How is disability discrimination combated? It starts with cartoons! You can change the world, starting with the little ones. As the article “Rex A New Friend Let’s Talk About Disability” in Corriere della Sera-Sette (2021) written by Cristina Gattoni tells us, several animation companies have decided to integrate the theme of disability into their productions. They do this by talking directly to the little ones and making it known in the correct way, respecting diversity. Cartoons are an excellent means of dealing with this issue delicately and deflecting prejudices.

Among the various initiatives designed to raise awareness on the subject, the medium of animated film is undoubtedly the medium that communicates more easily with kids. In fact, if you think that the time children spend in front of the television screen has exceeded 2 hours a day (Moige 2021 data), you immediately realize how important the communication of such sensitive topics is in digital and television initiatives.

One of the first attempts in this field was the famous 1977 anime series “Heidi,” whose protagonist knows and bonds deeply with a girl in a wheelchair named Clara.  Other examples are the “Cardboard Muscles” campaign, promoted by the UILDM (Italian Union for the Fight against Muscular Dystrophy) in 2001, three short films made in classic animation, and in 2003 “Finding Nemo.” The latter was the first blockbuster to talk about disability lightly, thanks to the famous fish with atrophied fin.

More recently, as reported in the article by Corriere della Sera cited above, the Canadian TV series “Paw Patrol” has included a new entry in the series “Paw Patrol Dino Rescue,” Rex a puppy expert in dinosaurs, unstoppable despite having an affliction from a disability. Rex is equipped with a wheelchair for his hind legs that allows him to travel with his fellow adventurers.  A TV series like this one has a significant impact when you consider that “Paw Patrol” airs in over 170 countries and is dubbed in 30 different languages. The decision to include a character for disability awareness is quite significant.

It is not only cartoons that are an educational tool; as reported in the article by Sabrina Pignataro in Io Donna (2019), even toys can become useful means for this purpose. An example is Barbie in a wheelchair – released in June 2019.

Mattel also released a series of even more inclusive toys. In response to the release of Mattel’s Barbie in a wheelchair and Barbie with a prosthetic leg, our dear friend Giusy Versace, a Paralympic athlete, commented enthusiastically:

“If dolls can become a tool for education and cultural training, why not? In these Barbies, the message of inclusion is there, and it is important, “she said. “I made a Barbie with Swarovski legs: the idea that you change your legs instead of shoes can only positively stimulate the creativity of children, who need good examples.”

Thus, you are increasingly affirming the importance of starting from a young age to normalize the issues of disability and diversity. Both animated films and toys can become a valuable tool for education and awareness to continue fighting discrimination and creating a more inclusive society.

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