Many of us still remember our favorite toy, spending countless hours with the object that reflected our childhood interests and brought us happiness and comfort. And since 2015, Amy Jandrisevits, the founder of A Doll Like Me, has been working tirelessly to make sure that kids with disabilities are uniquely represented in the toys they play with.
According to a 2021 report by UNICEF, an estimated 240 million children across the globe have some form of disability. That’s nearly a quarter of a billion children, most of whom are not represented in the industries that dominate our cultures.
While representation in the media has been growing, disabilities are still widely underrepresented. A 2020 report by GLAAD discovered that the amount of regular primetime broadcast characters counted who have a disability is 3.1%, a record-high percentage that is vastly below the U.S. population of people with disabilities. And representation on children’s television is even less: Under 1% of all leading characters have a physical, mental, or communication disability, according to the See Jane 2019 report.
Another major industry, especially for children, is toys, which largely lacks representation and inclusion in what we see available on store shelves. But A Doll Like Me, funded by donations, is addressing that problem by creating one-of-a-kind dolls for kids with physical differences that have never seen a toy that resembles themselves.
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The handmade dolls take roughly five hours to complete, and for the children — like Hope and Chloe — who receive them, they are much more than just fabric and thread.
“Every doll tells a story and every doll represents somebody, who has been through an incredible journey,” Jandrisevits told Nice News. “For most of the kids, they will never see another kid that looks like they do, let alone a toy.”
Her operation is looking to change the narrative, one doll at a time, by showing the children who are often left out of the story that they matter.
Representation is vital for the self-esteem of a child, and the powerful impact these dolls have on their young owners is evident by their reactions and the stories told by the families. Jandrisevits recalled that one little girl said upon receiving a doll, “‘I’m going to take her to school, so that kids see that I’m not the only one that looks like this.'” She added, “And you think what a burden for a child, but how amazing that that’s how they view this doll.”
The Wisconsin-based organization, which became a nonprofit over 3 ½ years ago and has made more than 500 unique dolls for children across the globe — from Israel to Australia to Iceland — began when Jandrisevits created a doll for a friend of a friend, and it was posted online.
“I did her doll and was not thinking of having a business. But within like, two months, I had 200 orders and that was only for dolls with limb differences,” Jandrisevits said. “They can’t walk into the toy store and say, ‘That looks just like me.’ And I think that most of the kids in the world can’t do that as evidenced by the fact that I have thousands of kids on the waitlist.”
Since then, A Doll Like Me has expanded beyond creating only dolls with limb differences, and the swift increase in demand has introduced Jandrisevits to families all over the world who are hopeful of having their child represented.
“This is how we’re going to rewrite the narrative, right? We’re going to show, look, they want the same things that everyone else wants, right? They want their kids to be represented and seen,” said Jandrisevits. “When we realize that everybody has a story, it’s so much more interesting.”
If you are interested in helping a child receive a doll, click here to donate.