Allow all children to play with their peers
One obvious way to be inclusive is by considering the needs and characteristics of children with different impairments. This does not mean developing toys for kids with one specific disability, but creating toys that enable all children to enjoy playing together (children without disabilities as well as children who are blind, autistic, deaf, motor impaired, have sensory processing disorders, etc.). The short animation film “Ian” (winner of 78 awards) provokes an understanding about how children with special needs want to play with their equals and shows how important it is to break down the barriers that prevent them from doing so.
If we could create a toy that is suitable and appealing for all children, it would be amazing. But, obviously, that is quite difficult to achieve (although not impossible). Various characteristics have to be considered, depending also on the type of toy or game. However, research institutions and even toy companies are making progress in gathering this kind of information.
Even if there is still a lot to do in our sector, toy companies are already making a real effort to implement strategies that create more inclusive options for children. In 2019, Lego issued audio and braille instructions, so that blind children could build the same things that any child could put together. Shortly after that, the company introduced Lego braille bricks, a wonderful product that allows children to learn braille while playing. The product has been very well received in general and among organizations for the blind. For instance, in Spain, ONCE (the National Organization of Spanish blind people) has acquired several kits and has distributed them in public schools around the country. No doubt Lego is winning the heart of consumers with this wonderful playing concept.
Learning to respect all ways of being
Developing toys that help visualize and normalize all sorts of realities is important. For instance, one idea that is quite popular at the moment is creating dolls with various skin colors, body shapes, disabilities, medical conditions, etc.
There are some great examples from the last few years from several companies offering dolls that “look like me”. Mattel is embracing this trend and expanding their range of options, including dolls that feature conditions such as vitiligo. Moreover, the company has also gained international recognition with Creatable World, a line of products that offers children the option to customize their own doll, including its gender. Their claim “All welcome” says it all. It’s an innovative, unique approach that also promotes the idea that clothes shouldn’t be specific depending on the gender, that everything can be more fun if we all mix.
Another important issue is race visibility and equality, which has also been considered in various developments in our industry lately. For instance, companies such as Faber Castell, Giotto or Crayola have launched onto the market colors that feature several skin tones so children can paint a large variety of people. This is, no doubt, a great way to make the youngest aware of the diversity in the world, a first step into becoming more respectful citizens.
With regard to medical conditions or disabilities, there has also been an increase in products to help children feel represented through their playthings, for instance with dolls that feature several conditions, or come with accessories such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc. There are also some interesting toys related to diabetes. The Diabetes Care Kit for Dolls by American Girl Place can be a great support for children with this condition as children can reproduce through role-play what they experience in their day-to-day life. Also, friends and family playing along can benefit by understanding better what the implications of being diabetic are. Another product exemplifying this kind of play is Jerry the bear, a teddy bear that has type 1 diabetes and needs special care, so the child has to check its blood sugar level, dose of insulin, etc.
Inclusive toys, successful toys
The main message is how the entire toy industry can make a difference for something that really matters in the life of children and minorities. The good thing is that, while we help create a more respectful society, our consumers will reward us. Inclusive toys are key to appeal to the current generation of parents and children; it is a trend that is not only increasing but is here to stay.