Using play as a tool for open conversation

Diversity and inclusion still have a long way to go in books, films, toys, and many other categories. However, representation in the toy box can significantly impact children, reducing unconscious bias, creating space for creative self-expression, and developing self-confidence. In recent years, toy companies such as Mattel, have made conscious efforts to build more accessible and adaptive toy options for children with disabilities, with product lines focused on skin conditions, hearing impairment, and most recently, Down syndrome - a fundamental step forward which Cassandra has reported on as Millennial parents today are taking a different approach to how they talk about previously taboo topics, and help guide their Gen Alpha through the world with curiosity. Here we’re spotlighting three other brands taking the initiative to make playtime more welcoming to a diverse audience.


Amassing more than 179K followers on TikTok, 3D Toy Shop was created during the pandemic by single father and 3D printing enthusiast Nick Hardman, who uses 3D printing and design to make accessible toys for children. Hardman’s collection of specialty toys includes some with insulin pumps, foot splints, and even a mini dialysis machine and explains, “We make toys that don’t exist — like little pacemakers and little tracheostomies so children who are going through the hardest time can have a friend like them.

- Ashely, 34, TN (Cassandra Collective)

    LEGO FRIENDS (2023)

    Earlier this year, LEGO updated their popular LEGO Friends line to include eight characters with a range of disabilities, some visible and some invisible, choosing not to name the disabilities but instead giving each character attributes of different disabilities. From characters with limb differences to friends navigating ADHD and anxiety, the products were launched along with a 44-minute special episode of its LEGO Friends YouTube Series, to be followed by more episodes throughout the year, expected to include various storylines that are “relatable, inclusive, and reflective of the difficulties and experiences that children face today.

    - Taylor, 28, TX (Cassandra Collective)


      #ToyLikeMe was established after writer and journalist Rebecca Atkinson noticed the lack of positive disability representation in toys. Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, ToyLikeMe launched as a self-sustaining hub that connects families of disabled children with products, services, and info that support and celebrate children's unique abilities and that'll keep pushing Big Toy companies to roll out more diverse playthings.