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Toy Diversity: Inclusive Youth

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
10/05/22  11:04 AM PST

How Toys Can Reflect Diversity & The Differently Abled

Growing up, my favorite toys were always cars, trucks, motorcycles, and action figures— He-Man, Gi-Joe, Superman and Star Wars. My sister preferred Barbie, My Little Pony and Care Bears. However, when I look back at the early objects that influenced me, they were all able-bodied with special powers, none of which resembled any form of disability. By the time I was finished playing with them they looked different than how they came packaged— missing heads or pieces, and in dire need of some glue.

At that time, my modified toys were my only reference to an alternative appearance. It wasn’t until my later teens when I learned about spinal cord injury when a classmate suffered a wrestling accident and needed a wheelchair— which was an anomaly at our school. His wheelchair frightened me, I felt insecure around him, not knowing what to do, or say. Unfortunately, I was inexperienced and emotionally ill-equipped which ultimately hindered my friendship with him, a memory I am sad to regret.

Now, as a father of a little girl, I observe her with her toys and think about how they influence what she is learning and what she is being exposed to. What I realized the other day when the new Hotwheels Aaron “Wheels” Fatheringham caricature was released is that she doesn’t have any figurines that reflect my condition.

“How can this be?”

I suppose I’ve overlooked this because I’ve been her example. She loves to climb into my wheelchair, sit on my lap while I roll and even push me from behind with all her might. Yet, when I think about it, I may not be enough. I know the impact a favorite toy can have and how the imprint of her imagination can last a lifetime.

So, I look to Amazon and scroll through the endless catalogue of new-age toys searching for items of diversity.

It pleases me to see that Barbie, Legos, Hotwheels and others have expanded their products to include not only wheelchair users, but a variety of differently-abled toys— far more inclusive than those of yesteryear. I’ve also seen books and cartoons including a variety of animated characters showcasing how children, families and friends can all “look” different, but have the same amount of fun.

You can be sure that my daughter will come to know these toys and the joy they bring, but I also know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I will have the glue ready.


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