Toys and dolls are wonderful for children’s imaginative play activities. Yet very few are made with children with disabilities in mind
While there has been a move to making toys that represent diversity in our population (black dolls, for example), we have a long way to go when it comes to finding toys, such as dolls, with disabilities. Having a doll or toy with a disability can help children with disabilities feel less different and isolated – and help them realise that there are others like them. Toys with disabilities are also useful for exposing children without disabilities to toys that represent a diverse population and create disability awareness. For children like mine, who have a parent with a disability, having toys with disabilities is great for role-play situations.
Playing with toys and dolls helps children develop many skills, including cognitive, fine and gross motor, social and self-help skills. Talking to dolls, for example, helps a child open up, express their feelings, develop cognitive reframing (re-enacting interactions and events) and expand their imagination. When children play games with others they learn to take turns, role-play, increase their vocabulary, and develop empathy and compassion. There are a few online companies that supply “disabled friendly” toys but most are overseas (i.e. Living Made Easy) and the items are expensive to import. British toy company My Makie provides parents with the option of customising their dolls with birthmarks, white canes, glasses and hearing aids, for example.
Non-profit organisation Persona Dolls Training, founded in the US and used around the world in anti-bias work with children and adults, has been in operation in South Africa since 2004, and offers diversity training and materials. Although not disability-specific, Persona Dolls can be customised to include wheelchairs.
Taking part in the drive to find toys is the Toy Like Me Facebook campaign, which is assisting in creating disability awareness. It calls for parents of children with disabilities to share their children’s modified toys in order to reflect disability in a positive light, and it appeals to the toy industry to better represent disability in their toys. Parents share modifications to toys, such as cochlear implants, walking frames, wheelchairs, callipers, wheelchairs and white canes. There are some wonderful pictures on their Facebook page, where parents, teachers and therapists can get ideas and modifications that are quick and cheap to make.
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email: email@example.com