Toys are an important part of childhood. For many children, toys help to engage imagination and increase creativity. Apart from that, toys generally help to make life more fun for kids. Often times when children search for a new toy, they look for something that they can identify with. A doll that looks like them or a toy that represents what they want to be with me when they grow up such as a police badge or fireman’s hat. Unfortunately, there are not very many toys that represent children with disabilities or toys that children with disabilities can identify with in the toy aisles today. For this edition of Examine This, I will discuss that lack of presence as well as how and why it should be rectified.
As I have said time and time again, I wrote and published Just the Way You Are because there is a lack of characters with disabilities in young adult and children’s literature. Unfortunately, literature is not the only commercialized industry in society that lacks a presence of or influence from people with disabilities. As I mentioned in previous blogs, to me, it seemed crazy that we hit 2015 without Disney, Dreamworks, or some other production powerhouse introducing a princess with a disability to the world. Naturally, I did my part to help fix that. Just the Way You Are has not really taken off yet, but I’m still hopeful that someday it will. I don’t have hopes of becoming rich and famous from the book, nor do I want to, but I do hope to see a Misty doll on the shelves of toy aisles someday so the children of the world can be introduced to an awesome princess with the disability. Not only would it be awesome to see Misty come to life in that way, but her becoming a doll would help to fill a void in the toy industry.
Back in 1997, Mattel, the creator of Barbie, introduced Becky, Barbie’s friend who just so happens to be in a wheelchair. Sales were good and many young girls in wheelchairs, myself included, enjoyed finally seeing a Barbie that look like then on the shelves. However, overtime Mattel begun to hear complaints of Becky not being compatible with Barbie’s accessories because said accessories are not built to be accessible. Earlier this year, 20 years after Becky was introduced to the world, Mattel announced that she was being discontinued because it would cost too much to make all Barbie’s accessories accessible. I became very angry when I heard this for a couple reasons. Firstly, I heard on the show The Toy Box recently that although Barbie sales have gone down in recent years, a Barbie is still sold every three seconds. With that said, I find it hard to believe that a company whose sales total 10.5 million dollars per year based on the sales of Barbie alone would not have enough money to make the accessories to one of its most popular toys accessible. Secondly, the discontinuation of Becky took away some of what little representation people with disabilities have on toy shelves. With all due respect to Mattel as a company, discontinuing Becky was a stupid decision. According to www.worldbank.org, approximately 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population experience some form of a disability. Moreover, in America alone one in every five people has a disability. I point that out to also point that people with disabilities have approximately $175 billion buying power around the world, according to www.ada.gov. Had Mattel taken the time to make even just a couple of Barbie’s accessories accessible then the company could have not only expanded its product line, but also opened itself to that billions of dollars worth of buying power. Instead, the company closed itself off and discontinued a toy that represented millions of its customers.
Does it make sense for a powerhouse company to cut itself off from million of its customers? Of course not. However, Mattel did just that. So it is up to businesses like mine to make sure customers that do have much representation in toys and other consumer products get seen. Fortunately, I am not alone in my belief that all children should be able to find something that represents them on toy shelves. A few months back, I saw a Facebook post about a young woman named Crystal Kay, who makes dolls that represent a full spectrum of beauty, including everything from dolls with freckles to dolls that look like those diagnosed with albinism. I love hearing about businesses that have a purposes like the one Crystal Kay has behind her business because I believe we need more representation of all people, not just people with disabilities, in literature, the toy industry, and all other commercial industries. After all, this world is such a beautiful place in part due to all of the different kinds of people who live in it. Shouldn’t we all be represented in the commercialized industries of society?
It is my hope and belief that if differences are accepted and represented in society then eventually our differences will stop being the things that separate us from one another in society. Instead, our differences will be nothing more than differences. With that in mind, in closing, I ask you to remember this edition of Examine This the next time you purchase a service or a product for yourself or that special child in your life and ask yourself, is it better to support a company that potentially alienates itself from millions of its customers or a smaller company that believes all the world’s people should be represented?