The British animated show Peppa Pig wants to reflect every aspect of being a kid, and that means depicting disability.
Back in April, the show announced a new character, Mandy Mouse, who is a star basketball player and uses a wheelchair. On Thursday, Mark Baker, co-creator of the show shared with Teen Vogue why his team chose to introduce Mandy this season.
"In every new series of Peppa Pig we like to add in some new friends for Peppa,” Baker told Teen Vogue. “For a while, we wanted to introduce a new friend for Peppa who had a disability, as the series is based on the real experiences of small children and disability is a part of the world.”
Appreciative parents and people with disabilities have applauded the addition of Mandy. Laura O’Connell, social media manager at the consulting firm Global Disability Inclusion, is the mother of young children who watch the show.
Squeak! Introducing the newest member of the playgroup, Mandy Mouse! 🐭 pic.twitter.com/cwMy8vFuVS— Peppa Pig Official (@peppapig) April 3, 2019
“We often say to teach inclusion early and often,” O’Connell told Global Citizen. “When a popular show like Peppa Pig introduces a character with a disability, it’s a great opportunity for parents to open up a dialogue with their young children about differences.”
Peppa Pig premiered in 2004 and has millions of viewers in 180 countries. Baker told Teen Vogue that as a popular show, there is a responsibility to think carefully about each decision. The show is meant to be “funny, positive, and observational,” he said.
Entertainment One, the production and distribution company behind Peppa Pig, held a consultation meeting with UK disability equality charity Scope to make sure that the show represented a child living with a physical disability in a positive and responsible way. The show intentionally doesn’t go into the specifics of Mandy’s disability, Baker said.
“As Peppa is a simplified and stylized version of the real world shown from a child’s perspective, we deliberately kept the nature of Mandy’s disability vague, so that she could represent children with different disabilities,” he explained.
The show is also making an effort to give Mandy agency and control of her wheelchair. In one scene, Peppa asks Mandy if she needs help getting up a hill rather than pushing her without consent.
Nearly 1 in 5 people across the UK are affected by some form of disability, yet in 2016 only 6.5% of on-screen staff in the entertainment industry, including actors, had disabilities. When children with disabilities don’t see themselves represented in entertainment, it limits their options and ambitions, while perpetuating stigma. Children without disabilities also need to gain an appreciation of diversity and skills to build a society that’s inclusive of all, according to UNICEF.
More children’s shows have been making an effort to create inclusive programming. In 2017, Sesame Street introduced its first autistic character, Julia, and last April introduced her family to further explore everyday issues surrounding autism.
“As a parent of young children (who adore Peppa), characters like Mandy Mouse really have helped my kids become more comfortable with and accepting of others,” O'Connell said.