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