What event excited the disability community in 1997? It was not the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act...or the opening of the FDR memorial...but a doll. Even on the newsgroup bit.listserv.deaf-l, the new "Share a Smile Becky" doll, also known as "Wheelchair Becky,"sparked discussion. "Share a Smile Becky" was heavily promoted, with multiple news releases and on television news programs. USA Today published an editorial, items were printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a Washington Post gossip column mentioned the doll. CNN carried a long segment, which included a quicktime movie.
While itwas not the first time a doll with a disability has been produced or that disability accessories were made available, it is the first time that a doll line of the Barbie caliber had added a disabled doll. Beckycame with bendable legs and her own cool wheelchair in hot colors. Becky became the best-selling exclusive doll at Toys R Us.
Imaginary Line of Deaf/HOH Dolls
In an exercise of the imagination, to expand on the success of Becky and increase Barbie's circle of friends, how about a new line of dolls with hearing loss, "Barbie's Deaf Friends?"
The cornerstone of the "Deaf Friends" line would be a completely deaf-accessible doll house, with door and telephone lights, a visual alarm system, baby cry lights, and a miniature hearing ear dog.
Each doll would come with her own miniature TTY, with real keys that you can push, and her own portable closed captioned television. A reply card inviting parents to join the American Society of Deaf Children would be included with each doll.
Who would be in the line?
There would be Cochlear Carrie, who comes with her own miniature speech processor and holder that fits snugly around her tiny waist. Cochlear Carrie also has a tiny reproduction of the outer transmitter and cords leading to the speech processor. To convert Cochlear Carrie into a doll without an implant (for those girls who grow up and decide that they want to stop using their implants or have them removed for whatever reason), press a tiny button and a tiny flap opens and the implant pops out. Only Cochlear Carrie comes with a reply card inviting parents to join Cochlear Implant Association.
There's also Cuein' Caitlin. Cuein' Catlin has posable arms, and her hands really move when a button is pushed. A computer chip inside the doll is pre-programmed to make the doll cue "What is your name?" "How old are you?" Caitlin also has a card for the National Cued Speech Association.
Oral Oriana uses the auditory-verbal method. She can speak, and her voice comes with two options: monotone sound, or "close to hearing" pitch. Oriana comes with two reply cards --for Auditory Verbal International (now the AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language) and the Alexander Graham Bell Association.
Both HOH Harriet and Profound Paula are identical dolls, with the only difference being that Harriet can hear better with less-powerful hearing aids than Paula, who wears more powerful hearing aids. The miniature aids have switches and volume controls, and even can produce feedback, which annoys parents but delights the children. HOH Harriet comes with her own miniature reproduction of Hearing Loss Journal, while Profound Paula comes with miniature reproductions of the Silent News.
Exact Elizabeth has posable arms and signs exact english. She comes with her own miniature "Signing Exact English" dictionary, and is pre-programmed to sign a few sentences in exact English. She has a small booklet about the SEE Center for the Advancement of Deaf Children.
Deaf Daphne does not wear hearing aids (though they are optional). She has on a tee shirt that proclaims, "Deaf Power!" Daphne comes in two versions, talking and non-talking. The talking version has a very deaf recorded voice, with almost incomprehensible speech. Daphne's arms are posable and can move very fast, signing in ASL. She is pre-programmed to sign a few sentences in ASL, and comes with a miniature reproduction of the book "Joy of Sign." Daphne also comes with a card inviting parents to join the National Association of the Deaf.
Accessories for the line include differently colored hearing aids and ear molds, new speech processor models, more clothing with sign language or deaf themes, and miniature reproductions of deaf artwork for the house walls.
Now there will be a doll for every deaf or hard of hearing little girl, regardless of how she communicates or learns, that she can identify with. The only problem is, every time a "Deaf Friends" commercial comes on, deaf and hearing little girls everywhere would besiege their parents with demands to buy the entire line.
Until "Barbie's Deaf Friends" line is available, parents will have to content themselves with currently available disability dolls and toy hearing aids from non-mainstream manufacturers.
Note: For a short time in 2000, Mattell did have a Sign Language Barbie exclusively through Toys R Us.