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Toys, Inclusion, and Hearing Aids

There seems to be a Barbie for every career. There’s a nurse Barbie, rock-star Barbie, Teacher Barbie, astronaut Barbie – the list goes on and on. Plus, 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? What about dolls representing kids with disabilities?

In this article, we address all toys and inclusion over time. That, and the companies who are participating in creating a better, more inclusive, future.

Having a Child With a Disability

Rebecca Atkinson, a hard-of-hearing mom living in the UK, is addressing this issue head-on. After observing that her own daughters had endless amounts of toys –  none of which were sensitive to kids with disabilities – she decided to take matters into her own hands. For that, we’re grateful.

Atkinson contacted two close friends. First, she reached out to Karen Newell, who has a son with visual impairment. Net, she contracted deaf writer Melissa Mostyn, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy.

Together, they set up a Facebook page and Twitter account. While it might sound like a small thing, this was the catalyst for the “Toy Like Me” revolution.

The “Toys Like Me” movement asks parents across the globe to send pictures of toys that reflect disability in a positive and inspiring way.

The response was 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. People felt empowered by the mission.

Even today, the pictures keep coming. Atkinson’s been floored by the viral response.

Radical Inclusion and Hearing

So, what are we getting at here?

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.

Moreover, 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 

How do companies play a role in all this?

First, 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. Later, Makies, the world’s only creator of 3D printed toys, started producing a line of disability accessories, including hearing aids, for the existing doll collections.

As for the bigger players? Well, they took note and began participating too.

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.

It’s about time, right?

Still, 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. As such, we feel excited about continued progress towards a more inclusive world.

At Audicus, we want to know. What kinds of toys with disability representation would you like to see? How can toy manufacturers incorporate more diverse 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