Toys, Inclusion, and Hearing Aids

There seems to be a Barbie for every career: a nurse Barbie, rock-star Barbie, Teacher Barbie, astronaut Barbie, and the list goes on and on. And there’s certainly an American Girl that suits every possible “look”: blonde-haired and blue-eyed, long raven locks, etc. But what about a doll who represents an often overlooked, but completely vital cross-section of the public: kids with disabilities?

Having a Child With a Disability

Rebecca Atkinson, a hard-of-hearing mom living in the UK, is addressing this issue head-on. Annoyed that her own daughters had endless amounts of toys and none of them were sensitive to kids with disabilities, she took matters into her own hands. Atkinson contacted two close friends: Karen Newell, who has a son with visual impairment, and the deaf writer Melissa Mostyn, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. Together, they set up a Facebook page and Twitter account… and the “Toy Like Me” revolution was born.

The “Toys Like Me” movement asks parents across the globe to send pictures of toys that reflect disability in a positive and inspiring way. And the response has been amazing. Someone sent a picture of an American doll with a hearing aid, another shared an image of Disney’s Tinker Bell with a cochlear implant – crafted by hand. And the pictures have just kept coming. Atkinson’s been floored by the viral response.

Radical Inclusion and Hearing

At the end of the day, “Toy Like Me” is a story of radical inclusion. As a parent of a child with a disability, it can be extraordinarily alienating: you want so deeply for your child to feel a part of society at large. Being able to marry something as iconic as a Barbie or American Girl or Disney figure to the emotional journey of navigating disability can give families a way to truly feel part of something larger.

And toy manufacturers? Well, they’re taking notice.

UK Toy Producers and Disability Representation 

A few small UK toy producers have been very quick to respond. Arklu, the markers of Lottie dolls, have agreed to incorporate more disability representation into their products – 25% of their dolls already have glasses. And Makies, the world’s only creators of 3D printed toys, have started producing a line of disability accessories, including hearing aids, for the existing doll collections.

As for the bigger players? Atkinson and her team have reached out to Lego, Mattel, and Playmobile – sending tweets, tags, and invites. Recently, it appears some have taken notice.

2022 Progress on Inclusion- Barbies and Hearing Aids

Finally, larger players are making strides towards more inclusive representation.

After 63 years, Barbie has announced they’ll be releasing dolls wearing behind-the-ear hearing aids in June . Mattel’s decision to manufacture a doll with hearing aids, as well as other dolls, such as a Ken doll with the skin condition vitiligo, is expected to help more young girls and boys across the world feel included and represented.

We here at Audicus want to know: what kinds of toys with disability representation would you like to see? How can toy manufacturers incorporate more diversity representation into their products?

An Elmo with a hearing aid? A Barbie in a wheelchair? What toy would you create to share with your loved one?

By: Ariana Seigel, Updated in 2022