BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Barbie is releasing its first version of the 63-year-old doll that has hearing aids and though members of Baton Rouge’s Deaf community are pleased with the release of the new toy, some say even more could be done to promote inclusion of certain cultures within the Deaf community.
Megan Wimberly, a Deaf woman from Baton Rouge told BRProud, “I grew up with Barbie dolls, and I remember I was excited when a Barbie came out signing the ILY sign-the Mattel Barbie Sign Language. Now a new Barbie is coming out with hearing aids. It may be exciting to some children to finally see a Barbie just like them, but this Barbie represents a small part of the Deaf community. Deaf people use a diversity of hearing technology (cochlear implants, baha implants, and hearing aids).”
Cochlear implants are surgically implanted neuroprosthesis that can allow a person with moderate-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss to perceive some sounds.
A baha implant is a bone-anchored hearing aid typically used by people who have conductive hearing losses, unilateral hearing loss, single-sided deafness and those with mixed hearing losses who can’t wear hearing aids in or behind their ears.
Wimberly explained that those tools have come in handy for many, but she feels they don’t replace the use of sign language for deep, meaningful communication.
Wimberly went on to say, “Those tools should not be completely relied on for communication. Those young deaf children also deserve the human right to a fully accessible visual language such as American Sign Language (ASL) and we need more awareness and representation of that.”
In recent years, movies such as CODA and outspoken advocates of civil rights have shed more light on Deaf culture and the struggles that many face as they navigate a predominantly hearing world.
According to one study, less than ten percent of hearing parents will learn ASL, a choice that may limit the depth of communication between parent and child. Over 90 percent of Deaf children in the U.S. are born to hearing parents, and of those parents, most never learn ASL.
So, many in the Deaf community would agree that when it comes to language and communication, there is still a significant communication gap that has yet to be addressed. Instead of looking down on ASL or substituting use of it with hearing aids, they promote the use of it by Deaf children and their family members.
That said, many still feel that the new Barbie doll with hearing aids is a major step in the right direction when it comes to inclusion.
Vanesa Magnon, a Deaf woman from Baton Rouge, said she wishes the doll had been around when she was a little girl.
Magnon said, “As I grew up playing with Barbie in the 80s, I didn’t have full access to communicating in American Sign Language with my family. I was the oldest of my siblings.”
As the only Deaf member of her family, Magnon said, “Barbie was my best imaginary friend. I didn’t go to the Deaf Education Program until I was seven years old. My language was deprived.”
Though lack of exposure to ASL from an early age presented her with a communication challenge, as a child, Magnon found comfort in playing with her Barbie dolls.
She told BRProud, “I was able to connect with Barbie with my own language and I believed that Barbie would understand me.”
She added that she feels the new doll with hearing aids is a great idea, saying, “That’s amazing! I wished I had it at my time… Deaf children would love it because it will remind them that they are beautifully made and they are not alone!”
The new doll is a part of a collection of dolls that promote diversity and inclusion, according to CNN, it will be available in Walmart, Target, and Amazon in June of this year.