I’ve just about finished my Christmas shopping. It’s always a complicated process for me because I have to leave deciding who’s going to get what until the last minute so my tics don’t spoil the surprise. But this is obviously harder with very personal gifts.
When I was a kid, I had a book that was personalised with my own name and I loved it – it felt so special that it was about me. These customised books revolve around a simple template story – a child’s name, siblings and other personal information is then added to make it unique to them. They’ve been around for years but I’ve noticed them growing in popularity recently.
I’ve been considering getting a personalised book for Bean. Many of the options now put the child at the centre of the story, together with their favourite characters, whether that’s Paw Patrol, or the Lego Universe. Most also allow you to customise the characters so they look at least a bit like the child they’re for – at least, that is, if you’re non-disabled.
I looked at the top ten personalised story providers in the UK, and not one of them had any options for wheelchair users! One company, Yappy, even does bespoke stories for pets, but I couldn’t find anything for disabled children. The closest I got was with Libro, who have an option for characters with hearing aids.
Don’t disabled using children deserve to see themselves represented in the pages of a book?
I’ve seen responses from some companies to general points about the lack customisability in these books, claiming that they find kids don’t notice if the character doesn’t match themselves exactly. But trust me, if you’re a wheelchair-using child who rarely, if ever, sees yourself in books or films, you’re going to notice!
From a technology point of view, it’s never been easier to offer customised options for a whole range of products – so what’s preventing wheelchair using character options in these books? My guess is that it has much more to do with discomfort around disability and childhood than with the logistics of making this possible. I know there are loads of disabled children who’d love to star in a story exactly as they are.
I’m not going to get Bean one of these books this year, not while the diversity of her family is so poorly represented. These personalised books exist because they fuel the imagination. It’s time we shared this opportunity for all children, including those on wheels.