The first-ever Barbie doll with Down syndrome has been introduced by toy manufacturer Mattel, who made the announcement on Tuesday. The company had worked closely with the National Down Syndrome Society to ensure the doll accurately represented a person with Down syndrome.
The doll’s dress features butterflies, as well as yellow and blue colors — associated with Down syndrome awareness. Accessories that include a pendant necklace with three chevrons represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome. The doll also comes with ankle foot orthotics, which many children with Down syndrome use for support.
“This Barbie serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of representation,” said Kandi Pickard, NDSS president and CEO, in a press release. “It is a huge step forward for inclusion and a moment that we are celebrating.”
With its latest addition, “the most diverse doll on the market” hopes to continue to its journey of inclusivity. In 2020, the company’sfeatured its first dolls with vitiligo, a doll with no hair, and a doll with a darker skin tone and a gold prosthetic limb.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome, according to the CDC. Each year, about 6,000 babies born in the United States have Down syndrome and is the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States.
“Barbie has evolved significantly over the past several years as we’ve continued to increase our commitment to representation with a variety of diverse dolls,” Kim Culmone, senior vice president of Barbie and dolls design, said in a video announcement.
This year, Mattel’s 2023 Fashionistas lineup includes new dolls in a variety of body types including a new Fashionista doll wearing braces and a Ken Fashionista doll with a prosthetic leg, according to the company.
“Our goal is to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie, while also encouraging children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves,” Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls, said in a statement. “Doll play outside of a child’s own lived experience can teach understanding and build a greater sense of empathy, leading to a more accepting world.”
“This is important not just for people with Down syndrome and their families, but also every individual out there who wants to play with dolls – whether they have a disability or not,” Michelle Sagan of the National Down Syndrome Society told CBS News.
It all began a year ago, Sagan said, when they got a call from the company. The teams participated in countless meetings and strategy calls together.
“Barbie was constantly asking for feedback and welcoming our ideas both big and small,” Sagan recalled.
and Kayla McKeon — both women with Down syndrome — participated in meetings and strategy calls, offering their guidance on the design and style of the doll.
After numerous rounds of sketches and feedback, the doll’s physical features were reviewed by a medical professional.
The new doll’s face features a rounder shape, smaller ears, and a flat nasal bridge. Her body, meant to be more representative of women with Down syndrome, includes a shorter frame and a longer torso. Her palms even include a single line, a characteristic often associated with those with Down syndrome.
“We hope that this will open conversations about Down syndrome and how wonderful this community is,” Sagan said.