Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2018: Equal to the Task

Toying with inclusivity

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 12 December 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5193
  1. Desmond O’Neill, professor in medical gerontology1,
  2. Denise McDonald, consultant paediatrician2,
  3. Sian Jones, lecturer in psychology3
  1. 1Centre for Ageing, Neuroscience and the Humanities, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2Department of Paediatrics, Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3Division of Psychology, Sociology and Education, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to: doneill{at}

Efforts to represent disability in the toy box must go beyond tokenism, say Desmond O’Neill and colleagues

Even with the advent of electronic games, toys remain an integral element of the Christmas experience. The centrality of toys to the childhood experience since ancient times has had relatively little impact on the biomedical literature, other than references in paediatric literature to hazards such as flammability and choking.1 This is surprising, as the potent symbolism of playthings provides a window into rich sociological and psychological narratives, most tellingly in studies of gender and ethnicity.2

Representing disability

Less well recognised is how toys reflect, or fail to reflect, disability and inclusion. For example, adapting toys has been shown to facilitate play routines among children with a disability.3 And toys that represent disability can reduce the anxiety and prejudice that children without disabilities may experience towards peers with disabilities.4

But there’s been little headway in representing disability in the toy industry. Here we reflect on the attempts at representing disability in the toy box and possible ways to achieve this. The inclusion of toys reflecting disability is a recent phenomenon: analysis of a catalogue from a major US toy retailer found only two disability themed toys from 1930 to 1963.5 This absence led to movements such as #toylikeme, founded in 2015 to promote toys representing disability. The impulse for this is eloquently …

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