For fifteen years, a cheeky British cartoon called Peppa Pig has warmed the hearts of children and parents across the globe. Friends of the piggy protagonist include rabbits, sheep, zebras, and most recently, a little mouse named Mandy.
In a 15-second teaser clip posted to the Official Peppa Pig Twitter page last month, the show announced that Mandy Mouse, a character using a wheelchair, would be joining Peppa’s playgroup as a series regular.
"In every new series of Peppa Pig we like to add in some new friends for Peppa,” co-creator Mark Baker tells 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.”
Since the introduction of Mandy Mouse to Peppa’s playgroup, many have taken to Twitter to praise the show for its positive disability representation. Mark recognizes that disability is a complex and nuanced matter, but wanted to leave things open-ended when it comes to Mandy.
He 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.”
Before the episode announcing Mandy aired, production and distribution company Entertainment One held a consultation meeting with UK disability equality charity Scope to ensure a positive and responsible representation of a young character living with a physical disability.
“Being popular puts us in a position where we have to always think carefully about everything,” Mark says. “Peppa is meant to be funny, positive and observational.”
Danielle Wootton, Head of Marketing at Scope, says Mandy Mouse “is a great way to introduce young children to disability.”
“Disability remains hugely underrepresented in all walks of life. When people don’t see themselves represented on our screens, then talent and potential goes unrecognized and negative attitudes and stigma go unchallenged,” she says. “Having disabled characters and disabled actors in children’s shows introduces them to disability from an early age, which can only be positive.”
Danielle mentions a scene in particular where Peppa asks Mandy if she needs help getting up a hill. She praises the way the show navigates issues of consent and autonomy regarding people with mobility impairments.
“This sends such an important message as it shows Mandy is in control of her wheelchair,” she explains.
Kids pick up on what they see on screen. Take, for example, the Peppa effect: a term coined by parenting magazine Romper and used to describe the phenomenon of North American toddlers developing English accents from watching the British show. And in a world where now even Barbie is in a wheelchair and has a prosthetic leg, steps are being taken forward to showing young audiences what living with a disability looks like.
“Peppa Pig is watched by millions of children—and adults—around the world, and Mandy Mouse has already made headlines,” says Danielle. “Anything which sparks discussions about equality for disabled people, and how important it is that disabled people are included in society, is extremely positive.”
Disability representation is severely lacking in mainstream media, according to the "2018-19 GLAAD Where We Are on TV Report" analysis of primetime, scripted programming. Despite the fact that the U.S. Census reports nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability, only 2.1% of regular primetime broadcast characters had a disability.
“We’d like to see more disabled people and characters on our screens, and working in the media,” Danielle remarks.
Another thing Peppa Pig does right is avoiding the harmful tropes often associated with mobility devices, which tend to limit a character’s storyline to their disability. According to the United Nations, balanced and accurate media portrayals of disability as a part of everyday life can play “an important role in presenting disability issues in a way that could dispel negative stereotypes and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.”
Mandy is a fully fleshed-out character with an array of talents and personality traits, making her addition to the show an important milestone for disability-positive representation in children’s media. The fact that she’s a wheelchair user is only one element of Mandy Mouse’s character. Mandy is also a brilliant basketball player who is confident and loves sports. And of course, like any other mouse, she loves cheese.
“We are doing an episode at the moment where Mandy goes to Cheese World for her birthday, with all her friends,” Mark says about Mandy’s future in the world of Peppa Pig. “Cheese World is a kind of theme park. Mandy has been before and knows all the rides. Mandy will also play a part in many [forthcoming] Peppa episodes where she is one of Peppa’s friends.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue