Finally, LEGO has listened to disability activists and people everywhere who have been calling for them to include representations of people with disabilities in its toys.

  This week LEGO confirmed it’s released a new set featuring a young man using a wheelchair. The new toy was spotted at the Nurumberg Toy Fair in Germany this week and also at the London Toy Fair. It’s part of a new “Fun in the Park” set, according to ToyLikeMe, a campaign working to pressure toy companies into being more inclusive. The set also appears to include a guide dog. “It’s pretty momentous, even though it’s just a little toy,” Rebecca Atkinson, co-founder of ToyLikeMe, told The Mighty in an email. “It’s about the message behind it, which is far, far bigger than a little one-inch-tall plastic guy.”
  Pictures of the plastic beanie-wearing youth in a wheelchair were posted on the Promobricks, a LEGO news blog, Facebook page and shared on a website called Bricksfans. The release of this new figure comes after many months of campaigning by ToyLikeMe, which launched a petition last year that got more than 20,000 signatures. Last Christmas, ToyLikeMe submitted designs for a disability-inclusive holiday set and campaigned for that as well. Representatives from LEGO confirmed the existence of the wheelchair-using figure in the LEGO CITY set to the UK Press Association on Wednesday, the Daily Mail reported. The set containing the figure will go on sale in June.
  “For Lego to include a wheelchair-using mini-figure in one of their sets is a huge deal,” Atkinson told The Mighty. “I’m not sure they even realize themselves what they have done. It’s massively significant. For a brand as large and loved as LEGO, this kind of incidental inclusion speaks volumes. It says to children with disabilities that the brand is behind them, that they are part of the cultural mainstream.” This is the first LEGO mini figure with a wheelchair, although previously there was a LEGO Duplo range, a series of the toys aimed at pre-school children, that featured an elderly man in a wheelchair. That set was criticized by activists for reinforcing stereotypes about wheelchairs only being for the elderly. This new figure is a part of the LEGO line aimed at older kids.

LEGO figurines.
Image courtesy of ToyLikeMe.
“I’m delighted,” Atkinson told The Mighty. “I’ve worked hard to set this issue on the agenda within the toy industry and say that the cultural marginalization of 150 million disabled kids by the toy industry is not OK. I’m hopeful this is the beginning of real core brand commitment from LEGO to continue positively representing disabled children in their much loved toys.” The Mighty reached out to LEGO for comment but have yet to hear back. For more on ToyLikeMe, or to help support them in their efforts, visit their CrowdFunder page here.


How do you differentiate between a “good” and “bad” doctor? How do you know if the diagnosis presented is accurate or if the options presented are the best ones? How do you know if your doctor or surgeon is suited to your needs?

I’m sure questions such as these go through the mind of every patient faced with a problem that is above average in complexity. It took me 10 years of trial and error to present you this list; some of the lessons have left permanent scars. I hope it helps with your own decision-making process.

1. The right doctor is similar to a good friend.

They listen. You should be comfortable communicating with them. They should never brush off or laugh at any of your concerns, especially if it is affecting your life a great deal. He or she has to take your pain seriously, be it physical or psychological, and treat you with respect. They should never belittle you or make you feel as if it’s all in your mind and that you are just being silly.

2. Always seek a second opinion.

This is probably the most important lesson I have ever learned in relation to selecting a suitable doctor. You’d be surprised at how different their opinions can be, and new insights can be garnered from every single one of them. What one doctor suggests might not be the only treatment option you have. I once had a gynecologist tell me the only treatment option I had was to have my entire cervix removed. Another specialist I visited was appalled by the extremity of this suggestion.

So if you do not trust the opinion of your doctor, or you just want to seek alternative options or a confirmation of your own decisions — get another opinion. It could be worth every penny you’ve got.

3. Listen to your instinct.

This might be obvious to some and takes a bit more work for others who, like me, tend to be have trouble deciding until all pros and cons have been assessed and obsessed over. I am now learning how to listen to and trust that little voice inside me again. More often than not, it already knows the right answers to my own questions.

Believe in your judgment. If that little voice is telling you your doctor doesn’t care or isn’t interested, it is probably right, and you want to stay away from them.

Why does this matter? Because you want to be treated as an individual and not just a job number waiting to be struck off the list. If you are being treated like the latter, there is a possibility your case will not be given the consideration it requires, and that might increase the chance of a mistake happening.

4. Communication and collaboration.

Chronic illness patients often have to keep up with an assortment of doctors from different departments, covering them from brain to bone. When you visit a specialist, they tend to look for and treat specific issues related to their field only, but everything in your body is connected, and one thing can leads to another.

I’ve found the best doctors I have and still have are those who are willing to communicate or collaborate with each other. For example, my rheumatologist takes the time and initiative to communicate with my heart rhythm specialist, and together they discuss the best course of treatment to take in relation to both issues.

One of the best healthcare experiences I have ever had was at the Cleveland Clinic — I was impressed by how aware everyone was, from the counter staff to the doctors and surgeons, on why you were there and what for. Their specialists get together to discuss the best solution to a patient’s problem. With a dozen brilliant minds put together, this can only be beneficial. I remember thinking to myself, So this is what good management is like.

Should you be interested in reading more about their system, this book written by Toby Cosgrove, their president and CEO, has some great insight. Keyword: collaboration.

5. Mentor more than boss.

And finally, at the end of the day, it’s your life and you can choose to live it however you wish. As with everything else, all you have to do is deal with the consequences of your choices. I believe a good doctor should be more like a mentor and less like a boss. He or she should never tell you how to live your life but should be there to warn you of potential pitfalls and guide you toward the right health path. They will never be in your shoes — you have to walk in them by yourself.

In closing, here is one of my favorite health quotes in relation to this topic:

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Follow this journey on A Chronic Voice.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

I feel like people toss around the idea of bravery a lot when they are talking about children with medical challenges. And as I am lying here in a hospital crib at 4 a.m., pinned under my sleeping daughter, Ezzy, unable to sleep myself, this is what I find myself thinking about: What does it mean to call Ezzy brave?

Ez has been sick these last few weeks. We’d kept her home, working carefully with her wonderful pediatricians’ office and home care team to keep her out of the hospital. In the last week we’ve spent no less than seven hours over four days in the doctors’ office. But Esmé took a little turn, and we decided she needed to be seen in the emergency room yesterday. This meant routine work-ups — chest X-ray, IV placement, catheterization, blood draws, exams by a half-dozen doctors — as well as some simple things that are really tough for Ez, like fighting to see in her throat, something that is difficult as a result of the medical trauma she experienced as an infant. Looking in her throat requires coaxing/prying open her mouth with a tongue depressor and a subsequent coughing/retching/spitting up routine. So far we know she has two viruses, and we are also treating her with antibiotics until we have more information about potential/suspected bacterial infections.

As I think about today — and really, any day — I know my daughter is certainly one of the bravest people I know. She stares down things that can make adults weak in the knees. Many times I have watched Esmé go through frightening things, painful things, challenging things and just somehow manage not to be wrecked by it — even as her mama wants to curl up in the corner and cry.

Sometimes, I realize it is just that she doesn’t know any different. Esmé doesn’t know that all kids aren’t regularly subjected to these kinds of awful procedures. This — hospitals, doctors, procedures — it’s normal to her (although, mercifully, it’s far less frequent lately than in the past).

Sometimes, she seems brave because things aren’t actually as big of a deal as we make them out to be. And sometimes, Ez seems brave because she is straight-up just a seriously tough cookie.

It has to be said, though — sometimes, she isn’t brave. Sometimes, she is terrified. Sometimes, she feels pain and shows it. Sometimes, I’m sure, she doesn’t want to be brave and has to be pushed and held into doing something that has to happen for her safety. Sometimes, she doesn’t have a choice. Sometimes, it is just awful and unfair.

This is the problem behind talking about how brave kids are who go through things like this. Because they are so often so brave — at least they often seem to be so brave — and it is a pretty humbling thing to watch. It puts all kinds of other things into perspective. But also, and this cannot be emphasized enough, Ezzy is just a kid. All the other kids who are sick? They are also just kids. Each of them. Kids whose hospital trips should be “that one horribly scary time we had to go to the ER,” not “the ER: the place where everybody knows your name.”

Talking about the bravery of kids who are sick isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it masks the things people don’t want to think about: kids’ suffering and the undeniable reality that some kids suffer. And it is so wrong. But it is also true. I believe it is true and real for Esmé — even though she cannot say it, even though she has no choice but to go through it.

Talking about the bravery of kids like Ez can diminish their experience of pain. I know this because it is one of the things I tell myself when, like yesterday morning, I hold down her jumping, fighting, sneaky arms and legs so she doesn’t get loose and dislodge the IV being threaded through her delicate veins. I say this over and over to myself to make me feel OK: She’s so brave. She’s so brave. She’s so brave.

And she is so brave.

But it isn’t her job to be the one whose bravery is biggest in the room. She’s allowed not to be brave.

It’s my job to be brave enough to allow her to be scared.

mother holding her daughter

Follow this journey on The Cute Syndrome.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Dear special needs parents,

You don’t know me, but you know my friends.

This is my sixth year as a special education teacher, and I taught as a general education teacher for several years before that. I have a son with special needs who has had an IEP since 2008. This role as general educator, special needs parent and special education teacher gives me a unique perspective.

Unfortunately, I have frequently come across a perception that special education teachers are the enemy. Some parents blog about how the school is refusing to give them what they want and how much they hate IEP meetings. Many decry the system and lump all of us into one bucket.

I would like to help you see why special education teachers are not the enemy.

1. The truth is, teaching special education can be hard.

2. There are legal components of this job that parallel the medical field in a way only special education attorneys fully grasp. One such example is that we have legal deadlines for completing work. We have 60 days to complete an assessment (but holidays count against us). So weekends, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, half days for conferences and any other break (other than summer break and winter break) are included in that 60 days.

For this month, I have five less workdays to get my work done. Not to mention, if a kid has the flu for a week, I’ve lost another week within the 60 days I have to assess. I love my students, but I also like to sleep so I can be the most patient version of myself.

3. It’s the reality of time and paperwork that can put a frown on the most starry-eyed teacher. On average, since I started in special education, I have spent 15 to 20 hours a week writing IEPs, documenting notes, printing, organizing and tracking down signature pages.  This does not include planning for instruction, teaching, collaborating with teachers and administrators or emailing and calling parents.

4. I have never met a special education teacher who went into this job to annoy parents. No one would do this job for that reason. But the accusations, the lack of understanding, the amount of work — this can be why some leave the field after less than five years. I’m a veteran at this point as a result.

5. We don’t have unlimited funds for every requested accommodation and service. I have met parents who think because we are a school, we can provide anything they want. Any sort of experimental therapy, any tech tool, any specialized service provider, but money doesn’t grow on trees, and schools are no exception to that fact.

For us to justify an expense, we have to know it is research-based and has a track record for actually helping kids. We have to try the basics first because that’s what’s required of us. We also have to know the supports we recommend increase independence. I believe many of the specialized support providers do not.

I tell you this not to complain about my job, but to help you see we are on the same team. You love your child, and I became a teacher to help your child. That is why I start every IEP meeting with this:

“There is a lot of lingo in special education, and your voice is important. I want you to stop us, ask questions and know we are here because we care about your child and want him to be successful.”

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

I want to thank you for knowing exactly where to poke me when drawing blood.

I want to thank you for knowing exactly where to poke me when I need an IV.

I want to thank you for making sure you’re not causing me any more pain than you have to.

Thank you for not only going above and beyond as a nurse, but as a person.

Thank you for reassuring me that everything is going to be OK, even when it seems like it’s not.

Thank you for being honest with me and telling me that not all emergency room doctors have it right.

Thank you for believing in me when I just want to quit.

Thank you for being in the better half of humanity and not giving up on me like the rest of the world.

You are one of few.

Chronic illness sucks.

But you’ve fought alongside me.

No matter the news — you still haven’t given up.

Unlike many others.

Thank you. Thank you for fighting with me and encouraging me at my weakest points.

Thank you for sacrificing your skills, time and far beyond that — just caring.

Thank you for being a nurse who’s not just in it for a paycheck, but because you believe in the well-being of your patients! I wish there were more people in the world like you.

It means more than words will ever say.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

My 6-foot-tall teenager still needs assistance in a public restroom, and most of the time it’s an exercise in frustration. First, we go into the ladies’ room, where I’ve had more than one person tell me that I cannot bring my son because he’s too old. We cross our fingers for a handicapped stall, which is slightly larger, although not large enough. We squeeze into that stall together, closing the door (that opens into the stall) behind us. Frequently, we squeeze into a regular stall, where I often can’t even close the door completely.

Then recently, the “companion restroom” began to show up in many of the places we visit. From O’Hare Airport to malls to grocery stores and even Disney World.  Hallelujah! I don’t know whose idea these were, but they have been our salvation … except they haven’t.

Here’s the problem: There is usually only one companion restroom. That makes sense based on the statistics of how many people actually need a companion restroom at any given time. But unfortunately, these things are not exclusively used by people who need them.

I cannot count how many times we have rushed to that heavenly door, only to find it occupied. We stand outside waiting, pacing, with my son exclaiming his urgent need. I don’t mind waiting when it’s another family, but about 98 percent of the time when the door opens, a single individual walks out. They seem completely unaware of their infraction and go on about their shopping, having just enjoyed a pleasant private moment in the restroom.

I’m certain that most people who use the companion restroom would not intentionally cause distress for a person with disabilities. I think if they see an empty restroom, they figure, “What’s the harm? No one else is using it.” But that’s not how it works, friend. That’s why I’m writing. If it’s for companions, don’t go in. If it’s a handicapped stall, don’t go in. Leave it empty and accessible, please. When you see an empty handicapped parking space, you wouldn’t park there because it wasn’t being used at that moment. The same philosophy should be applied to restroom facilities.

Those who need accessible toilets may often need them more urgently than you do. Taking your time in a private or larger restroom space may be causing serious distress for another person.

Companion restrooms are my favorite 21st century innovation in public spaces. I look forward to the day they’re found everywhere.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.