Barbie Is Now in a Wheelchair and Has a Prosthetic Leg

The world-famous doll that has been a doctor and went to the moon is now more inclusive than ever before.

Mar 5, 2019
Special Collections: THE ABILITY IN DISABILITY

Mattel announced its new Barbie Fashionista dolls on February 11th (Courtesy of Mattel)

Barbie, the iconic fashion doll, is turning 60 this year, but she’s not retiring anytime soon. With over a billion of Barbie and her friends and family dolls sold, Barbie has been an important part of the lives of millions of children growing up.

Barbie’s not the same blonde bombshell in a bathing suit anymore but that's because she keeps improving as she ages. Over the years, Barbie has broadened her career choices and has been an astronaut, a surgeon, an airforce pilot, an Olympic athlete, President of the United States, and much more.

Today, Barbie can be thin or curvy, black, brown, or white, tall or petite, and Mattel, the company who makes Barbie dolls, has added over a 100 new looks over the last few years to make her as diverse as the children who play with her. Thanks to the new additions of the Barbie Fashionistas line, she is now also in a wheelchair and wears a removable prosthetic device.

Giving Fans What They Want

Mattel said that the latest additions came as a response to what Barbie fans want. Complaints about unrealistic body images and not representing girls of all sizes, skin colors, and hair colors led Mattel to make changes and rebrand Barbie. “The feedback we got about the doll and the brand was not in line with what our intentions were. We took that really seriously,” Mattel's Vice President and Head of Global Barbie Design Kim Culmone told Teen Vogue.

"We’re going to be introducing a doll in a wheelchair and a doll representing physical disabilities. She has a prosthetic limb," Culmone said. "[this is including] additional body sizes — a Barbie with a smaller bust and less-defined waist. A wheelchair or doll in a wheelchair was one of the most requested items through our consumer ... hotline. It's important to us to listen to our consumers."

To make sure that the new dolls authentically represent people with disabilities, the company turned to disabled people to help. Mattel worked with 13-year-old Jordan Reeves from Missouri who has a prosthetic arm and is the co-founder of Born Just Right an organization with a mission to build creative solutions to help kids with physical disabilities.

According to Culmone, Jordan helped the design team to make the prosthetic leg authentic, including asking for it to be removable. "That was one of our first big ahas," Culmone said. "That’s not necessarily something we would have realized how important it would be to someone living with this experience."

A Multi-Dimensional View of Beauty

Mattel worked with a team at UCLA to create Barbie's wheelchair. In fact, any of the Barbie from the Made to Move collection will fit in the wheelchair. While there are many types of wheelchairs, this chair is modeled after one that is designed for an individual who has a permanent physical disability," Mattel said. There will also be a Barbie Dream House-compatible ramp as part of the collection.

"As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion," Mattel said in a statement.

But this is not the first time Barbie has included a doll in a wheelchair in its collection. In 1997, Mattel introduced a doll in a wheelchair called "Share A Smile Becky." Becky, a friend of Barbie, used a pink fluorescent wheelchair with purple wheels. She was an instant hit and according to the Chicago Tribune, 6,000 dolls were sold in the first week. Becky was transformed three times into “I’m the school photographer Becky,” "Sign Language ‘I Love You’ Becky,” and “Paralympic Becky” before being discontinued in 2017.

Giving Kids With Disabilities Representation

There is a growing awareness about the need to make toys representative for children with disabilities. #ToyLikeMe was established in 2015 after journalist Rebecca Atkinson, who is partially deaf, noticed the lack of positive representation of what she termed "diff.ability" in toys. She said that growing up being the only one in their class to wear hearing aids or rolling on wheels and not seeing people like themselves on TV or movies can give kids a sense of isolation and low self-esteem.

In 2016, American Girl came out with a diabetes care kit for their dolls which includes an insulin pump, glucose tablets, and a blood sugar monitor. There are also other accessories including crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, service dogs, and allergy-free lunch packs that come with a miniature epi-pen for those times when a friend brings peanuts into the class.

Playmobil came out with a line of disabled figures and LEGO has some mini figures that use wheelchairs in the city park set. The popular chain Build a Bear has hearing aids, seizure helmets, and other accessories that can be added to the stuffed animals. And now Barbie. The new Barbie Fashionistas will be available in Fall 2019 and will give generations of kids with disabilities a toy with which they can identify.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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