Mattel introduced “Share-a-Smile Becky,” a Barbie friend who used a wheelchair — but the toymaker’s efforts didn’t go quite as planned.
With her shiny pink wheelchair and tiny backpack, Becky was an instant hit. As many as 6,000 dolls were sold in the first two weeks, and disability advocates praised Mattel for bringing visibility and representation to wheelchair users. But the warm, fuzzy feeling didn’t last. Kids and collectors soon discovered that Becky’s wheelchair didn’t fit through the doors of the Barbie Dreamhouse — that pink-swathed epicenter of Barbie’s social world. The chair couldn’t squeeze inside the house’s elevator, either. Instead of making changes to the Barbie Dreamhouse, Mattel discontinued Barbie’s friend Becky and she disappeared from the store shelves.
For Karin Hitselberger, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, Becky’s story “speaks volumes to the way we think about disability.”
This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s Studio 360 with Kurt Andersenhttp://www.wnyc.org/story/story-wheelchair-barbie/.
(image description: a Barbie doll in sitting in a wheelchair)