Why the first ever Barbie with hearing aids is such a huge step forward in disability representation

Written by Amy Beecham

While all eyes have been on Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie, attention has now turned to Mattel’s latest collection of dolls and why it’s such a huge step forward for disability representation. 

In a move that has been praised by disability campaigners, Mattel has released a new range of Barbie dolls that feature the iconic character with hearing aids, prosthetic limbs and in wheelchairs.

The new Rose, Barbie & Friends campaign, fronted by deaf actor Rose Ayling-Ellis, features a cast of diverse models who reflect the new line of dolls, which includes the first Ken doll with vitiligo.

While Mattel has previously been criticised for the lack of size and racial diversity in its toys, it has since made a profound effort to celebrate amuch broader view of beauty. For this line of Barbie Fashionistas, Mattel worked with and consulted experts in their fields on the new dolls to accurately portray the hearing aids.

The latest Barbie can be seen wearing a behind the ear hearing aid.

“It’s important for kids to see themselves reflected in product and to encourage play with dolls that don’t resemble them to help them understand and celebrate the importance of inclusion,” said Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s executive vice president of the project.

More than 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing, and there are 151,000British Sign Language (BSL) users across the country. Ayling-Ellis recently became the first celebrity to use British Sign Language to read a CBeebies bedtime story.

Rose Ayling-Ellis poses with first ever Barbie doll with hearing aids

Ayling-Ellis, who has been deaf since birth, added: “It’s so important for children to be able to see themselves represented in the toys they play with.

“When I was little, I would draw hearing aids on to my Barbie dolls to make them look like me, so I am thrilled that Mattel is releasing more dolls that encourage kids to celebrate and embrace their differences.”

Barbie previously adhered to a very fixed standard of beauty.

The collection has been widely praised as a positive step towards inclusion, with the National Deaf Children’s Society saying in a statement: “She will give all children a much greater appreciation of the diversity of people around them and provide a window into the world of deafness.”

Ayling-Ellis appears in the campaign beside inspiring models Jamie, 17, a student with vitiligo, Renee, a model and paraplegic wheelchair user, and Faisha, a yoga teacher and model with a below-the-knee prosthetic limb.

The Barbie Fashionistas line will be available to buy in the UK from Thursday.

Images: Mattel/Getty

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