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'Daniel Tiger' Showcases Accessibility and Inclusivity in New Season 6 Episode

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Growing up with multiple disabilities, I didn’t get a chance to play on the playground like everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s how it is for many kids with disabilities.

Fortunately, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” aims to change that narrative with their new episode. Daniel Tiger and his friends learn and grow, play and help each other out. In a new episode that aired earlier this month on PBS Kids, they show what it means to be a good neighbor and community member.

In this episode, “A Fair Place to Play,” we see Daniel and his friends help make a ramp for their friend Chrissie, who has a disability. Chrissie, who has been on the show since season one, wears leg braces and uses arm crutches to help her move around. Sometimes she asks a grown-up for help too, and that’s OK.

Daniel and his friends come together with their neighbors to help build a ramp on the playground. It’s more accessible for Chrissie, and other kids like her can play and feel included, because no one should be left out of playing with their friends.

The first part of the episode, “Miss Elaina’s Bandage,” shows Miss Elaina working with others to make a bandage to match her skin tone.

I recently was given the opportunity to talk and ask questions about this episode with Chris Loggins, the producer of the show:

Larissa: What or who inspired this episode of Daniel Tiger?

Chris: “As we worked with our child development advisors and looked at research, we identified that kids in our target audience (2 to 4 year olds) do recognize when something isn’t fair. We wanted to tell a story that could help young children know how to share when they feel that something isn’t fair and help them know that trusted grown-ups can help in these situations. One of our advisors, Dr. Aisha White, shared a story about an experience similar to the one Miss Elaina encounters in that story. Dr. White was one of the champions for this episode.”

Larissa: In this episode you see everyone involved is coming up with solutions to make the playground more accessible and inclusive. Oftentimes you see the adults come up with these solutions, and the  kids have very little involvement in the process. I loved that in this episode that wasn’t the case. What impact do you think that will have on kids, especially those with disabilities?

Chris: “I’m glad you noticed this! It was important to us to help children know that it isn’t just on them or on one person to do something to show they care as that puts too much responsibility on a child. When we work together, we can create positive change.

In the playground story, we also wanted to be sure that Chrissie, the character that uses crutches and braces, plays a key role in developing the new design for the playground. Her input is vital.”

Larissa: Could we see more episodes about accessibility and inclusion in the future and what does that look like for the show?

Chris: “Yes, at Fred Rogers Productions we approach all aspects of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and our other programs with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion top of mind. All kids should be able to see themselves positively represented in the media available to them and we want to do whatever we can with the resources we have to make that happen.”

Larissa: What lessons and message do you hope children and parents take away from this episode?

Chris: “We hope that all children watching will leave feeling empowered to talk to a grown-up about times when they feel they see something that isn’t fair to them or someone they know. When we work together, we can create positive change.”

I was also given the opportunity to speak with Aya Taveras from the Perception Institute, a consultant on the episode who contributed by reading with attention to overall conversations about race and accessibility. Here is what she said:

Larissa: Why do you think now is the perfect time for this discussion of race and accessibility on children’s television?

Aya: “Now that children of all ages have greater access to a wide breadth of media products, the more that we can do to ensure that what they consume is intentionally written and designed to model respect and belonging across lines of difference, the better. Irrespective of where they are located or the identities that they hold, they should be able to encounter counter-stereotypic depictions of those who are most underrepresented in media.”

Larissa: What drew you to take part in this show? Why was it so important for you to contribute to it?

Aya: “As both a former educator and a parent I am intimately aware of what has been lacking in the children’s media landscape. In my work at Perception Institute, I am also aware of the harm that seemingly innocuous programming that lacks thoughtful inclusivity can do. Seeing good, multifaceted portrayals of people across lines of difference can result in greater empathy. Media is a great tool for fostering belonging in children’s minds even before they’ve encountered identity differences in real life.”

Larissa: Let’s say a child is curious about race and accessibility and wants to have a conversation about it, but their parents don’t know where to start. What would be your advice to them about having this talk with their kids?

Aya: “I would advise parents to look to organizations like Perception Institute to familiarize themselves with the language that they need to navigate conversations with their children. Our mind science research translations provide an overview of the concepts that undermine relationship building across lines of difference and examples of how they show up in our everyday lives. Other organizations like Embracing Race, for instance, do similar work to provide families the resources they need to facilitate robust discussion.”

What I love about “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and other educational shows like it, is they are showing kids and parents alike that accessibility and inclusivity are important on and off screen, and that there is a place for everyone on the playground.

Image via PBS Kids

Originally published: January 13, 2023
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