The LEGO universe has finally gotten big enough to include children with disabilities.
The Lego Group has started selling a miniature figure of a smiling, beanie-wearing boy in a wheelchair, as well as a brown and black service dog. They’re part of a LEGO toy set called “Fun in the Park,” which LEGO fans can assemble into a variety of park-related people and elements.
The new disability-friendly figures are victory for the #ToyLikeMe campaign, which has been urging major toy companies to offer inclusive toys that reflect a broader spectrum of people, including children with disabilities.
“Wow. This just feels great, doesn’t it?” said Amber Bobnar, whose 10-year-old son Ivan uses a wheelchair and is a student at Perkins School for the Blind. “It’s big because it’s such a momentous step forward, while in reality it’s really just a little one-inch plastic figure. But this little guy is in a wheelchair! He’s out having fun with his friends at the park! Way to go LEGO!”
Bobnar has promoted the #ToyLikeMe campaign on the WonderBaby.org website, which she manages. The Perkins-affiliated site offers resources and advice for parents of children with blindness and other disabilities.
“Children with disabilities can feel isolated or invisible,” Bobnar said. “Toys that represent them will help disabled children grow up with positive self-esteem. It may seem small, but for them it makes a world of difference.”
The #ToyLikeMe movement was started in 2015 by U.K. journalist Rebecca Atkinson. It sponsored a Change.org petition urging LEGO to include toy figures with disabilities that drew more than 20,000 signatures last year. LEGO’s new wheelchair boy marks a “seismic shift” in the toy industry, Atkinson said.
“There are 150 million children with disabilities worldwide, yet until now they have scarcely ever seen themselves positively reflected in the media and toys they consume,” she wrote in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. “Let’s hope that one day positive representations of disability are included so seamlessly across children’s industries that they cease to be noteworthy at all.”
The 157-piece “Fun in the Park” set was so popular it sold out immediately at the LEGO.com store, but is now available again. In addition to the boy in a wheelchair and the service dog, it includes other typical park visitors like a young couple with a baby stroller, a hotdog vendor and two non-disabled children.
The Lego Group, based in Denmark, produces over 60 billion of its signature multi-colored interlocking plastic bricks annually. It also offers LEGO-themed video games, movies and TV shows, and operates six Legoland amusement parks and 125 retail stores around the world.