Kmart boosts the ‘visibility’ of children with disabilities with a range of inclusive dolls

Disability representation hasn’t been seen on toy shelves for a very long time, but now companies large and small are responding to an ever-increasing demand for diversity.

It’s a glaring gap in the market that businesswoman Simone Hubble, owner of Perth toy store Happy Hubble, set out to fill while raising three children with autism.

Mrs. Hubble sells sensory toys suitable for the disabled, which meet the needs of families with autistic children.

“Without my three children, all of whom have autism, I would never have experienced this tremendous need within the autism community,” she said.

“They are 100% my inspiration.”

Ms Hubble said the response from the autism community to her Happy Hubble pop-up shops has been overwhelmingly positive.

Simone says toys help people with disabilities see themselves represented. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

She said the representation of people with disabilities in toys was extremely important as it had been virtually non-existent before.

“By launching these inclusive dolls, it helped start a conversation about disability and that these dolls help this person with a disability to see themselves as represented,” she said.

Ms Hubble said she brought her first-hand knowledge of being a mother to the business, which also sells products ranging from books to fidget packs.

Big companies take note

As smaller retailers led the charge, the big city took notice as well.

Kmart’s diversity and inclusion manager, Marcelle Harrison, said the company had launched a line of inclusive dolls aimed at reflecting the “rich diversity” of the world.

A child sits in front of a wall between two dolls
Charlie & Amelia are Kmart dolls with Down syndrome.(Supplied: Kmart)

“We noticed a gap in the market when it came to diversity, so we decided to develop some dolls ourselves,” Ms. Harrison said.

“We know that families come in different shapes and sizes, and we want our product lines to reflect and celebrate that and more accurately reflect people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and sexual orientations. different.”

A young girl kisses a childish doll
Kmart’s range aims to reflect a broad cross-section of the community. (Supplied: Kmart)

Ms Harrison said the company spent a year consulting with designers, customers and advocacy groups to develop the dolls.

“We want [people] to walk into our stores and see themselves represented in our product lines,” she said.

“Having dolls that visually represent various disabilities helps children feel included, but it also helps them learn about people who may be different from themselves, normalizing disability in real life.”

Make disability more visible

Clinical psychologist Suzanne Midford said inclusive toys are very important for children with disabilities.

“For a visually impaired child to see themselves represented by a doll with a guide dog or a cane, or if a child lives with Down syndrome, all of those representations can be affirmative for that child,” she said.

Dr Midford smiles in a professional-looking head shot, in front of a plant.
Dr. Suzanne Midford says that inclusiveness translates into a sense of belonging in children with disabilities. (Provided: Dr. Suzanne Midford)

Ms Midford said representation and visibility was very important to the disability community.

“Hiding a disability was a longstanding practice, which did nothing to help these children feel like they belonged in the wider community.”

Ms Midford said it was a positive step for a national retailer to stock the toys and she wanted to see an expansion of the range.

“Research shows that inclusivity translates to greater self-confidence and belonging for children with disabilities and adults with disabilities,” she said.

“The representation of disability in toys is extremely important because previously it was not so visible and to some extent non-existent.

“By launching these inclusive dolls, it helped start a conversation about disability and that these dolls help this person with a disability to see themselves represented.”

A close up of a colorful board with artwork printed on stickers
Simone Hubble has created visual aids to help her three children with their daily tasks.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

Ms Hubble said it has been a blessing to tap into her lived experience and first-hand knowledge as the mother of her three autistic children, and use it to successfully run her small business.

“The Happy Hubble was now just a dream, which I thought was impossible,” she said.

“But here I’m running a business that works and honestly it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she said.

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