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American Girl names doll with disability as 2020 ‘Girl of the Year’

American Girl

Story at a glance

  • Joss Kendrick, the company’s first doll depicted with a physical disability, will be available Dec. 31
  • American Girl consulted with the Hearing Loss Association of America and Olympic surfer Caroline Marks to create the character

American Girl has named a doll with a visible physical disability as its “Girl of the Year” for the first time ever, according to USA Today.

Joss Kendrick, the company’s Girl of the Year for 2020, is depicted as a 10-year-old surfer from Huntington Beach, California, who wears a hearing aid. A previous Girl of the Year, McKenna, was depicted as having learning disabilities, while another, 2018’s Gabriella, has a stutter.

“She has congenital hearing loss. She was born deaf in her left ear and can hear a little bit in her right ear,” American Girl president Jamie Cygielman told the newspaper, adding that while the company has previously produced dolls that can be fitted with assistive technology such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, Joss is the first to be canonically disabled.

The company partnered with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), which advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing, on creating the character, according to USA Today.

“If you have a child with any type of disability or any type of difference or wearing a hearing aid, to have a doll that mirrors that image I think goes a long way to help with the stigma and the stereotypes,” HLAA executive director Barbara Kelley told the newspaper.

“We’re proud to welcome Joss Kendrick, whose stories are sure to instill confidence and character in girls who are learning to think about the possibilities in their own lives,” Cygielman said in a press release.

“Working with Olympic hopeful surfer Caroline Marks adds real-world inspiration about what can happen when you go ‘all in’ on your dreams,” she added.

In addition to Marks and the HLAA, the company touts input from several other experts in the creation of the character, including Crystal DaSilva, a Women’s Deaf Shortboard champion, and Dr. Sharon Pajka, a professor of English at Gallaudet University who specializes in fictional portrayals of deaf characters.

“As a person with hearing loss and as someone who loved American Girl dolls as a kid, I find myself actually wanting to buy Joss,” Emily Ladau, editor-in-chief of the disability rights website Rooted in Rights, told Changing America.
“The only doll I had that supposedly looked like me was Mattel’s Share-A-Smile Becky, who used a wheelchair like I do. But I always wished for a collection of dolls with any sort of bodily diversity. Joss is yet another step in the right direction to bring disability representation to the mainstream,” she added.
Mattel has made an increased push to incorporate disability representation and accessibility in its products over the past year, including adding wheelchair users and dolls with prosthetic legs to its Barbie Fashionistas line as well as adding Braille to UNO cards.