See the New Lego Set That Has Disability Advocates Cheering
From mythical characters, such as a werewolf or vampire, to more realistic ones, such as a cheerleader waving her pom-poms or a female scientist, Lego figures have long been a staple of kid toy boxes and a hot property among adult collectors. But out of the hundreds of small, one-and-one-half-inch-tall plastic figures produced by Lego over the years, none have reflected the experience of the 150 million disabled kids around the world.
Now a series of photos from this week's Nuremberg Toy Fair confirms that this lack of representation is changing. According to pictures German Lego fan website Promobricks posted on Tuesday, one of the new figures being released in 2016 is a character in a wheelchair with an assistance dog. The character was first hinted at during the London Toy Fair last weekend, according to the blog The Brick Fan. Now this visual evidence at the fair in Germany has parents and disability advocates celebrating.
“We've got genuine tears of joy right now,” wrote London mother and journalist Rebecca Atkinson in an update on Tuesday to the petition to Lego she started last April. “LEGO we salute you! You've just made a 150 million children, their mums, dad, nans, grandads, teachers, carers, pet dogs and hamsters very VERY VERY happy! We're conga-ing up and down the street right now, (the hamster is at the back) flinging multi coloured bricks like confetti!” she continued.
Atkinson’s "Toy Like Me" petition to Lego, which asked the manufacturer to “positively represent disability,” garnered just over 20,000 signatures—and its language seems to have influenced the toy maker. “Please, Lego, put some wheelchair vroom vroom into the toy box and help generations of kids, (both with and without disabilities), grow up with a more positive attitude to human difference!” Atkinson wrote last year on the petition.
Along with the beanie-wearing figure in the wheelchair, set 60134—Fun in the Park—also seems to challenge gender stereotypes by featuring a bearded man pushing a baby buggy, and a woman pushing a lawn mower. The inclusion of these figures comes on the heels of disability advocates' criticism of Lego last summer and its seeming resistance to expanding the diversity of figures.
In June, Lego apologized after a backlash from mental health and disability advocates because of a kid’s toy it described as a “part back-of-the-bus window-licker.” The derogatory phrasing is slang for a person with severe learning disabilities. In July, the toy company was criticized after it released its Duplo Community People Set, which is geared toward preschoolers and includes a character of an old man in a wheelchair.
In an op-ed published on Dec. 22 in The Guardian, Atkinson explained that the Duplo character promoted “an enduring assumption that disability is the preserve of the elderly despite there being 770,000 disabled children in the UK alone.” Atkinson added that Lego had responded to her “Toys Like Me” petition by stating, “The beauty of the Lego system is that children may choose how to use the pieces we offer to build their own stories.”
When parents will be able to purchase this figure set for their kids is still unclear, and Lego did not return a request for comment. But if Atkinson's reaction is any indication, this set is sure to bring plenty of cheer to children who've been waiting to play wheelchair basketball with a figure.