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Big toymakers introduce more accessible toys hoping to engage more kids

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Toys - they haven't always been something all kids get to enjoy. But now toy makers are coming out with products that work for more kids, including differently abled children. David Hagenbuch is a professor of marketing at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

DAVID HAGENBUCH: For some of them, that light bulb is just kind of going off that it doesn't have to be any kind of a concession to go after a market that is underserved.

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

For example, Lego now sells bricks with the little bumps arranged in Braille. They're designed to help kids with visual impairments learn Braille and encourage kids with unimpaired sight to play with them, too, for a new kind of learning experience.

MARK RICCOBONO: The reality is that Braille, just like learning print - it's all about how it's taught.

FADEL: That's the president of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Riccobono. He says Braille isn't a language; it's a code.

RICCOBONO: Kids love codes, right? We like to write secret messages and all sorts of things. So if we get sighted kids engaging with Braille, using it as a code, using it in fun and imaginative ways, it'll demystify Braille.

ESTRIN: Professor Hagenbuch says incorporating touch also helps create lifelong fans.

HAGENBUCH: The more senses that can be involved for any of us as consumers, the more likely we are to remember a brand that we appreciate and might facilitate our finding of that brand.

FADEL: Lego includes instructions in Braille and audio for some playsets. It's also incorporated Minifigures that look more diverse. One playset comes with more than 40 different heads featuring different skin tones and hairstyles.

ESTRIN: Mattel, meanwhile, has also given more of their Barbies different body types, including some that come with wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. Hagenbuch says it reflects a mindset you find in other industries as well - to do good.

HAGENBUCH: They want to go above and beyond and do something for society that's going to make a lasting impact. It's going to move the needle in positive ways in our world and not just simply fulfill that basic exchange between business and consumer.

FADEL: The joys of toys for kids around the world of all different types.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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