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Dolls with disabilities are DETRIMENTAL?

Dolls with disabilities are DETRIMENTAL? published on 4 Comments on Dolls with disabilities are DETRIMENTAL?

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.


Heh, I remember being a bit put off that none of my dolls had brown eyes when I was a kid. I had blond hair and brown eyes, my Mom had red hair and brown eyes, so, why not my dolls? (Just think if I had known about repainting when I was 5…) Kids do, indeed, want dolls that look like they look. There’s a thrill, for a child, to see what they know in their toys.* It’s from there that the kid takes directly off down the path of fantasy that play leads, instead of spending time a bit disassociated from their toy, wondering how it could be made to look more like they look.

Also, it’s not a big stretch to take the “logic” of that article to state that minority children should not have dolls who share their physical markers, either. Oh, and, make no boy dolls of any kind, since everyone knows (snerk) that only girls play with dolls, and therefore would never ever want a boy doll.** Grar.

(As a kid, I also wanted dolls who looked mature enough to be parents of my Barbies, which I don’t remember ever seeing until Mattel’s attempts with the Heart Family grandparents in the early 1990s, and, even then, they used nearly standard sculpts with graying hair. Since then we’ve had Midge/Alan’s parents, too, the females of which at least had new sculpts and somewhat more mature bodies, but, still…)

*Granted, a lot of parents don’t seem to get this. I don’t know how many times, when I worked at the toy store, I’d hear a parent say something like, “But, you already have that toy. Let’s go look at something else.” No, no! The child has been absolutely thrilled to see the toy they have at home exists elsewhere, too! This is part of how little humans learn to make generalizations. This is mental flexibility being formed…well, or, it would be, if the parent would let it…

**Also seen frequently at the toy store, little girls being purchased the expensive ‘designer’ baby dolls (the dolls the manufacturers claim are made for display by adult collectors only) who would want BOYS and BOYS ONLY.

I wanted dolls with dark hair and green eyes, and when I found a “Barbie friend” (don’t remember which one, I believe she was meant to be Hispanic) who had something of my hair texture and coloring, I pounced on her — she was my favorite doll!

I love the idea of kids with disabilities having dolls that look like them . . . wtf is that author’s problem?

— A 😛

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