From Shakesville. The Times Online covers a thriving tangent of the toy industry in its article “Disability dolls become more popular.” Dolls like this are nothing new, as far as I’m concerned, so what interests me about this article is the people who object — OBJECT — to the very concept of dolls portraying people with disabilities.
Jenni Smith, a chartered educational psychologist in London, says: “I feel that children who have disabilities, including children with Down’s syndrome, tend to see themselves as ‘like everyone else’ and to offer a toy that ‘looks like them’ may only emphasise the difference.”
Does Smith know any children with disabilities? If she does, does she even pay attention to them? In my experience, people with disabilities — especially those whose disabilities have outward markers such as certain facial features, paralysis, speech impediments or the need for mobility/communication aids — do NOT see themselves as “like everyone else.” To take a mild example, I’m near-sighted, so I wear glasses. From the very first time that I wore them at age 8, I noticed the obvious, namely, that I had glasses, and most other kids didn’t. I had an outward sign of a mild visual disability, unlike many of my classmates. I was therefore not “like everyone else.” My conception of myself therefore includes my visual deficits, my corrective lenses and my resultant difference from everyone else.
From my personal experience and from my experience with other people with disabilities, people who have disabilities recognize that that are not the same as “everyone else.” However, while we may function or look differently from “everyone else,” we are the same as everyone else in one way: we want to see ourselves reflected in the books we read, shows we watch, toys we play with, et cetera. In my case, I want dolls with glasses. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find in-scale glasses for 1:6 figs, but I have pursued this goal to the point of importing them from Japan at exorbitant prices because, contrary to Jenni Smith’s claim, I do want dolls that look like me. As for my sister, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, she too wants to see images in her media and her toys that reflect her own experience, which is why almost all of her dolls use wheelchairs too, even if they did not come with mobility aids. Toys that mirror the experience of people with disabilities do not “emphasise the difference” between people with disabilities and the rest of the world. In fact, dolls with disabilities validate the experience of people with disabilities, demonstrating that their disabilities are acknowledged by others [in the form of media companies or toy manufacturers]. To see representations of oneself out in the world is to receive proof that others see one and know that one exists. In some way, dolls with disabilities thus have an inclusive, affirmative function, saying to the people with disabilities, “Yes, you exist; you are people too; we acknowledge you.”
P.S. Raise your hand if you too want the little doll with Down’s Syndrome shown at the top of the article.