I’ll admit, I was intrigued when Toys ‘R’ Us sent me a link to their Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. The retailer has been publishing the guide since 1994, billed as an easy-to-use resource featuring toys specially selected based on research from the National Lekotek Center that encourage play for children with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. The 2011 guide features actress Eva Longoria on the cover, who also created a video in support of the initiative. Longoria’s sister, Liza, is developmentally disabled and inspired Longoria to found Eva’s Heroes, an organization that “helps teens and young adults with special needs to integrate and flourish in society.”
At first, I assumed this catalog was simply a marketing ploy, since after all, it’s filled with the same toys that are in the regular catalog. But once I saw that each toy included in the guide was evaluated individually to determine its ability to help special needs children learn and grow, coupled with the care Toys ‘R’ Us took to interview the families of the children featured, my cynicism softened. As you flip through the wonderful photographs of these children with special needs and read what their parents have to say about them, you’re sure to be inspired by each family’s strength.
As much as I think the special attention Toys ‘R’ Us has given to children with special needs is remarkable, I also wonder if we’ll ever see a day when children with special needs are regularly featured in catalogs alongside their “normally-abled” peers. That would be truly progressive. Babble Voices blogger Ellen Seidman, who also writes Love That Max, a blog about her son with special needs, agrees. She told me:
The more kids see that kids with special needs are still kids, the less they’ll notice the differences. I’m hopeful other companies will come around; in recent months, Nordstrom and Target have both featured kids with Down syndrome in ads. Also? I’d like to see my son, Max, modeling, so he can support my shoe habit. Now we’re talking!
Seidman says not every toy sold in the Toys ‘R’ Us Guide is perfectly suited for kids with special needs, but that some sold by other retailers designed especially for special needs kids can be a rip-off. ”Do I think every single thing in the Toys ‘R’ Us catalog is genius for kids with special needs?,” she asks. ”Nah. Like come on, putting a kiddie swing under the “self esteem” category?! But I like the fact that the catalog shows how everyday toys can help kids developmentally. Some of the toys in special needs catalogs are rip-offs, like the $1199 collection of toys offered by Enabling Devices I once bitched about on my blog. They should change their name to Enabling Bankruptcy.” I can see why she’d feel that way – the Enabling Devices toys she has pictured look just like everything featured in the Toys ‘R’ Us Guide, to me!
Do you have a child with special needs? What do you think about the Guide?