Does the children’s industry across both TV and toys represent diversity? Should global television and toy brands with cultural sway have any moral duty to do so? The speakers debated on how disability is viewed across the sector, how we can move away from stereotyping and what key brands are doing in this area. Originally written for The Children’s Media Conference.
- Disability should be incidental, not the focus of a person
- It is so important for children to see themselves represented
The session and debate began with Alison Rayson explaining her reason for being at this years CMC conference. Eight years ago her son was born with Down’s Syndrome. She was working in TV and became severely aware of the lack of representation. The content that was available felt tokenistic and forced rather than recognising that everyone is an individual.
Ashley Kendall mentioned that they were talking about tokenism at a workshop the day before and it had been made clear that many programme makers just put someone on a show to meet that quota and tick the box. He wanted people to have a real understanding and passion for talent. He had made a guest appearance on Blue Peter for an episode talking about deafness, and afterwards he began to wonder: why didn’t they have a deaf presenter? Just have one who’s incidentally deaf, not brought in for a specific topic or purpose and then moved directly out of the limelight.
Daniel Bays, Creative Director at Lightning Sprite Media, left the BBC to set up his own company and saw everyone struggle with the issue of trying to make a difference without appearing tokenistic or ill-conceived. They were unsure of who to talk to, or worried that they could find themselves facing commercial concerns and lose their way.
Lucie Follett from Lottie Dolls pointed out the cost of making products. Before you even have a product to sell, getting a diverse toy to market is a costly exercise with retailers asking about your TV advertising and the tens of thousands that goes into safety testing.
Ideas are crowdsourced by children, which is their USP. They are trying to create content that is more about the background story of the media company rather than the ‘issues’. It has got to be about the story, otherwise it will not work. Issues need to be incidental, not under the spotlight.
Rebecca Atkinson of Toys Like Me started making over existing toys to represent disabilities and it went viral. She found small companies very responsive, but cost limits their ability.
She wondered whether the big companies have a moral obligation – children need to see themselves reflected, but the market is constrained, and she estimated that 150 million children are being culturally marginalised in toys.
Finally, some thoughts that the panel left the room to ponder:
- Celebrate 150 million children that have arrived in a different package. It is also crucial to have a diverse crew and involve people who understand the topic behind the scenes.
- Would you have a full hearing crew making a show on signing? Be open to learning something new. Ask more questions, check, double check. Be a bit more open-minded, step over your ego.
- Never forget how much it means for children to see themselves represented positively. That feeling resonates through generations.