Thursday, October 25, 2007

Allying With Parents of Children With Disabilities

I'm just getting around to checking out last month's Disability Blog Carnival. The first entry I clicked on was called "Trache-ing Elmo". The thought of this made me laugh even before I read it because I have seen VanGoghGirl "alter" many of her dolls to suit her own aesthetic. Her toy room is cluttered with scenes of doll carnage. Barbie never stood a chance with my kid.

My niece is an Elmo fanatic. She has several of the plain plush dolls, the battery-powered one that does the chicken dance and even the Tickle Me Extreme Elmo that can fall to the floor and then raise itself back up to the standing position. I can't tell you how many times I've had to tuck Elmo in or talk to Elmo or apologize to Elmo for something I said in his presence. I don't really mind though, it's all a part of being an auntie. In the process, I've developed a fondness for Elmo over the past couple of years. As far as muppets go, he's really a complex character, so I really wanted to hear about the plans that Hannah's mommy had for her doll.

At this point, Elmo has been accessorized with some of Hannah's old walking equipment but, as the title suggests, he may soon be fitted with some ultra cool body mods. I'm not going to give everything away here so you'll have to visit her blog if you want to get the whole story.

On a serious note, when I read her post, I thought about how, when I was pregnant, I made the decision that I would only purchase dolls who were "people of color" (e.g. non-white). I wanted my daughter to be able to surround herself with toys that added to her self-esteem. I wanted her to see that color is beautiful. I figured she'd see more than enough whiteness in her lifetime without me having to contribute to it. When she's playing mommy with her dolls, I want them to look like her. I never really told my mother-in-law, who is white, about my feelings on this but instinctively she has never purchased a doll for my daughter that didn't at least have a nice tan.

I'm lucky or, I guess I should say, privileged. These days, even though most dolls on the toy store shelf are still white, more non-white dolls are being available for purchase. If I visit two or three toy stores, I can usually find a couple of Black or Latino dolls to choose from even though Asian ones are still fairly rare. Even though I have serious issues with the body types and clothes that some of them are dressed in, VanGoghGirl can at least have dolls that closely match her skin tone.

However, when it comes to dolls that depict people with disabilities, parents are still pretty much out of luck. The American Girl doll line features a wheelchair and a cast that you can put on your doll's leg but that's it. I think I've seen a Barbie doctor set with a few bandages and arm slings but nothing more.

This situation makes me reflect on the ways that even people who belong to marginalized communities can still be privileged relative to other marginalized groups. I can afford to ignore the unavailability of dolls featuring body non-conformance because there are enough people with children that look like mine for manufacturers to consider it worthwhile to make dolls with tans and/or curly hair. Do I make as big a deal out of the unavailability as I would if I had a child with a trache? Admittedly, no. Should I? Yes. I guess that means I have some changes to make if I want to be an ally to parents with children who have certain disabilities.


Lisa Harney said...

I'm down with anything that shows kids that what they are is normal.

bint alshamsa said...

I think some people fail to realize how important it is for children to get this message as soon in their development as possible.

If you've never seen it, I think you'd enjoy the video "A Girl Like Me". It's seven minutes long but I think every girl and woman should watch it.

A Girl Like Me

cripchick said...

blogger hates me. i left you this whole comment about how i received a "share a smile" becky barbie that came with a bright red plastic wheelchair for christmas one time... and it totally ruined the morning. i LOVED it but my mom took it as an insult to the family (even though it was from my sister?) because they saw disability as a burden and to say life with a w/c was OK was offensive to them (at the time.)
but yeah. good post.

Rootietoot said...

When I was little, Dad made a set of leg braces and crutches for my Raggedy Ann, so she could be like me. I remember kids making fun of me for that.

Lisa Harney said...

bint, thank you for the link to the video. The little girl who pointed to the black doll as the "bad doll" and had to take a moment to decide to identify that doll as looking like her was really sad, as were the comments about lacking heritage. Plus, I have to admit I hadn't really thought through just how oppressively white and able-bodied American images of femininity tend are. I knew intellectually, but seeing it in action was new.

misscripchick, sympathies. Also, I'm kind of jealous. I loved wheelchairs when I was young, and would've loved a toy that had one. Did your mother at least let you keep her?

rootietoots, cool dad. Sucky kids.

Rob at Kintropy said...

I found your blog through Temple University's site. Appreciate your visit to our site, and glad you liked our Elmo story.

Elmo's alteration is pending, but I think "surgery" will be scheduled soon. In the meantime, Janette is working on some custom costuming for Halloween to work with all of Hannah's supports (e.g. chair, g-tube, etc.). Looks pretty cool so far, and we'll post some pictures around Halloween.