Why Disability Representation in Children’s Toys Matters
Toys are the instruments that allow children to learn and understand the world around them. Because toys are such powerful learning tools, it is so important for children to see themselves reflected in the toys that they play and interact with.
Unfortunately, children with disabilities rarely get the opportunity to see themselves reflected in their toy boxes, as disability has been historically absent from the toy industry. This lack of representation can be incredibly damaging to self-esteem.
If children with disabilities are only ever shown able-bodied toys, they may internalize the message that there is something inherently wrong with having a disability. If children with disabilities are invisible in the toy industry, they may be made to feel invisible in society at large and could grow up feeling undervalued and unsupported.
In addition to being harmful to children with disabilities, the lack of representation in children’s toys can also affect able-bodied children. The lack of disability diversity among children’s toys deprives able-bodied children of the valuable lesson of normalizing disability from a young age. The toys that children play with should mirror the world that they live in and accurately represent all people, including those with disabilities.
Fortunately, in recent years as disability representation becomes more of a widespread topic, we have seen an increase in disability diversity within the toy industry.
Back in December of 2020, CTV News covered a story about the importance of representation in children’s toys after one mother's Instagram post about the topic went viral. In the post, she shared three images of young girls playing with dolls that shared similar disabilities to their own. In the caption, she writes “Look at these beautiful girls. Each one is represented by a doll that looks like them...Representation matters!.”
The first image features her own daughter who has down syndrome holding a down syndrome baby doll with features just like her own. The next image features a young girl and an American Girl doll who both have forearm crutches and ankle-foot orthotics. The last photo shows a young girl in a wheelchair playing with a Barbie doll in a wheelchair.
It is so important that these children have dolls that look like them. Not only does it bring a smile to their face, but it also helps them feel less alone in the world. Being able to physically see yourself in the toys you play with helps empower children with disabilities and allows them to connect with their toys more personally. They are able to play and imagine with more confidence and know that they are just as valuable and important as everyone else.
Representing disabilities in toys sends a powerful message to children that everyone should be included and celebrated, not just able-bodied people. Every child deserves to see themselves reflected in the toys that they play with and I am hopeful that disability will continue to be represented within the toy industry.
While this representation is especially important for children with disabilities, they are not the only children who benefit from diversity in the toy box. Coming across a toy with a disability is the perfect opportunity to open up a conversation about the unique differences among people. Children are naturally curious, and this kind of conversation allows able-bodied kids to ask questions and learn about all of the different disabilities people can have. It also provides parents with a chance to instill an important lesson in their children: no matter what, all people are deserving of love, kindness, and respect.
Diversity in toys can help children become more empathetic, compassionate, and understanding towards people who are different from them which will ultimately lead to a happier and more inclusive world.
When we normalize disability in play we help normalize it in real life too!
Not sure where to find disability representation toys? We've compiled a short list of some of our favorites to help you out!