Former Social Worker Makes Specialised Dolls That Resemble Kids With Disabilities
Children's toys are growing increasingly inclusive. They're certainly a lot more diverse than when I was a little kid in the '90s and '00s. Although it wouldn't exactly be fair to say we had very little variation, there was definitely an emphasis on the tall, slender, blond Barbie doll who had a penchant for going on regular and rather extravagant shopping sprees.
These days, there are much more niche Barbie dolls on our shelves, for instance, there is one modelled after boxing champion Nicola Adams. I mean, I don't know about other people my age, but that certainly would have stuck out like a sore thumb if I'd have seen that on the shelves of Toys 'R' Us as a kid.
However, despite all the progress we've made, there is still one area where we are very much lagging behind on the equality front, and that's in representing those with disabilities.
Few people know better than Amy Jandrisevits, a former social worker in a pediatric oncology unit, how much dolls mean to kids. Especially if the kid in question has a unique appearance or uncommon disability and the doll has been made to closely resemble their appearance, including their differences.
She even started her own project - A Doll Like Me - based around making dolls that look like the child they're intended for, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, medical issue, or body type.
Jandrisevits has set up a GoFundMe page to further the project and to provide parents with an opportunity to get their own child a specialised doll even if they couldn't afford it. She has currently raised an impressive $24,541 of her $25,000 goal.
"In my time working with the kids," she wrote on the page. "I used dolls in play therapy to help the children express themselves. Dolls are therapeutic in so many ways — ways that I'm not sure we fully understand. It is a human likeness and by extension, a representation of the child who loves it."
Jandrisevits soon realised, however, that the dolls didn't resemble her patients closely enough:
"One day I realised that the dolls’ thick hair and perfect health were doing the kids I was working with a disservice as they were often faced with a wide variety of physical challenges," Jandrisevits explains. "Many kids have never have had the opportunity to see their sweet faces reflected in a doll. It's hard to tell a child that they are beautiful but follow it with — but you'll never see yourself in anything that looks like you."
About four years ago, Jandrisevits began making specialised Raggedy Ann dolls for the children in her pediatric unit. "My favourite was a Raggedy Ann for a little girl who was transitioning — green cropped hair and a Ninja Turtle outfit," she adds.
When a friend of Jandrisevits shared a photo of the doll, requests for more specialised dolls started pouring in. "A woman whose daughter had just had a leg amputated reached out and asked if I could make a doll for her," she recalls.
Jandrisevits has since made more than a whopping 300 dolls and in addition to that, has a very lengthy waiting list. Parents who have the means to purchase the dolls pay about $100 for them and it's these funds, including those raised by the GoFundMe page, that allow Jandrisevits to cover the costs for those who cannot afford the dolls.
"Whatever it costs, whatever I have to do, I’m going to get a doll in the hands of these children," she continues. "This isn’t just a business. It’s the right thing to do."
"Doll-making has allowed me to combine my love of dolls with my passion for social work. I have always been disappointed in the lack of diversity in dolls. So, as my mom taught me, if you don't like it, do something about it!"
To see just how important these dolls can be to the children, watch this girl's emotional reaction after being given a doll with prosthetic legs just like her:
Some of the dolls even cater to families as far away as Venezuela - that's an incredible achievement!
Jandrisevits hopes that one day no parent will have to shell out any amount of money for something which will ultimately be a great source of comfort for their kids.
"If we’re going to look at mental health as a necessary part of medical care, this is key," she argues. "If you want validation and play therapy, you need these dolls."
It's wonderful that one woman has taken it upon herself to dedicate what must be a large chunk of her free time to putting smiles on the faces of children who are still marginalised in our society.
We really hope that Jandrisevits achieves her goal of allowing every child to have a doll which resembles them and allows them to realise that they're just as important and valued as every other child.