Dolls that Defy Stereotypes

Doll at Therapy

Doll at Therapy

There has been controversy about toys, particularly dolls, that reinforce society stereotypes with their lack of representation of diversity and unrealistic portrayal of ideal body shapes.

More parents are calling for toy manufacturers to represent disabilities in their toys. Having toys which children with disabilities are able to identify with would help build their self-confidence. They would not feel so different from other children and isolated during group play activities. The representation of disabilities serves as a realistic alternative to the physical perfection or unrealistic ideals that most children would not be able to attain. Disability awareness toys could help encourage early acceptance as they let the children who play with them understand that there are other children who may be different from them.

A doll in wheelchair known as ‘Share a Smile Becky’ and the ‘American Sign Language Teacher Barbie’ were launched in 1996. While both dolls have been discontinued, other toy companies have made efforts to represent disabilities in their products.

‘Share a Smile Becky’ (left) and the ‘American Sign Language Teacher Barbie’ (right)

Makies, a United Kingdom doll-making company, has recently added disability-related accessories, such as hearing aids and walking canes, to their custom-made dolls. American toy maker Mattel also offers add-ons such as a guide dog, a wheelchair and a hearing aid for their American Girl.




Dolls with mobility aid, hearing aids and facial birthmark (left) and doll with hearing aid (right)

Over the last 20 years, toys retailer Toys“R”Us has been publishing a guide that highlights a range of toys that help children with special needs develop various skills. Toy manufacturer Hasbro recently launched a free online resource to help caregivers and educators find tools to make play easier and more accessible for children with developmental disabilities.

Differently-Abled Figures (left) and guide dog for doll (right)

Dolls with disabilities serve to represent one segment of the community made up of diverse groups of people with differing identities that include those with different ethnic backgrounds, culture, beliefs and demographics, etc. Having disability awareness toys more commonly available could raise the visibility of disability in society and encourage greater acceptance and inclusion.

Down Syndrome Dolls

Picture References
– Museum of Play
– Toy Like Me
– Sew Dolling
– AblePlay
– Multiculturaltoys4u
– Down Syndrome Dolls