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Kmart boosting 'visibility' of children with disabilities through inclusive doll range

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Disability representation has not been visible on toy shelves for the longest time, but now businesses big 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, decided to fill as she was raising three children on the autism spectrum.

Ms Hubble sells disability-friendly sensory toys, which support the needs of families with children who have autism.

"Without all three of my children all having autism, I would never have known this enormous need amongst the autism community," she said.

"They are 100 per cent my inspiration."

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

A woman holds a stretchy green hulk action figure toy in front of her
Simone says the toys help people with a disability see themselves as represented. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

She said disability representation in toys was extremely important as it was virtually non-existent previously.

"By launching these inclusive dolls, it has helped to start a conversation around disability and that these dolls help that person with a disability see themselves as represented," she said.

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

Big business taking notice

While small retailers were leading the charge, the big end of town was taking note as well.

Kmart's head of diversity and inclusion, Marcelle Harrison, said the company launched an inclusive doll range aimed at reflecting the world's "rich diversity". 

A child sits in front of a wall between two dolls
Charlie & Amelia are Kmart's branded 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 all different shapes and sizes, and we want our product ranges to reflect and celebrate that and to more accurately reflect people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and sexual orientations."

A young girl hugs a childlike 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 designers, customers and advocacy groups to develop the dolls.

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

"Having dolls visually representing various disabilities helps children feel included, but it also helps them to learn more about people who may be different from themselves, normalising disability in real life."

Making disabilities more visible

Clinical Psychologist Suzanne Midford said inclusive toys were very important for children who have a disability.

"For a vision-impaired child to see themselves represented by a doll with a guide dog or a cane, or if a child is living with Down syndrome, all these representations can be affirming for that child," she said.

Dr Midford smiles in a professional-looking head shot, in front of a plant.
Dr Suzanne Midford says inclusiveness results in a sense of belonging for children with disabilities. (Supplied: Dr Suzanne Midford)

Ms Midford said representation and visibility mattered greatly to the disabled community.

"Hiding away a disability was a long-time practice, which did nothing to help those children feel as if they belonged to the broader 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 inclusiveness results in greater self-confidence and belonging for disabled children and disabled adults," she said. 

"Disability representation in toys is extremely important as previously it wasn't as visible and, to some degree, was non-existent.

"By launching these inclusive dolls, it has helped to start a conversation around disability and that these dolls help that person with a disability see themselves represented."

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

Ms Hubble said it has been a blessing to harness her lived experience and first-hand knowledge of being a mum to her three autistic children, and use that to successfully run her small business.

"The Happy Hubble has gone from being just a dream, which I thought was impossible," she said. 

"But yet here I am running a functioning business and honestly it's the best job that I have ever had," she said.


Source: ABC

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