Thirty five years ago, when I was a child hiding my hearing aids from the world, a man named Ol Rappaport wrote to Playmobil asking them to better represent spectacle wearers and improve gender and ethnic diversity in their products. He and his wife Lesley, who was the daughter of Jewish Holocaust refugees, believed in inclusivity and equality for all. They recognised the need for children to grow up seeing themselves positively reflected in the world around them. Ol’s letter was the seed of an idea. He planted it, but it did not grow. Perhaps the climate was not right. Maybe he was a season too soon. Playmobil responded, but nothing changed.
Time passed. Years rolled. I grew up. In 2014 Lesley grew ill. Cancer had come. All the while that seed was still there. Germinating under the soil.
In April 2015, one month before Lesley passed away, #ToyLikeMe was born and threw sunbeams down onto that seed of an idea, 35 years after Ol had first planted it. It warmed and sprung to life. The time was right. A shoot pushed through the earth. #ToyLikeMe started a change.org petition calling on Playmobil to better represent disabled children. 50k people watered that shoot with their signatures. One of them was Ol Rappaport. He had always known that when you don’t persuade someone, you haven’t failed – you’ve just made it easier for the next person to succeed. And when they do succeed, it’s because someone else has tried before them.
Ol’s seed of an idea bloomed in the very same month that he lost Lesley. In May 2015 Playmobil agreed to work with #ToyLikeMe to start positively representing 150 million disabled children worldwide. Change was coming.
Nine months later #ToyLikeMe had grown from a shoot to a sapling. Our message had flown the globe. We asked the world to water our ‘toy box revolution’ in the form of a crowd fund. We wanted to raise money to create a website, a space where we could celebrate disability in toys and provide information and resources for parents and carers looking for hard-to-find products and continue our call on the global toy industry.
We watched small but plentiful donations roll in. Then one day an anonymous someone gave £1000. We almost fell off our chairs. Then two weeks later, just as our crowd fund was about to end £2600 shy of our target, that same someone, in a gust of goodness which seemed to just blow in from nowhere at the 11thhour, gave us that exact amount.
That someone was Ol Rappaport, inspired and empowered by Lesley’s generous and embracing spirit. Back to water the seed he planted all those years ago. Back to grow a tree in memory of his wife, Lesley Rappaport.
Our website can happen because of Lesley and Ol and 700 others who backed our crowd fund. We shall never forget who went before us and came back after us to tend the branches of #ToyLikeMe with kindness.
Ol, and in memory of Lesley, from the bottom of our playful hearts, Thank you!