I have to admit I became very excited when I heard the news that Mattel as part of their Barbie for the next generation initiative had launched a new range of dolls including a wheelchair user and a Barbie with a prosthetic leg, along with Barbies with different skin tones, body shapes and braided hairstyles. The new additions aim to help normalise disability and they are a direct response to what customers have said that they want.
Even at the age of 33 I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these Barbies and I am already formulating a convincing lie to tell people as to why I have just purchased a Barbie at my age,‘its for my nieces obviously’ I would say.
Growing up being a full-time wheelchair user and an absolute girlie girl, I would have loved to have had a doll that looked like me. The best I could find was a Playmobil set that replicated a hospital and it had a wheelchair for the ‘patient’ doll who had a broken leg.
Nothing glamorous or inspiring about that!
Amongst my excitement I did however think, well about bloody time!
With 777,000 children living in the UK with disabilities and an estimated 150 million worldwide, why has it taken until now for brands to open their eyes and produce inclusive toys?
We are all aware in the disabled community of the power of authentic and positive representation, particularly on young minds, and we are also very aware of the strength of the Purple Pound. However, are these the reasons behind big brands such as Mattel becoming more inclusive, do they really care about the consumer, or are they just jumping on the band wagon of today’s ZeitGeist of inclusion and diversity? Does it even matter if they are? Should we, the disabled community, simply not question their motives and just say ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’?
Once thing I will certainly give Mattel credit for is doing their homework as they actually worked with wheelchair experts and the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. The company also worked with 12-year-old Jordan Reeves and her doctor to create a doll with a removable prosthetic limb. Rather refreshing as the disabled community is so often subjected to many ‘accessible and inclusive’ initiatives that have clearly been designed by a non-disabled person or has not had any input whatsoever from anyone remotely disabled.
If you, like me, are still a little dubious of big companies trying to make big bucks out of our right to be treated as equals and want to support a non-profit organisation that whole-heartedly understand the importance of inclusive toys for all children disabled or not, then I suggest you check out ToyLikeMe.org who are certainly showing companies exactly how inclusion should be done.
Follow Sam @samrenke
First appeared in the Apr/May 2019 issue of PosAbility Magazine.