Toy makers are creating more products for kids with disabilities
It’s always comforting to see a smile on the face of kids with disabilities—especially after they get to play with toys specially designed keeping their needs in mind.
The trend started a few years ago, when parents of children with disabilities who found limited options in the toy aisle had turned to the Internet to find products. According to a report by NPR, more and more toy manufacturers are designing toys (especially dolls) with disabilities.
American Girl’s Wide Offerings
For years, American Girl has offered dolls with different accessories to reflect a range of disabilities—leg braces, arm crutches, wheelchairs, and allergy-free lunch sets (there’s even a tiny medical bracelet). A doll without hair is available for children suffering from cancer. American Girl also has a diabetes kit complete with insulin pumps, pens, glucose tablets, and a blood sugar monitor.
The company developed the diabetes kit with the help of doctors, nurses, and dieticians at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. “We introduced that at the very beginning of 2016 and it’s been in and out of stock all year,” said Stephanie Spanos, a public relations manager at American Girl.
A recent addition to the toys section is a doll equipped with a hearing aid—a feature that 10-year-old Dominika Tamley loved. “She’s like a mini-me,” Tamley explained, “because she has a hearing aid and I have a hearing aid.”
Lego and Toys R Us
Earlier this year, Lego sold—for the first time—a figure of a little boy in a wheelchair. Toys R Us, however, has been selling its exclusive Journey Girls line of dolls, with accessories including wheelchairs and crutches since 2013.
“It’s not about PR for us,” noted Richard Barry, the chief merchandising officer of Toys R Us. “Our job as a company is to make sure we have the best assortment for all kids.”
Lammily Dolls with a Wheelchair
Nickolay Lamm—known for his Lammily dolls which are nicknamed “Normal Barbie”—created a new wheelchair accessory for fashion dolls with adjustable leg rests, suitable for Lammily dolls or any Barbie or Disney princess dolls.
Lamm who is raising money on Kickstarter to mass-produce the accessory hopes that kids see the wheelchair the same way they see any other accessory like a purse or car.
“If a wheelchair accessory were as commonplace as a dress in the doll aisle, it would be a huge step in helping physically disabled kids feel more empowered in a stigmatized society that often overlooks disability,” he said. “Moreover, it could educate non-disabled children about their peers, and promote open discourse and learning.”
Kids at Ayita Dance Studio in Texas which offers dance lessons to children in wheelchairs—responded positively to the chair.
Barbie released a doll in a wheelchair named “Share A Smile Becky” way back in 1997 but the toy was discontinued due to design issues.
The Adaptive Toy Project
The toy industry is undergoing a revolution for children with special needs, but for children with more severe disabilities it definitely still a challenge to find something appropriate on toy shelves.
Under a program called the Adaptive Toy Project, the recipient of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, engineering students at University of North Florida work together to build “adapted toys” that have been modified for children with special needs.
Lindsey Pauline has been part of the adapted toy program and says that a wide variety of toys have been fitted with special on-and-off switches. “We have our standard police cars, and of course our fire trucks,” she adds.
These special cars cost between $250 and $500 and the added modifications are worth over $1,000, but 18 families have received the cars free of cost so far.
“Engineering students teach the physical therapy students how to modify basic electronics … and in the process engineers learn how to do people-centered designs, and how to look at their clients differently,” said UNF professor of physical therapy Mary Lundy, who is also a part of the Adaptive Toy Project.
Inspired by the #ToyLikeMe campaign on Facebook and Twitter, British toy maker Makies started manufacturing 3D-printed dolls with walking aids, hearing aids, birthmarks, and small guide dogs.
“We put a bunch of things on hold and jumped into designing toy hearing aids, toy walking aids, working out how to do facial birthmarks,” Makies said on its website.
The company is currently working on a wheelchair version and looking to create face characteristics for the dolls which are retailed at £69—just a little over $85.
More than 770,000 children under the age of 16 have disabilities in the UK, which means one in 20 children has some disability, according to the Disabled Living Foundation.
Research conducted by social psychologist of Goldsmith University of London, Sian Jones, shows that all kids can benefit from playing with toys that represent disabilities as it heightens their level of empathy.
Psychologists believe that children should play with toys that don’t encourage stereotypes about what defines beauty. Toys have profound effect on their careers and their confidence. Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, both classic Pixar movies, are a good source of inspiration all the kids.
“Kids need to see themselves in the toys and objects they interact with,” said sociologist and lecturer at California State University Sacramento in California, Elizabeth Sweet