ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- The appearance of fashion dolls has changed drastically over the decades since Barbie debuted in March 1959, becoming more diverse and assuming new body types, ethnicities and roles.
And now, with a fashion doll-size wheelchair created by Lammily Dolls through a Kickstarter campaign sponsored by Central Washington University, they can also be physically disabled, bringing attention to the need for universal design — making products to serve those with disabilities, notes a news release.
“It was important for us to be involved in the startup of the Lammily wheelchair because it shows that we are supporting the innovation that is progressive socially of identifying how prevalent disabilities are,” said Naomi Petersen, accessibility studies professor at Central, in a news release.
The university offers the only accessibility studies program in the nation and supported a Kickstarter that developed the only fashion doll-size wheelchair on the market.
Officially known as the First Edition Lammily Wheelchair, the accessory became available for sale in late December. It’s a kit that sells for $21 and takes about five minutes to assemble, according to the Lammily website, lammily.com.
Wheelchair accessories for fashion dolls were discontinued in 1997, according to the Kickstarter campaign for the Lammily wheelchair. Lammily Dolls founder Nickolay Lamm launched it in December 2016; a total of 702 backers pledged $29,568 to fund it.
Lamm first became interested in finding fashion dolls with standard human body proportions in 2013 while looking for a doll for his niece. His first “average” alternative to Barbies debuted in 2014.
He has expanded his offerings since then, with the wheelchair among Lammily’s latest products.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010, the news release says. Not only is it important to know that people with disabilities exist, Petersen said, but if you live long enough, everyone will be disabled due to old age.
The Lammily wheelchair, although just a toy, helps destigmatize people who require assistance while providing children who use wheelchairs a toy they can relate to.
“It may seem like it’s very playful, but that can have a powerful influence on generations to come realizing that this is part of our everyday assistive technology, and it should be in every child’s toy box,” Petersen said.
It’s especially important for children with disabilities and their families. One commenter on the Lammily website said in December that she hoped to buy the accessory for her 10-year-old granddaughter, who has been in a wheelchair all her life.
Gretchen Thatcher, an independent living specialist with Ellensburg’s Central Washington Disability Resources, has been in a wheelchair throughout her life. A wheelchair for fashion dolls, which wasn’t available when she was a child, would have been helpful then, she said.
“I think it would have been really helpful because I didn’t really know a lot of other kids in wheelchairs. There was one girl in my class, but outside that I rarely saw other kids in wheelchairs,” Thatcher said.
Even when she was watching TV, there weren’t any people in wheelchairs being depicted, she said. “There was kind of like this feeling like, ‘I know I’m not the only one,’ but there’s so few role models, other people I could identify with.”
A toy wheelchair would also help non-disabled children get used to other children who look different and could help spark conversation about disabilities and “introduce them to the concept of disability,” Thatcher added.