Lego's new minifigure may be tiny, but its impact will be huge.

Last week, the world's biggest international toy fair took place in Nuremberg, Germany.

It might not be a notable event for most of us. After all, it was the 67th one and if you're a parent of young kids, every day can feel like a big, messy toy fair in your own house. But it was actually quite significant.

Toy giant Lego unveiled a tiny figure that represents big progress in the evolution of toys — something that's about so much more than another little Lego minifigure you risk stepping on and experiencing seventh-circle-of-hell-level pain.


Lego will soon release a figure that uses a wheelchair.

Photo by Daniel Karmann/AFP/Getty Images.

Yep, that's right! Photographers at the event snapped pics of a Lego guy in a wheelchair (alongside a Lego dad pushing a baby in a stroller and a Lego mom holding a bottle).

Photo by Daniel Karmann/AFP/Getty Images.

Washington Post reported that the Lego figure will be available in June as part of a City Set. (Lego didn't respond to Upworthy's request for comment.)

While the creation of this new figure is a big deal, the movement that may have led to it is too.

London-based journalist and mom of two Rebecca Atkinson has long wanted toys to be more representative of all kids.

Atkinson's doctors discovered she was partially deaf when she was 3 years old. When she was 17, she began losing her vision.

Rebecca Atkinson. Photo used with permission.

I grew up with two hearing aids," Rebecca said. "When I was a child, I never saw myself represented in the toys I played with, in the books I read, or in the TV shows that I watched.”

And that's a problem.

One year ago, Atkinson decided to do something about it by launching a campaign called Toy Like Me, a movement to encourage toy manufacturers to create more diverse toys. "I'm determined to change the toy box for generations to come before the rest of my vision goes," she told Upworthy.

To get the ball rolling, she made some model toys, like a Tinker Bell with a cochlear implant, a doll in a wheelchair, and figures that used guide dogs.

Photo provided by Rebecca Atkinson/Toy Like Me. Used with permission.

The Toy Like Me movement gained momentum, and soon, others were sharing their own modified toys on social media with the hashtag #ToyLikeMe.

Photo provided by Rebecca Atkinson/Toy Like Me. Used with permission.

Atkinson harnessed the power of social media — and the voices of those who want more diversity in toys — to petition toymakers directly.

She created a change.org petition to Playmobil nine months ago, asking the company, "Where are your wheelchair wizards, blind fairies, genies with hearing aids, and princesses with walking frames?"

Over 50,000 people must have wondered the same thing because the petition received that many signatures.

And guess what? Playmobil responded just one month later, reaching out directly to Atkinson. She's been working with them as a creative disability consultant and a line of characters with disabilities with be released in 2017. Success!

Next up: She set her sights on Lego.

Photos provided by Rebecca Atkinson/Toy Like Me. Used with permission.

Eight months ago, Atkinson created a change.org petition directed to Lego, asking them to "think outside the brick box. Mix it up a bit! Add some brawn, stamina, a few sweat bands, couple of half pipes, and some lightning fast wheelchairs."

Over 20,000 people signed the petition and then ... silence.

Until last week, when this guy made his debut at the toy fair.

Photo by Daniel Karmann/AFP/Getty Images.

"I hope that the work we have done to raise the issue in the toy industry has in part had some influence on Lego to create this figure," Atkinson said. "We are certainly very happy to see it happen."

Happy indeed! Because representation matters — both to kids with disabilities and kids without.

Atkinson was emphatic about what this new Lego figure means:

"The message behind Lego’s wheelie boy is so much larger than his teeny-tiny stature. His birth in the toy box marks a seismic shift within children’s industries. 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... This says Lego is behind disabled kids, that they are part of the cultural mainstream.

In addition to kids with disabilities seeing themselves represented positively in their toys and in the media, diverse toys matter to all kids. When they're introduced to differences, disabilities, special needs, and racial diversity early in life — through their toys and other exposure, like kids' movies and cartoons — and the characters are presented as perfectly normal individuals, kids learn that differences are, in fact, perfectly normal.

Imagine a world where a kid's first exposure to a child in a wheelchair or a child who is missing limbs is a non-event because they've been playing with toys with similar differences from the beginning. That sounds like a great world to me.

And don't forget another important point: Our voices matter.

Companies respond to what consumers want, and we're seeing it happen with toy manufacturers. American Girl recently released a diabetes care kit after an 11-year-old's social media movement encouraging them to do so received a lot of support. Playmobil has a line of toys with disabilities in the works. And now Lego is introducing a minifigure in a wheelchair.

Social media and the collective power of our voices really can change our kids' future for the better, one Lego at at time.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."