Toy Like Me: Changing disability stereotypes one toy at a time
The founder of Toy Like Me, Rebecca Atkinson, was watching her children play with toys one day and realized that none of the toys were representing real people with disabilities.
Noticing there was a lack of positive representation of disabilities, or ‘diff:abilities’ as she likes to call it, in children’s toys, Rebecca wanted to do something about it.
Rebecca noticed this representation difference in toys because was born deaf along with her sister into a hearing family. When she turned 17 she started losing her eyesight and was diagnosed with Usher’s syndrome.
“At the time I was worried, but now I’m older, I’ve got my family and I’m happy with life,” Rebecca says.
Rebecca’s guide dog Ruby has boosted her confidence as he travels around everywhere with her.
The start of Toy Like Me
Before starting Toy Like Me, Rebecca worked as a journalist. She worked for many organizations such as BBC SeeHear, where she learned sign language. She also worked for BSL Zone and Children’s BBC.
Now she manages her company Toy Like Me, which started off as a campaign in April 2015. Rebecca, along with two other mums with disabled children started the campaign.
They came up with the name Toy Like Me with the aim of positively representing 150 million children with disabilities worldwide through children’s toys. Soon, it turned into a not-for-profit organization.
Rebecca collected a few toys, one being the Disney fairy Tinkerbell, and gave them all mini hearing aids, cochlear implants, colored wheelchairs, prosthetic legs and so on.
The team took photos of them as an example for toy companies to see how to represent disabilities in a fun, positive light, defeating negative stereotypes. This way, children could relate to the toys more and it would be erasing stereotypes such as the typical ‘old man in a grey wheelchair in a hospital environment’ assumption that is made about wheelchairs.
With a journalistic background, Rebecca used her skills and media contacts to write press releases about the campaign. They also shared the results online, including the Tinkerbell photo and it went viral!
They set up a petition targeted towards Playmobil, asking them to include more diff:ability characters in their playsets. It was a success, reaching over 50,000 signatures. Another petition was also set up for Lego with a similar request and gained 20,000 signatures, but a resolution is yet to come.
Toy Like Me started crowdfunding for a website and enlisted the help of a website company to make it look professional.
“I was fed up with disabilities being looked at in a poor way, so we wanted it to look impressive, like having a disability is something to be proud of,” says Rebecca.
They also joined up with a 3D printing company. This company is printing 3D hearing aids and cochlear implants for people to put on teddy bears and other stuffed toys.
“I’m always in toy shops like Disney fiddling around with all the cuddly toys to see which hearing aids fit on… people must think I’m mad playing with toys at my age!” says Rebecca.
As a not-for-profit, they rely on crowdfunding and grants from organizations to fund their workshops and activities. Some funding went towards creating awesome photo graphics like the one below, depicting the toys with disabilities in different scenarios.
Inspiring children to be accepting
Currently, their motive is going to schools to give toys to both deaf and hearing children to use when playing.
Toy Like Me has worked with researchers at Goldsmith University who have studied the effects of playing with disabled toys on non-disabled children and their friendship intentions towards disabled peers. They found after just three minutes of play, children were more open-minded towards making friends with a disabled child. It’s “exposure to diff:abilities through fun!” as Rebecca would say.
Rebecca received a thank you letter which pulled a few heartstrings!
One child explained how they look at the dolls every day and remember that they are not alone.
“There’s very powerful feelings from this,” says Rebecca.
Rebecca hopes to see her company grow as she has so many ideas for the future of Toy Like Me. The company has a goal to continue to inspire children and break down disability stigmas.
You can check out Toy Like Me on their website now!