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Differently-abled Dolls and Elves Light Up Special Needs Kids



  • Children who are differently-abled and have altered appearances can now have dolls that look like them.
  • Children can have a doll with a cleft palate, a hearing aid, or a bandaged leg.
  • Dolls are modified by a mother who has a daughter wearing hearing aids.

Thanks to mom of two, Clare Tawell, 39, who modifies dolls that have hearing aids, cleft palates, and hospital tubes, children who have the same medical conditions or have illnesses that alter their appearance, can experience having kindred dolls.

The medical radiation technologist’s hobby is adjusting dolls to have specific special needs or disabilities. Her inspiration for the modified dolls is her 4-year-old daughter Matilda, who is deaf and wears hearing aids.  

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Tawell says, “I became really disheartened when I couldn’t find a doll or any toy with hearing aids. It felt to me that society didn’t deem her important and therefore she shouldn’t be ‘acknowledged.’”

Matilda’s reaction to her modified doll when she presented it to her, spelled the beginning of her new pursuit as she “could tell (the girl) ‘got’ what the doll was about because she kept touching the doll’s hearing aids and then her own hearing aids.”

Her fellow mothers at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) also requested for the same dolls and “it kind of snowballed from there…. It is incredibly empowering for them. So, my range of dolls quickly expanded, and I’m still expanding them now to include as many medical conditions as possible.”

“We still live in a world that puts great emphasis on ‘being normal,’ so if you have a physical/visible difference you are often made to feel abnormal. To a child, this can really affect their self-confidence and esteem. When they go into a toy shop and see dolls with all ‘normal’ features it only strengthens the feeling of not belonging, or feeling like the odd one out. I want to change that.”

Photo Credit: BrightEars (Etsy)

Since 2017, her home-based, one-woman nonprofit business, has now sold more than 2,000 modified dolls and elves on Etsy. What people pay for when they purchase these dolls and elves are for labor time, material costs, and charges or fees of Etsy.

Schools and nurseries have been using them to spread awareness to children who “will grow into adults who do not judge a person by how they look.”

Regarding ethnicity, Tawell only modifies the dolls and not make them but says it is an ongoing process with the manufacturer to increase the diversity of dolls.

Her dolls and elves are sold at the British-based elf called “Elves Behavin’ Badly,” or Etsy a PMS International company that she says is “very much behind what I do.”

Photo Credit: BrightEars (Etsy)

“I would love for children in the future to be able to go into a shop and see dolls with hearing aids and cleft lips next to the regular dolls, because then it makes it normal, not different,” Tawell says. “When people see these dolls, it can open up a dialogue and increase awareness and understanding of these differences.”

Source: TODAY