started to make over our own toys, giving them impairments and posting the results online. Like a match to a firework factory, the whole thing went bang. Within days we went viral as parents shared our image of Disney’s Tinker Bell with a cochlear implant, made from a spray-painted popper stud and Fimo.

These parents, from all corners of the world, will have been on a very personal journey. They’ve experienced the shock and grief of finding out that their child is deaf or disabled, the angst of deciding whether to go ahead with a cochlear implant or other invasive procedures, the worry that their child will be excluded from society. An image that marries this emotional journey with the cultural recognisability of Disney provided the perfect cocktail of recognition and inclusion. Suddenly parents were sharing and liking Toy Like Me at a rate of one a minute.

Some small UK toy producers have been quick to answer the campaign call. Arklu, the makers of Lottie dolls, already produce 25% of their dolls with glasses and have agreed to look at ways to make future ranges more disability representative. Makies, the world’s only producers of 3D printed toys, have started producing a series of disability accessories for their existing range of bespoke dolls in the two weeks since we approached them.

group shot_edited-1
Photo credit: Beth Moseley Photography

But what of the big girls and boys of the toy world? The Legos, Mattels, Playmobils? We’ve tweeted them, we’ve tagged them, we’ve talked about them, we’ve sent them invites. But as yet, they still haven’t come out to play.

Original source – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/18/toy-like-me-toys-transform-disability

Children should be able to play with a toy that reflects their deafness or disability / The Limping Chicken

Rebecca Atkinson writes about why Deaf and disabled children need to see toys like them and how a new online campaign is calling on the toy industry for more inclusion and representation of disabilities in the toy box.


How do you give a Deaf or disabled child self esteem? A sense of confidence in who they are? Show them it’s OK to be like them. Show them a ‘toy like them’.

When I was growing up in the 80s I never saw a doll like me. Although my favourite Barbie had brown hair like I did and clothes that looked like mine, a RaRa skirt, some knee high white socks, she wasn’t really like me because I had two hearing aids and she didn’t.

In the real world, there were people like me. In the doll world, I didn’t exist.

I went to mainstream school. I was the only Deaf kid in the class. I wore my hair down over my ears and pretended not to be different from the rest.

I never saw Deaf people on TV. There were no Deaf adults in my life and none of my toys had hearing aids. Deafness was invisible in everything I saw.

Then when I was a teenager something happened that was remarkable enough for me to remember it 25 years later.

I was reading a newspaper when I saw an article about global toy giant Mattel, who were bringing out an American Sign Language Barbie in the USA.

She had glossy hair, a pretty face and hands moulded into the shape of an ‘I love you’ sign. She came with a book of ASL signs and a teacher’s white board.

She was ‘ASL Teacher Barbie’. I didn’t know if she was meant to be Deaf herself or a hearing teacher of Deaf children, but in my eyes she was just ‘Deaf Barbie’.

At 15, I was now way too old to play with Barbie and at that time ‘Deaf Barbie’ wasn’t available in the UK so I never actually got to meet her.

But I remember the feeling even knowing about her gave me – if a huge multinational toy company like Mattel thought ASL was cool enough to make a Deaf Barbie, then being Deaf must be OK.

The doll with Deafness – it was a simple thing – but a huge and mainstream, positive affirmation of who and what I was.

Mattel have now discontinued ‘Deaf Barbie’ and whilst you can still find her online she comes with a hefty price tag of between £60-£120. Despite 25 years passing, there are no other affordable dolls like her.

The toy world is still overwhelmingly hearing and non-disabled. What does that say to Deaf and disabled children? That they aren’t worth it? That they’re invisible in the toys they play with? That they’re invisible in society?

Aside from dolls, there are a limited range of toys representing disability in existence but they tend to be either part of sets relating to medical situations, toys hospitals for example, or specialist items like dummy processors available from Cochlear Implant manufacturers which can be attached to a teddy or doll.

There is still a howling gap in the mainstream high street toy market for dolls and toys which positively reflect disability to children. Toys which tell children it’s good to be them, that give them self esteem and body confidence and something to play out their disability experiences through.

Last week a group of Mums began an online Twitter and Facebook campaign to get the toy industry to take note and produce more toys which reflect and represent disability and Deafness in a positive way.


The ‘Toy Like Me’ campaign has been spearheaded by Deaf mum Melissa Mostyn, whose daughter has a disability and uses a wheelchair.

“If we are going to teach children, both with and without disabilities, positive attitudes,” says Mostyn, “We need to have visible representation in the mainstream toys that are available on the high street. Attitude towards disability starts in formative years.”

The ‘Toy Like Me’ campaign is calling on social media users to join the campaign by sharing images of toys that reflect Deafness and disability positively, toys that have been homemade or altered to give them disabilities and letters from children with disabilities calling on the toy industry to make more ‘toys like them’, with the hashtag #toylikeme.

More about the campaign can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/toylikeme


The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog.

Rebecca Atkinson / The Limping Chicken / 24th April 2015

Click here to read the article online.