Equal but…

Dolls like us

Every little girl played with a doll at some point in their life. Although I was never a fan of them, I had one which was given to me by an older cousin — a big beautiful black doll name Ramona. I thought she was perfect in every way and when I looked at her I saw me. I saw her round face; smile and dark skin and immediately identified with her from the get go.

I’ve always heard the argument about allowing children to play with toy — especially doll — that make things more realistic, i.e. less white Barbie dolls and more dolls of colour to represent the non-white races and other ethnic groups.

But what happens when we try to do something which doesn’t sit well with either of the intended targets for various reasons? There are some dolls out there which have been created to represent children with various disabilities; however the well intentioned makers are taking lots of heat from people in different quarters who are in an uproar about the message which they are sending.

The manufacturers say that they are seeking to normalise disabilities as this allows disabled children to see a doll that looks just like them and for able bodied children to realise that dolls come in all forms, shapes and sizes. While some parents of disabled children have accepted this as they see it as a move for their children to be more accepted and to fit in society in general, many have said that their children want to be seen as normal but these dolls make them seem like they’re so different that they would never fit in.

One mother said that her child doesn’t even like to be reminded of her disability and they never even mention what she has as she wants to be seen as “normal” in the eyes of her peers.

Another mother said: “To me, creating disabled dolls like these and giving them to a child pigeon-holes the disabled and turns them into something akin to a freak show.”

Some have even said that these dolls focus on the disability and not the child’s capabilities which is what they fight so hard to prove to society on a whole.

However, the Down Syndrome doll is probably the one which is most steeped in controversy. I believe that this goes even deeper than the other dolls as people find this doll to be scary and ugly. I showed a couple people a picture of that particular doll and when I asked if they would choose it off the shelf so their children could play with it, they “skin up their face” and said absolutely not. Why would anyone want a doll looking like “that” was the overwhelming response.

I too had to ask myself if I would choose that doll. Is that something we would quickly choose over Barbie? Let’s be real. Whichever child you give that doll to has to come with an explanation because no child will readily accept it. You would even have to school the parents too as the point of the doll is to make children aware of other children around them and to sensitise them to the various disabilities out there. But do we even want to bother to buy a toy that must come with a speech attached? Hardly any of us would.

One other individual said that when she heard about the idea of the dolls she was very much excited, but when she saw them she was terrified. She said: “When I actually saw them I was shocked by how terrifying they look. In fact, they are so offensive; they are the last thing I would actually give my daughter to play with. They look so abnormal — not at all appealing, pretty or trendy.”

So what is to become of these disabled dolls? Are they one of the solutions to integration and inclusion or a well intentioned idea gone bad? I believe that they can work but have to be marketed differently to gain wider acceptance. When Barbie creators put her in a wheelchair the dolls sold out in no time. Although Barbie is an already established brand it was attractive to the eye right down to the wheelchair; but even more importantly, we have to educate.

If we are teaching our children to love and embrace all people regardless of their disability then we have to expose them more via various means. Having the dolls as a visual aid in schools may be a step in the right direction and may even work better if a child with the actual disability is present or if not, shown on a slide or in a book.

Not everyone, including some of the same children with disabilities may appreciate these dolls, but until we give it a fair shot at creating another avenue for inclusion, we’ll never really know.

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