In case you didn't see the big story last week, Lego is coming out with a new "Day at the Park" set that will include its first-ever minifigure (or, as any self-respecting Lego mom would say, "minifig") representing a child who uses a wheelchair. The toymaker apparently designed the new minifig in response to a massive, grassroots campaign called #ToyLikeMe, aimed at convincing toy companies to include or reflect children with disabilities in their products.
My Lego-obsessed daughter uses a wheelchair, so I was absolutely delighted when I learned about this development -- but not for the reasons one might expect.
Yes, it's true that a) my little girl loves Legos, and b) with this minifig, she could play with a Lego figure that uses a mobility device like hers (as imagined by #ToyLikeMe). But when I asked her what she thought of the Lego set, she shrugged her shoulders. "Eh," she said.
My take on her reaction is that to her, true "play" involves pretending you're someone or something else. It means really using your imagination. She doesn't like to play with dolls, for example, because dolls represent little girls, which is what my daughter is. My hunch is that for her, there's simply not enough excitement in pretending to be what you already are.
For the same reason, why would she want to pretend to spend a day in the park -- whether in a wheelchair or not? That's so... last weekend. When she plays with Legos, there at least needs to be some enormous vehicles or dinosaurs involved.
On the other hand, she'll happily become a Ninja on a secret spy mission, pretend to be the Incredible Hulk attending charm school, or spend an entire day insisting that we treat her as though she is a real, live Golden Retriever puppy.
Which is exactly why I'm excited about Lego's new set: non-disabled kids will enjoy this toy. For them, a wheelchair is a novelty -- something they see but are not allowed to touch. Why not give them the opportunity, through play, to experience what it might be like to ride in one -- even if it's just in a park?
Not only will non-disabled kids enjoy experimenting with something they can't do in real life, but they'll increase their awareness of what it means to have a physical disability. When she began using a wheelchair in kindergarten, I was shocked at how many kids her age had never seen a child in a wheelchair before. Many could not understand why they couldn't have a wheelchair, too, or why they weren't allowed to push my daughter down the hallway. They didn't really know what it meant to have a disability.
A Lego set like this will demystify wheelchairs for kids, while also providing an opening for parents to initiate important conversations. We can talk with kids about how riding in a wheelchair might look like fun sometimes, but that kids usually don't choose to use wheelchairs. They probably can't move their legs, or maybe their legs are weak. Believe it or not, as I quickly discovered, many young kids don't realize this.
Whether for fun, disability awareness, or both, I hope every parent of a Lego-loving little kid, disabled or not, will buy this set when it comes out.*
*For those children like my daughter who may not be interested in the wheelchair minifig, please note: the set also includes a really cute little dog.
Jenifer Kasten, J.D.
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