Why People Are Upset About the New Disabled Lego Minifigure

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve written extensively about Lego bricks. I’ve met and interviewed several Lego Master Builders. I’ve been to several of their traveling expo shows. I’ve even spent an afternoon with the talented brick artist Nathan Sawaya.

And because I’m an amputee, you’d think I’d be thrilled about the fact that Lego has finally decided to make a minifig that has a disability. But I’m not. And I guess many parents of disabled children are as disappointed as I am.

What’s the problem? The problem is that in the new Duplo set, Duplo Community People, there is a wide range of people. Many races, many job types, many skin colors. The one disabled figure is an old man in a wheelchair. In the non-disabled world, this might seem like a petty thing to be upset about. But in my world, it means a lot.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

When I was doing my research before my elective amputation, I had trouble finding a prosthetist or physical therapist who would tell me what life would be like for me, once I had one leg. Most of their stories were grim. Most of their patients were elderly. Most were not interested in keeping up with young children and going on hikes on the weekends. I started to feel even more like I would be one of the only amputees in the country.

Then, I dug a bit further. I found some online communities. In the dozen years since my surgery, the media has done a great job of featuring young amputees, and young disabled folks, involved in active lifestyles. I quickly realized I was not the only one. It’s definitely been a huge leap in the right direction.

Then, we get the first-ever disabled Lego person, and it’s back to the elderly person who needs to be pushed around by the younger figure who comes with him.

The audience for Duplo is little kids. My kids switched over to their smaller Lego sets about the time they started school. I would think that Lego would understand their demographic. So why in the world would they proudly have the first disabled figure, when they had the chance to do so much with it, and instead chose the grandfather a preschooler might visit in a nursing home?

This was their big chance to show little people what a truly diverse world looks like. For a preschooler to play with a disabled figure that is a child puts all kinds of new ideas into their heads. Yeah, some kids look different from me. Some have darker or lighter skin. And some might use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. We’re all part of the same world. And we all can be as active as we want.

Photo: Born Just Right Used with Permission
Photo: Born Just Right, used with permission.

I’m not lobbying for an amputee minifigure, although that would be awesome. But come on, Lego folks. Give me a break. Would it have been so hard to make a disabled figure, your first ever, to represent the millions of KIDS who use adaptive equipment to live their lives? Go ahead and include the grandpa. And he can even be in his wheelchair, with his grandson pushing him around. But don’t count him as your big new idea. Those ideas were old news, even a dozen years ago.

If you’d like to have your voice heard, and feel even halfway as passionately about this issue as I do, think about popping over and signing the petition on this page. It’s got a great explanation of what we’d love to see in children’s toys.

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