US toy giant Mattel to make Barbie with a prosthetic limb – thanks to Norwich campaign
PUBLISHED: 16:30 12 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 12 February 2019
American toy giant Mattel is to produce a Barbie with a prosthesis, thanks to a Norwich-based campaign that has already seen success with Playmobil, Hot Wheelz and Lottie dolls.
ToyLikeMe was launched in 2015 by journalist Rebecca Atkinson from Norwich and play consultant Karen Newell to champion toys representing “diffability”.
It began by making over toys for parents of children with disabilities, who were frustrated by the lack of toys representing physical disabilities such as deafness and prosthetic limbs. The creations were exhibited in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in 2016.
Ms Atkinson has since seen her creations influence brands such as Playmobil, Hot Wheels and Lottie dolls.
Now her organisation has excitedly welcomed news from Mattel that the company will be making a wheelchair-using doll and prosthetic limb Barbie.
Ms Atkinson said the campaign was excited to see such products from a “huge brand” like Barbie.
She said: “This is huge news for 150 million disabled children worldwide who need positive toy box representation.
“But it should also be noted that toys like these have the power to grow open minds in non-disabled children too.”
Ms Atkinson said “real change” was beginning to show in the toy industry, from Lottie dolls with cochlear implants and with autism accessories such as ear defenders and mini communication cards, to a stunt wheelchair from Hot Wheelz.
She added: “We will continue to work with the industry to become more inclusive.”
Barbie will not be the first brand to make a doll with a prosthetic limb – Target already has one on the market.
ToyLikeMe has worked closely with Dr Sian Jones from the University of Edinburgh, who has found that playing with disabled toys affects the friendship intentions of non-disabled children.
For example, after playing with a wheelchair-using doll for just three minutes, non-disabled children are more likely to make friends with a disabled child when they meet one in real life.
In 2018 the campaign was honoured with a Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who make a change in their community and inspire others.
A spokesman for Mattel said: “For 60 years, Barbie has been a reflection of culture and fashion and that is key to the brand’s continued relevance.
“As we design Barbie for the next generation, we are focused on evolving to remain the most diverse doll line in the marketplace. This year our Barbie line will include dolls reflecting physical disabilities in order to better represent the people and the world kids see around them.
“Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is a critical component of our design process and we are proud that today’s kids will know a different image and experience of the brand.”
The history of Barbie
Despite her connotations of femininity and whiteness, Barbie has fought gender stereotypes and discrimination over the years.
The first doll to have a “masculine” job came just six years after its launch – a Space Race-inspired astronaut Barbie in 1965. There has since been day-to-night “chief executive” Barbie (1985), firefighter Barbie (1995), pilot Barbie (1999), scientist Barbie (2015) and games developer Barbie (2016).
The brand’s first black doll – one of the first on the market – was Christie, released in 1968 in support of the equal rights movement. The first black and Hispanic dolls named Barbie, rather than being a “friend”, were released in 1980.
A wheelchair-using doll, the first with a physical disability, was released in 1997 but was discontinued as it didn’t fit through the door of Barbie’s Dream House.
In 2014 Barbie hit social media with the @barbiestyle Instagram account, and in 2015 an animated Barbie vlog series was launched on YouTube discussing issues girls face.