Episode 81: Representation and Toys

Intro Music 


E: Hi I’m Emily Ladau 


K: And I’m Kyle Khachadurian 


E: And you’re listening to another episode of The Accessible Stall 


K: What’s going on Emily? I feel like I haven’t talked to you since last year. 


E: Yeah! I mean we literally just had a conversation before this podcast and also everyday on Facebook Messenger. But you’re right, I haven’t seen your face since 2019. 


K: Publicly, we haven’t spoken since last year. 


E: Correct. And we haven’t seen each other in the flesh in a little while so…


K: But we will next week!


E: When we go to see Ryan J. Haddad’s new show and if you’re wondering who he is, you can go listen to our episode with him!


K: That was where he told us to go to his show. This is that show


E: Yeah we bought tickets! We’re good friends


K: Keep it in the family, right? Support Disabled Creators!


E: That’s real! You can support us on Patreon


K: By going to www.patreon.com/theaccesisiblestall Just $1 a month ensures that all currebt and future episodes of The Accessible Stall remain accessible. Please donate if you can, and you’re willing, and you’re able.


E: I gotta tell you, none of that was plan but it just sailed so smoothly.


K: How many times have I done that? It’s as natural as breathing


E: So many


K: Which is ironic because I am very sick right now so breathing is a bit of a chore. 

E: He is, he’s very sick, he’s been coughing, he’s stuffy. I’m actually so glad we’re not in the same room right now because he’s a little bit very contagious.


K: I am like a walking nuclear power plant about to explode


E: Accurate


K: I’m nothing like that. I don’t know why… that’s how I feel on the inside.


E: Understandable, relatable. The sickness has gotten to you. But are you feeling well enough to have a discussion about Disability because I know that’s your favorite thing to do?


K: I mean, it’s up there, it’s like genuinely top five. And I wouldn’t have been recording if I wasn’t. I think I’m not entirely sure, the jury’s still out on that. 


E: Well I mean, you took care of yourself, you asked if we could push off recording until you were not hacking up a lung. 


K: That’s true, that’s true but I actually almost did pass out walking today, I was very tired.


E: I wouldn’t know what that’s like, what is that like?


K: I don’t mean that literally. Have you ever just fallen asleep in your wheelchair and then just forgotten how you got where you are?


E: I’ve never fallen asleep sitting up. I mean, I’ve dozed. I mean, okay I guess that’s actually a complete lie because I fall asleep in the car all the time.


K: That hits different though. Car sleep, that’s powerful


E: But I’ve never just been sitting in my wheelchair in the middle of the room and fall asleep


K: That’s weird to me. I don’t know why that’s weird to me


E: Because my sitting is everyone else’s standing 


K: That’s exactly why it’s weird to me. But then again, I have never, ever fallen asleep standing and I feel like if I did I would probably go see a doctor


E: I really have seen people on the train who appear to have fallen asleep standing up because there aren’t any seats and it makes me nervous. And this is not a commentary on narcolepsy, like this is literally just people who are napping on a train that’s jerking back and forth. 


K: Yeah, that’s impressive to me. I mean I’m concerned but like, I don’t know, I can’t do that. 


E: Anyway, none of this has anything to do with what we’re actually going to talk about. We just wanted to have a bit of a catch up because it’s been awhile right? It hasn’t actually.


K: I mean not for us but for them, for us. 


E: That made sense


K: Yeah. What are we gonna talk about today?


E: There’s the question! So actually this idea was brought to us by our amazing wonderful beautiful human of a  transcriber, Annie


K: She’s gonna leave comments about what you just said in the comments section of the transcript when she gives it to me, now that you said that.


E: Fair, but non-negotiable. Annie’s great


K: She is, she is. 


E: And she suggested that we talk about Disability representation and Diversity in the toy industry. Because there was just that whole story on the new American Girl Doll. 


K: Can you fill me in on what that is? I know what an American Girl Doll is, just the story.


E: You mean you’re not up on your American Girl Dolls?


K: You know, I can’t say that I am. But I haven;t been living under a rock to not know what an American Girl Doll is. 


E: Actually, that kinda proves Annie’s larger point that there’s a lack of Toys that are “geared to young boys” that also have Disability Representation. So I think we should talk about that too, which of course raises the issue of “gendered toys.” But I do think that it’s interesting that we mainly see Disability Representation in terms of Dolls right now. And so the big story was that American Girl released a new doll, it’s their Girl of the Year,she’s a surfer, she’s from California and her name is Joss, and she uses  a hearing aid. So this is a big deal in representation because she’s got a cute little doll-sized hearing aid. 


K: Can I ask a silly question? 


E: Yeah


K: This super doesn’t matter to me, I’m just curious. Does it say the origins of her Disability? Because if I were to pick away I’d prefer her to be deaf. I think it’s cooler if she were born with her hearing loss, just because I think society in general is more accepting of Disabilities you acquire. This is a huge debate and one we’re gonna cover in the future. I just feel, being born this way, I feel like society is a little bit very broadly speaking more accepting of a Disability if you acquire it later. So I feel like if American Girl had mentioned it, that it would a little bit cooler if she were born deaf. 


E: So apparently she was born deaf. 


K: Nice!


E: She has congenital hearing loss, so she was born deaf in her left ear and she has just  a little bit of hearing in her right ear, so I think that’s interesting. And apparently American Girl has had previous dolls with Disabilities including dolls with a learning disability and a stutter but obviously those are not things you can depict on a doll. 


K: So do they only convey that in the story of the Doll that you are holding?


E: Yeah, yeah. I mean all of the Dolls have books and backstories that go with them, it’s a whole thing. 


K: Okay


E: So I guess this is a big thing in terms of visual representation. There also was the relatively recent release of Barbies of different races I believe who use wheelchairs as well, so it’s definitely been a good time for doll diversity. 


K: You’re making a little bit of a little bit of a face saying “Doll Diversity” but I like that, I think that’s a very natural first step to see physical differences in a toy. Like seeing it in Interactive Media like video games and movies and other stuff that we consume is kinda cool but like holding something that looks like you, I’ve never had that because I don’t have that type of Disability.  But when I was a kid I might’ve. I don’t know, I’m not one to play with dolls. when I used to walk with crutches, I think it’s cool now…I probably would’ve lost my mind. Sorry for the ableist expression. If I saw it as a kid.


E: What about like a GI Joe with a disability like a Veteran who acquired a disability? 


K: Oh see that’s weird to me. Not to say that it’s less weird in a doll versus action figure but just like the lure of  GI Joe, like him being such a…badass, right? Huh…But then again, you just said Veteran.


E: Can you not be a disabled badass?

K: No, of course you can, I just…well you just said Veteran which is like where I would imagine it. That doesn’t make you any less badass. 


E: Yeah I mean he’s an active army man


K: Yeah, that’s why it’s weird. Not ‘cause he’s disabled. 


E: Right and so realistically the Army is not exactly chomping at the bit to let disabled people in. 


K: Yeah.


E: I mean, one time a military recruiter called my house and asked to speak to me and my mom was like, “She uses a wheelchair.” And the guy was like. “Ohhhh…oh, bye!”


K: I mean…yeah


E: But really where are the… Ugh, I hate even  saying this, the more masculine gendered toys with Disability backstories? And i know that gendered toys is a debate in and of itself but for the purposes of this conversation, I hope that people understand we’re not trying to create a gender divide here. 


K: I think that everyone in our audience would agree with us but I also think that they know that traditionally “For girls” and things like cars and action figures are “For boys.” We know that’s nonsense, especially because…and I’m just gonna throw this one out here: Boys, will probably become fathers and fathers, check this out, take care of children! Especially theirs…especially as an adult. Why it’s weird when a little boy plays with a doll, because caregiving is a gendered idea, like people tend to associate it with women, but like, why? Fathers are a thing and like, they’re everywhere!


E: And this has been another episode of The Gender Stall


K: Well no! I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with…especially because like that’s, I don’t wanna say good training but like, how is a child supposed to know how to hold a baby without holding an actual baby? Use a doll, good!


E: Dolls are cool. Also but like what about adapted vehicle Matchbox Cars? Am I getting too silly here? I don’t think so.


K:  Oh man! Aw well okay, so Matchbox cars are supposed to be like the size of matchboxes…So if you could somehow fit like the details of hand controls adaptation, modification? I don’t know what the proper phrasing is. 


E: Either


K: If you could fit that in the mold of such a tiny car and like, pull it off I would buy so many of those! I don’t think you’re being silly, but the idea of it being that tiny is silly to me, but that’s not your fault. 


E: I think Hot Wheels Actually has an Aaron Fotheringham figurine. You know that guy who does tricks in his wheelchair on halfpipes or in the skate park? Clearly I’m showing my complete lack of knowledge about Skateboarding.


K: I never knew his name, but the fact that you can say his name and then know that he does that leads me to believe that he’s the only one or the only well known one, so now I know exactly who you’re talking about. 


E: Yeah Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham  and there’s literally a Hot Wheels wheelchair sold that’s branded for him. 


K: Nice. See, that’s cool, that’s really cool. 


E: But like, I want that. Why can’t I get that?


K: You can! Who says you can’t? 


E: Because gendered branding!


K:  You are an adult! No I totally here you…But you should get one! Smash the gender binary my friend! Buy your Hot Wheels!


(Emily chuckles)


 E: … But wouldn’t it just be cool if there was accessibility portrayed in toys? Not just disability diversity but also accessibility. 


K:  Any kind… Like I said, I think dolls are such a natural place to start. They’re small representations of real people. I will say that American Girl as a company is pretty ambitious and they’ve been known to do stuff like this, right?


E: Yeah. And also this is a big step because when I was little my parents got an American Girl Doll that was supposed to “Look Like Me” and that’s a lie in every conceivable way. But more to the point, the only way I think you could get a wheelchair for your American Girl doll was if you sent her to the Doll Hospital, which is a real thing that they  have where if your doll breaks and you send it to them… 


K: They’ll send it back to you in a wheelchair?


E: Something like that. It was very hospital deemed..It was medicalized. 


K: I can understand from a Disability lens why that’s really screwed up but just as a person, that’s super cool! Like they actually ship it back in a wheelchair? That’s super cool. 


E: I think I’m making that up. I think it was


K: I hope you’re not!


E: It was one of the things that you could get from the Doll Hospital.


K: Oh, Oh, I see…  


E: I clearly have not owned an American Girl Doll in a very long time. But none of the dolls who were supposed to look like me… I literally also got a doll called a “My Twin” Doll. Do you think she looked like me? No. 


K: Okay it is my mission in life to get you a custom made doll that looks like you. I did not realize that this was a thing. 


E: Oh my gosh, such a thing. And not to mention, the My Twin Doll, she had glasses, sure. And she had brown hair fine, and she had like,  a little beauty mark– I have like extra pigmentation on my face or whatever, so she had a matching one.


K: Oh, yeah.


E: Not like a mole, but like a Marilyn Monroe kind of dot.


K: Yeah yeah, I’ve seen your face.


E: Yes you have, you’re looking at it right now. Point being, she never had a wheelchair, she never had a walker, you know?


K: Yeah. I think when our transcriber showed me I believe…and it’s been a while since I’ve looked but I think that most of the Disability adaptations, aside from the backstories I guess, but most of them were accessories. So if you already had an American Girl Doll, you can totally make them Disabled which I was like, that’s great!


E: Oh yeah, like you can buy a mini hearing aid for Molly, or Samantha or Felicity even though that doesn’t really make any sense because Felicity is from the 1700s so I’m pretty sure hearing aids didn’t exist back then. 


K: (Laughs) Oh, yeah. 


But it woulda been so cool. Every year I would get the American Girl catalogue around the holidays. I guess they finally figured out statistically that I aged out of that category. It woulda been nice to flip through and feel seen. None of my toys ever made me feel seen. Like, I don’t know…did yous? Like what did you play with?


K: No. I read books and I played video games. And sometimes in those books  related to the main characters as characters and sometimes in video games I would relate to the characters but they never looked like me. I mean, never, ever. And when I would relate to whatever I was doing it was more in terms of like, personality traits but never. I used to think… this is a hit if a thing that I did kind of a 180 on. I used to not mock representation but I used to value it a lot less than I do now. Because I was always one one of those people who was like hey, “If you can relate to a character what does it matter if they look like you?” But like, you only need to see so many happy little children receiving dolls that look like them who are disabled to realize that like physical representation matters to a lot of people in a huge way. And so while that not have been my specific cup of tea, this is still super important. Like I’m just looking at this right now, they have a Diabetes Care Kit! Like if you have Juvenile DIabetes? I have no idea what that’s like, but even just reading that, that’s so cool. 


E: I think we’re forgetting a bg aspect of this here. What about kids that don’t have disabilities? LIke isn’t it just nice that random kids on Christmas who don’t have hearing loss can get  American Girl Doll that has hearing loss? Like, that’s cool!


K: And she’s cool! She’s like, a surfer, and she’s also deaf. 


E: I mean, I’ll point out that I have larger problems with American Girls Dolls because I feel like they do kind of give that false ideal of like the cool girl and then also like, she’s white, There’s a lot of diversity lacking here. She’s from California, like we’re not being super intersectional here. 


K: Yeah, okay but they sell diverse dolls don’t they?


E: Oh they do, they absolutely do! But I think a lot of the Diversity wins that we tend to celebrate in the Toy Industry are usually like, “That’s a White Barbie.” Like, now they have a Black Barbie who uses a wheelchair. Like, that’s a White American Girl Doll. So it’s still…It’s this slow, limited roll. Pun intended, roll. 


K: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I don’t know enough about American Girl but yeah that speaks to a much larger issue. 


E: He says as he’s shopping on the website about to put the Juvenile Diabetes Care Kit in his Cart!


K: I’m totally on the website! You’re gosh dang right! I’m doing exactly that. 


E: What did you Google? Or did you just go on American Girl.com


K: I typed in “American Girl Disabilities,” I clicked on the website, I landed on the page with the Berry Wheelchair, and in the Related Products there was the “Feel Better Kit” with hospital crutches and a cast, regular “Arm Crutches for Dolls” which looks suspiciously like the ones I used as a kid, and then next to that is the “Diabetes Care Kit.” With like real Bandaids


E:  Heehee.. “With real Band-Aids” 


K: Look, I’m all for intersectionality okay but I’m just saying those people who are putting in the work are putting in a lot of effort. 


E: I do think that the Berry Wheelchair is actually pretty cute!


K: Yeah. I wonder if the brakes work, they look like they do. 


E: I like it quite a lot, I mean it’s still a little Hospital Wheelchair-y but all things considered, I think they did a good job. 


K: You know, I didn’t even realize that until you said it but you’re absolutely right. 


E: Adjustable footrests!


K: See, like that’s what I’m talking about! They didn’t have to do that, but they did!


E: That’s so charming! Anyway, yeah I think American Girl also has that sort of advantage because they have backstories that come with their dolls so even if there’s not visible disability representation they can still add Disability to the backstory.


K: See I think that’s cool in a different way. (21:11) Because that appeals to people who are like. Like, kids won’t do this but sometimes you get older people who are like, “Well I don’t get why there has to be a diverse character. Like, why can’t they just be Gay, why can’t they just be Disabled? Why can’t they just be Black? Why does it have to be such a thing?”  And it’s just like, “Well they’re people, they’re everywhere.” And it’s like, if you make it part of the background…Those people are contrarians they’re but like that should satisfy something like that where it’s like, “This is not their whole identity but it is a part of it that should be respected.”


E: Well I think that’s the point of all these toys in general


K: Oh for sure!


E: It’s not your whole identity, it’s just an interesting part of you. Although, my mom and I were joking it is kind of funny that the new American Girl Doll, Joss is a surfer with a hearing aid because you have to take your hearing aid off when you surf because there’s no such thing as a waterproof hearing aid.


K: Okay, I didn’t know that…But see that’s the kind of thing that we would complain about, so let’s do that. I just learned that from you just now. But…they should’ve…I mean, they have infinite money and resources relative to us so I mean, c’mon. 


E: It’s not really a complaint, it’s more of an irony. That’s not to say that people who are deaf can’t be surfers, I’m not saying that.


K: No, no they just can’t wear their hearing aids when they surf, which makes sense.


E: Which is why it’s funny to me. Because it’s like, do they not realize that she’s holding her surfboard and wearing her hearing aid at the same time? And like, one gotta go?


K: Didn’t wheelchair Becky not fit into the Barbie DreamHouse? 


E: Ugh!  Yes, okay. Share a Smile Becky… First of all, terrible name, second of all, made my parents go everywhere to find her.  Everywhere. So I had Share a Smile Becky, but no, she didn’t fit into the Barbie DreamHouse.  Barbie DreamHouse didn’t have an elevator! I’ve heard Barbie DreamHouse is now more Accessible, but still!


K: Wait, but was that an official Mattel product?


E: Share a Smile Becky? Yeah!


K: Oh, okay. Because I’m just curious, I guess they didn’t think of it. 


E: Of course not. It was “We’re being so progressive! … Oops!”


K: At the time though it was, wasn’t it? I’m not defending them..I think it’s silly 


E: Of course it was I mean I absolutely went bananas when my parents got it for me. I was thrilled. 


K: I’m trying to think of a better–not a better example, a different example from dolls though. 


E: That’s kind of illustrating the problem though


K: Yeah. Let’s turn that into a positive. That does illustrate the problem we’re trying to solve. 


E: Disability is just not something that’s integrated in the toy industry yet in the way that we would like it to be. 


K: Like, there’s been a few in video games but those aren’t toys traditionally. Like you play with them but you don’t play with them.  


E: Well okay so toys and games then. 


K: It’s a little bit better in video games but even when I’m thinking about it I can only name a handful in the last five to ten years, which relative to the amount of video games is hardly any. 


E: What about board games? I don’t think there’s ever been a Disabled character in a board game that I’ve played. 


K: If you’re a board game nerd and you’ve ever seen a Disabled character in a board game please DM us. I know that board game nerds are everywhere and we’re certainly not them. But like, if you know of a disabled character in a board game please email us because we’ll play that sh*t. 


E: Yeah I mean, okay Clue. LIke I’m always Miss Peacock. 


K: I’m always Colonel Mustard. 


E: Great, super. Very much on brand for both of us


(Both laugh)


K: But why can’t they be disabled? The game is the same!


E: Right? Because it isn’t sexy


K: I was gonna say murder is sexy but IRL murder really isn’t sexy. But like Fantasy Murder Mystery? Extremely sexy. 


E: Oh I’m sorry, Mrs. Peacock. It’s Miss Scarlet. Anyway, point being there are no Disabled board game characters that I’m aware of. Are we googling this on the fly?


K: I’m Googling it. 


E: I mean, yeah. Disability is nowhere in most of my childhood. I know you mentioned books for a second…Definitely not a toy or a game but when I was little my parents had to specially order  a couple of books for me that had Disabled. One of them was called Patrick and Emma Lou and they were going to Physical Therapy. So it was literally a book about Disabled kids going to physical therapy. And then there was another one called Andy Finds a Turtle about a disabled boy named Andy who found a turtle. 


K: Charles Lawlson in “A Wrinkle in Time” was pretty autistic. They didn’t say “He was Autistic” but like, he was Autistic.


E: I mean, I’m sure lots of kids saw themselves in him but there’s such a lack of “Hey, Disability Representation in this children’s book, in this toy, in this game!”


K: Actually, I Googled “disabled board game characters” and all that came up was a list of video game characters. I’m just going through the list and it’s valid but it’s a little bit contrived. #1 is a guy from Deus Ex which is about a guy who loses a lot of his limbs and his organs and has to be cyborg-ified. So like, yeah he’s disabled and that’s totally valid but like  it’s his superpower, it’s why he’s the main character. I’m not saying that’s not a really cool thing, it’s actually a really cool role for a person with a disability but that’s like calling Inspector Gadget disabled, like would you? I wouldn’t but he technically is!


E: Interesting. Interesting indeed. I hadn’t thought about Inspector Gadget. But yeah I mean..Oh I had something I was gonna say and I can’t remember. (Jazzy interlude music plays) 


I remember what my point was! We’ve been talking a lot about Mainstream brand toys. We’ve been talking a lot about how you can get a Barbie, you can get a Video game. We haven’t talked at all about there have been people who have been filling this gap for a long time by creating these dolls and selling them on Etsy. Creating toys that represent bodily diversity. Creating little prosthetics  for an American Girl Doll, creating a wheelchair for a Barbie, like there were people who were doing this independently long before the toy industry decided they were gonna catch up. And I feel like we need to acknowledge the fact that people have been trying to fill these gaps. 


K: I completely agree. That was an excellent point. 


E: Now for my Final Takeaway, my final takeaway is we’re coming somewhat far in the disability toy diversity situation…We have so much further to go, we have so much more to do. And I really hope that by the time I have children hypothetically, if that’s a thing I’m going to do, that whether that kid has a Disability or not, I can hand them a doll who has a Disability, or has a disability backstory or I can get them a LEGO set from the shelf of Target that I didn’t have to special order. Because I know that LEGO has a little wheelchair and I feel like they have a little Accessible bus, but I think you have to special order this stuff. I just don’t want it to be special!


K: Yeah, there ya go! Disability doesn’t need to be special any more, it never did we were always 20% of the population!


E: What’s your final takeaway?


K: My Final Takeaway is: I love what American Girl is doing but I just wanna reiterate, if you’re someone who is like how I used to be, consider how you would’ve felt when you were younger especially if you were disabled. How cool it would’ve been to receive something or to be able to buy or interact with something that looks like you. That really isn’t much of a finally takeaway but it really is something that I completely changed my mind on. And I don’t think I’m alone in having that thought so I wanted to say it again for anyone who might be feeling that way. And also, you look great today. 


E: You do look great today!


K: This has been another episode of The Accessible Stall. I am Kyle, she is Emily you are fantastic


E: Thanks so much for bearing with me while I tried to figure out what the heck my point was!


K: See ya next time!