New Barbie dolls with disabilities are hitting shelves across the country this month, Mattel announced.
Children can now choose a Barbie with hearing aids or one with a prosthetic leg, as well as a Ken doll with vitiligo — a skin condition that causes loss of skin pigmentation — to more accurately depict the world around them.
"It's a good thing. That section of society tends to get neglected and is seen as different," said Dr. Sarabjit Singh, a psychiatrist and executive medical director of behavioral health services at St. Clare's Health in Morris County and St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic. "This will target that whole notion very early on."
It’s important for kids to "see themselves reflected in product,” Lisa McKnight, global head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel, said in an email. It's also important to encourage kids to play with dolls that don’t resemble them to help them understand “the importance of inclusion,” McKnight said.
The company often looks to third-party experts when introducing new physical features for its dolls, and when it came to Barbie’s prosthetic leg, the design team reached out to a 12-year-old named Jordan Reeves and her doctor.
“Jordan helped us understand and incorporate a key design feature: She asked that the prosthetic leg be removable for a more realistic play experience,” McKnight said. “We always aim to create a play experience that is as representative as possible.”
Characters in pop culture are rarely depicted with disabilities. Just 2.4% of Hollywood movie characters are depicted with disabilities, one study found. And people with disabilities appear in 1% of commercials, even though people with disabilities make up 26% of the population, according to Nielsen, which specializes in media analytics.
Mattel recognizes the importance of representation, and it plans to introduce more dolls that “reflect the diversity kids see in the world around them,” McKnight said.
Jen Richardson, a doctor and leading authority in educational audiology, helped Mattel design Barbie’s hearing aids.
“It’s inspiring to see those who experience hearing loss reflected in a doll,” said Richardson, an educational audiologist with over 18 years of experience working in hearing loss advocacy. “I’m beyond thrilled for my young patients to see and play with a doll who looks like them.”
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The dolls are part of Mattel’s Fashionistas line, which since 2019 has included a Barbie that uses a wheelchair.
The Barbie Fashionistas line aims for diversity and inclusion, the company says. It offers more than 175 looks because “children’s early childhood experiences shape what they imagine to be possible.”
Gene Myers covers disability and mental health for NorthJersey.com and the USA Today Network. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Barbie dolls with disabilities hit shelves this month