Q&A with Rebecca Atkinson, a founder of #ToyLikeMe; starting playful conversations with children about disability.

#ToyLikeMe was established in April 2015 after writer and journalist Rebecca Atkinson noticed the lack of positive disability representation in toys. Rebecca had spent 20 years working in TV production and print journalism (including Children’s BBC) and had always been interested in the way these industries represent disability and difference.

Rebecca called on some fellow parents, including writer Melissa Mostyn and former Ragdoll play consultant, Karen Newell whose son has a visual impairment. Together they launched #ToyLikeMe which is asking the toy industry to positively represent 150 million children worldwide and end cultural marginalization.

“As someone who had grown up wearing hearing aids, I remembered firsthand how it felt to be a child who never saw themselves represented by the mainstream and what that can do to a child’s self esteem. To exclude in the toy box teaches ALl children it’s OK to exclude in real life.  I wanted to change this for generations to come by getting global brands like Lego, Mattel and Playmobil to include positive representations of disability in their products.”
– Rebecca Atkinson


We (Illo Agency) have long admired the work of #ToyLikeMe, and I hope they don't mind us saying we also feel this glaring lack of diversity within so many industies, speciifcally on representing disability, only #ToyLikeMe bring this into a 3D practise. We love their approach, and very clever angle/ modifications,, and wanted to find out where this was goiong next. Here's a few questions we asked Rebecca Atkinson below...
 
Can I ask what sort of support you're receiving from the Toy Industry, i.e. have you had anything from the likes of Marvel, Disney?

We have not had contact with Disney or Marvel but we do feel it's not coincidence that large brands like Mattel's Barbie have released increasingly diverse prodcuts in recent months including a Barbie with vitaligo which may have been influenced by our work and Toy Box Tales images.
 
Can I ask if there's any existing book characters that you would love to bring to life - as a toy with a disability?
As I understand it there's still quite an issue within the toy industry re: gender roles, and the under-representation of different ethnicities, are you finding this even a hindrance when trying to reinvent current toys on the market, so you're able to show the world how it really is?!
I would love to see Disney characters with disabilities. Nemo is a fantastic example of how powerful this can be. Many people with limb difference call it their lucky fin after Nemo, who has one fin smaller than the other.
 
Have you ever created an animated film/ or stop motion film for your campaign?
I am currently working with a UK based animation company and distributor on a pre-school animation in the spirit of ToyLikeMe.
 
Can I ask where we can buy these stereotype-busting toys you are promoting, and what the price range is of these?
We don't sell or make toys ourselves but we have links to toys we have found on our website or on our amazon listing - https://www.amazon.co.uk/shop/toylikeme
 
Can I ask if you have had any reactions from children you work with - if you have any quotes I can share in response to your campaign so far?
For instance if this has helped with any existing prejudices that children without a disability may have? like preconceived ideas that if you're disabled you can't be involved with sport etc?
Check out our testimonal page for a sample. We've had absolutly heaps. Here's a couple of examples below, and here's a link to a few more > https://www.toylikeme.org/about-us/testimonials/

This is the first time I have thought about buying a toy with a disability for a non-disabled child. It opened my eyes.’ – Visitor

‘I liked seeing that people who are deaf can do the same things as people who aren’t deaf.’ – Hearing child

 
Can I ask if there are any future events, projects upcoming that you can share?
At present we have had to put our schools programme on hold due to Covid. We hope when we return we hope that we will be able to continue this and also create new works. We are also currently working on a remote community based project to reach our community duruing covid19 and encourage them to partake in a project to create playful artwork which will come together in the future as a tribute ot our health service.
 
We have also posted resources for Covid and home schooling here - https://www.toylikeme.org/creativecovid

ToyLikeMe are able to supply a pop-up school hall exhibition, this involves 12 roller banners, featuring stunning photographic images of toys that have been made-over to give them disabilities, for display in your school hall.  Pupils can visit the exhibition in class groups and carry out an supplied engagement quiz. With questions such as 'What is a cochlear implant?' and class challenges; - Is it possible to talk with your hands and hear with your eyes?

ToyLikeMe have a wonderful plan they can share, with ideas on how to extend this learning into the classroom and link to the curriculum. They can easily provide schools with digital copies of the Toy Box images (like these featured) which they can print and share with pupils. Schools can encourage children to share what they notice in the images and discuss their responses. Avoiding negative language such as ‘what is wrong’ or ‘what is the problem.’

“Academic research by Dr. Sian Jones at Queen Margaret’s has found that after playing with disabled toys for just 3 minutes, children develop a more positive friendship attitude owards their peers with disabilities.”

Below we've included some of our favourite illustrations created by three of the Illo artists, that feature children with various disabilities.  Here'll you'll find work by Sandra de la Prada, Laila Ekboir,  and Laura Klamburg.

If you have any further questions, please contact: [email protected]
at illo agency we pride ourselves in representing a collation of global illustrators, distinctly diverse in creativity and uniquely celebrated by like-minded clients across a range of commercial markets.