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The Barbie Dreamhouse will be getting an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant upgrade and include a wheelchair ramp.

The Barbie doll: a representation of all that’s attractive and feminine, as well as a reminder that society’s body standards are unattainable. Children have been playing with this classic toy since 1959, and over the years, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie has been admired for her beauty and received backlash for her unrealistic image of perfection. Barbie’s 60th anniversary calls into question just how much Mattel has been able to change with the times and adapt their age-old toy to society’s new, inclusive standards.

In answer to those questions, Mattel will release a line of Barbies in June that includes a doll with a prosthetic limb and one in a wheelchair. The prosthetic leg is removable and the wheelchair is modeled after those designed for people with permanent disabilities. The Barbie Dreamhouse will also be getting an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant upgrade and include a wheelchair ramp.

To create Barbies that children with disabilities can truly relate to, 13-year-old Jordan Reeves, who was born without her left forearm, collaborated with Mattel. Reeves is a disabilities activist and co-founder of the organization Born Just Right. There’s no better way to design new kid-friendly toys than with the help of an expert kid who’s also a well-known voice in the disabled community.

This isn’t the first time Barbie has worked to become a more inclusive company. In 2012, it created the Ella doll, a friend of Barbie who had no hair and was created and donated to children’s hospitals around the nation to be a friend to children battling diseases that cause hair loss. Barbie also released a Fashionista line in 2018 that includes 40 new dolls with seven different body types, 11 skin tones and 28 hairstyles. The purpose of these dolls is for children of all backgrounds to see themselves in the toys they play with.

Although it’s great many toy companies are starting to incorporate dolls of different races, ethnicities and body types, dolls with physical disabilities aren’t at the forefront of toy innovation. Known as “the forgotten group,” those with disabilities are often left out of the conversation surrounding diversity. They may be forgotten, but they’re certainly not absent from society since over 20 million people have some form of disability in the U.S.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, said, "We want to see ourselves reflected in the culture, toys, products and everything around us. Barbie joins a number of powerful companies who also understand that marketing, and including, people with disabilities is both the right thing to do and the profitable thing to do."

There’s something to be said for children feeling that they’re represented in the toys they play with. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, a professor of early childhood education at Eastern Connecticut State University, claims that“90 percent of preschool children’s play in the United States involves a toy.”

In the early months of life, children take in an enormous amount of information through all of their senses. They’re making thousands of neural connections that may be strengthened or lost entirely as they continue to develop. Since children are constantly taking in new sights, sounds and sensations, they’re incredibly impressionable — and the toys they play with add to these first impressions. Toy companies have the power to send messages about gender, race and ability versus disability through the toys they sell.

By creating Barbies that resemble girls and boys with unique characteristics, skills and abilities, children can not only relate to their toys, but can learn how to socialize with kids who may look different from them. These Barbies have the power to destigmatize those with physical disabilities, and other toy companies should follow suit.

It’s time to stop forgetting those with disabilities face similar discrimination as other minority groups, and time for similar attention to be paid toward including their struggles in the fight for equality. One small step can be made by creating dolls that reflect the great diversity in humanity. The next generation can grow up without a prejudice toward disability — and it all starts with a toy.

Ryann Sheehy is a sophomore theater and media arts and design double major. Contact Ryann at sheehyrl@dukes.jmu.edu.