What Grown-Ups Need to Learn from These Ableist Toy Reviews

7 Oct

trigger warning: insensitive statements about people with disabilities

You know I love LEGO®, so we don’t expect me to be getting big mad during one of my frequent scrolls on LEGO.com, but it happened.

It of course wasn’t anything my beloved brick makers did. It’s what I found written in some reviews.

official image of the 2023 Friends advent calendar from LEGO.com

I was browsing this year’s selection of advent calendars so I could choose which one I would use to countdown to Christmas 2023, and I noticed the FriendsTM advent calendar (pictured above) had at that time an average rating of 3/5 and wanted to see why. Here is what I found:

Really???  Joe is my name  $35 for only two mini dolls, with one missing a hand? I get that there's a push for inclusivity, but when this holiday sweater can't be re-used by my daughter who likes to mix and match outfits for her characters, this is ridiculous.
LEGO toy figurines include a wheelchair racer, person with a limb difference, a dog fitted with wheels, a person with vitiligo, a person with a cochlear implant, a blind person with a service dog, and a pirate with a peg leg and hook hand
These are just some of LEGO’s minifigures and minidolls representing diverse abilities and conditions.

The minidoll (the style of small figurine used by the Friends line) he’s speaking of is a new character, Autumn, who has a limb difference. You can see another incarnation of her character in the above photo, second from the left, along with her disabled rescue dog, Pickle.

So, wow. Looks like somewhere, “Joe” is teaching his daughter that people with disabilities are less valuable – literally, less “whole.”

As shocked as I was to see this horribly rude and insensitive statement, I was not expecting someone else to show up being possibly even more terrible:

Not inclusive  MissFlashyToaster  This set is kind of cute but there’s not much to it. And I’m confused as to why all the Lego friends sets now have a girl with a hand missing. I’m trying to figure out who this represents because how many little girls with a hand missing are Lego builders? I’m not trying to be mean, because I’m disabled myself. But in my experience it takes two hands to build legos so I don’t think this is a proper representation of disability nor logical, given where it’s being represented. It just makes everything feel awkward and like you’re pushing an agenda way too hard. Just let us all enjoy the legos the way they have always been in the past. Innocent and creative building sets without a message.

“Toaster” goes beyond calling someone with a disability less valuable. She calls someone with a limb difference less capable or incapable. Add to her bad behavior the fact that she accredits herself as an expert because she personally has a disability. Owning an identity to credibly belittle that entire identity group can be especially damaging.

I could go on and on, but I guess I’ll just add this about representation: This reviewer may agree that children deserve toys who look like themselves. But representation also means giving them toys who look like their friends, family, and all the diverse people in their past, present, and future. I myself don’t have a limb difference, but someone who’s important to me does.

You can view this product, read its reviews, and see LEGO’s fabulous replies here: https://www.lego.com/en-us/product/lego-friends-advent-calendar-2023-41758

What Else Can I Say?

  1. So, um, FYI, people with disabilities are absolutely as valuable as anyone else.
  2. I’m not going to be the person with a disability who declares what all other people with disabilities are or are not capable of. But I will tell you that disabilities have only enhanced my creativity and problem-solving skills (I can genuinely say that my success as an entrepreneur would have never happened without my physically, cognitively, and emotionally disabling conditions), and this tends to be true for for countless people with disabilities. We’re innovative because we have to be, and ultimately we become expert innovators! Talk about VALUABLE! Don’t just take my word for it; you may have already seen this viral example of innovation:

Note the child has zero hands, and he still builds with LEGO. Take that MissFlashyToaster!

A Takeaway for Everyone

Did you know that about 3 out of 4 people with disabilities have invisible or hidden disabilities? One key experiential difference of having a hidden disability versus visible is a greater ability to control what others know about our disability. And a huge reason why this matters, and why we often choose to not disclose our disability (especially in the workplace), is because people will readily make unkind assumptions about our value and capabilities. You need only look at an innocent toy website to see this tragic reality.

So a final thing I’ll ask, is just let people speak for themselves. This isn’t only for people with disabilities. This is everyone. Like, when my partner and I were talking about who is going to give our cat her medicine on a day when we’re both out of town on separate business trips, he started mentioning other options besides our usual Mike to come by the house and do it. “Mike lives so far away,” he said. He listed acquaintances who live closer. I said, “Well Mike seems to really like doing it. Why don’t you let Mike decide if he wants to or not?” So he let Mike speak for himself what he wants to do … and Mike wants to stop in and take care of our sweet little fluff! Thanks, Mike!!

Another easy tip is an adjustment you can make in your everyday word choice. When talking about someone’s diagnosis (if they’re cool with it), instead of saying, “She suffers from _______,” or “He struggles with _______,” say, “He has _______,” or “They live with _______.” Let them express for themselves how they feel or if they’re struggling or not.

Really, that’s it. Let us decide for ourselves what we want, what we’re capable of, and how we feel about it. Then we’ll have the space and support to show off our superpowers, and you’ll see just how valuable we really are.

More Tips

10 Tips for Disability-Inclusive Collaboration at Work

What Not to Say to Someone with a Hidden Disability


3 thoughts on “What Grown-Ups Need to Learn from These Ableist Toy Reviews

  1. Pingback: Middle-Aged, Disabled, and Still Playing with Toys - Christina Irene

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *