Real 'Barbies' Are About to Get a New Accessory: Wheelchairs

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Yahoo Beauty
A Lammily doll in a prototype of the new wheelchair toy. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)
A Lammily doll in a prototype of the new wheelchair toy. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)

The creator of Barbie-like dolls with realistic proportions — as well as such extras as stick-on moles, acne and tattoos — is now aiming to add another unique accessory to its list: wheelchairs.

“What if a wheelchair … was as commonplace as a dress in the doll aisle? How would it affect an entire generation’s mentality? What would it mean to a child in a wheelchair to see this encouraging, positive imagery tied to physical disability [while] growing up?”

These were all questions that Nickolay Lamm, creator of the Lammily dolls, asked himself when thinking about how to expand his offerings recently. He explained his thought process on a Kickstarter that launched on Wednesday in an aim to make the mini-wheelchairs a reality. “What if encouraging children’s differences could help reinforce the idea that what sets us apart from each other is what makes us unique, and beautiful and cool?” he said.

Lamm, an artist, has found success in this type of venue before, as he crowdfunded Lammily — an anti-Barbie doll with proportions based on the measurements of an average 19-year-old American woman — in 2014, long before Mattel released its own new line of realistically size Barbies. His “real Barbies” project went viral, and he returned to the idea earlier this year by adding a boy doll to his lineup.

Kids at Ayita Wheelchair Dance tested the new toy. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)
Kids at Ayita Wheelchair Dance tested the new toy. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)

“To me, toys are like a diorama of life,” Lamm tells Yahoo Beauty. “If kids can see diversity in their toys, I feel they can see diversity in others, and accept and love them for who they are.”

Now his sights are set on wheelchairs, which appear to have last been on the market when Mattel introduced Share a Smile Becky in 1996; the doll was discontinued sometime after for unknown reasons (Mattel did not immediately respond to a query from Yahoo Beauty about the doll).

Barbies and other similar-size dolls can use the new wheelchair. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)
Barbies and other similar-size dolls can use the new wheelchair. (Photo: Nickolay Lamm)

But according to Lamm’s Kickstarter, “the information on why it’s not available is sparse — there’s an unconfirmed report asserting that the toy wheelchair could not fit into the fashion doll’s ‘house.’ My gut feeling tells me that toy manufacturers need to see market demand for a fashion doll toy wheelchair in order to bring it back to market. So I thought, if we could prove the toy industry wrong with the first Lammily doll, we can do it again with an amazing wheelchair toy.” He set out to design a prototype wheelchair with the capacity to fit most fashion dolls, including Barbie, Disney Princess, Monster High and, of course, Lammily.

To research such a toy’s potential impact, Lamm visited Sami Wimberly in Dallas, who runs Ayita Wheelchair Dance, which provides dance lessons to children who use wheelchairs. Wimberly told Lamm that she’d never seen a wheelchair for Barbie dolls, and mentioned that the wheelchairs made for American Girl dolls come with casts included, “reflecting the assumption that wheelchair users are ‘hurt’ or ‘defective’ in some way,” Lamm noted on his Kickstarter page. “The big moment of truth for this little chair came as Sami presented the wheelchair to her students.

Photo: Nickolay Lamm
Photo: Nickolay Lamm

“The kids absolutely LOVED playing with this wheelchair!” Lamm wrote. “Seeing this positive reaction from the children for myself, seeing them rejoice at this new accessible alternative for their dolls for the very first time … It’s a moment I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life, like many I’ve experienced along my journey with Lammily.”

Lamm also met with Ksenia Gonchar, head of the Big Dreams Children’s Foundation, which provides prosthetics and other adaptive equipment to orphaned children around the globe. And they’ll get a boost from the wheelchair sales that, once they are off Kickstarter and available for retail sale, will have 5 percent of proceeds set aside for donation to both Big Dreams and Ayita Wheelchair Dance. “I’ve seen how we can use crowdfunding to single-handedly start a movement,” Lamm noted on his fundraising page. “Now I’m asking for your support again so that we can bring back the wheelchair to life.”

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