A Pennsylvania mother has made it her goal to create dolls with which children of various disabilities can identify.
Connie Feda, 49, of Robinson Township, Pa., started Dolls for Downs in 2010, which has 16 dolls available for kids with Down syndrome.
“This would all be Hannah’s idea,” Feda said of her own daughter, 13. “When she was about 9, she was flipping through a catalog, she saw a doll that looked like her sister. She said, ‘No doll looks like me.’”
The search for a doll Hannah could enjoy was unsuccessful. “All the dolls were not attractive at all,” Feda said. “They didn’t look like her.”
Dolls for Downs was Feda’s alternative to the only “outdated” dolls available for children with Down syndrome. “I knew I couldn’t be the only mom who felt this way,” Feda said.
“All these moms said, ‘If you find out, let me know. I would like to get that for my daughter.’”
Feda exchanged design ideas with Karen Scott, a doll sculptor from Michigan, for six months before Hannah finally had a doll that resembled her.
The dolls’ design is also geared toward developing the motor skills for a child with Down syndrome. The boy and girl dolls, each costing $75, come with large buttons and heavy zippers to help translate those skills from the doll to the child’s actual clothing.
“The hair designed for brushing was important to us,” Feda said. “We incorporated those skills into the dolls as much as possible.”
Dolls can even include scars from surgery, which many children with Down syndrome, including Hannah, have had.
Others have taken notice.
“Connie’s dolls have really struck a cord with the community unlike any others before her,” the National Down Syndrome Society said in a statement today to ABC News. “Any doll or toy that builds confidence and is fun for a child with Down syndrome is great.
“We want people to remember individuals with Down syndrome look like their families, and are unique people, so having a variety of dolls to choose from is helpful. We’d love to see dolls like this on Amazon, and in Toys “R” Us and American Girl so they can be included in the diverse range of toys that many people see.”
Feda has been inundated with calls from several parents and organizations asking for dolls for other disabilities. Dolls for Downs will soon include dolls for children with autism, wheelchairs or dwarfism.
What makes Dolls for Downs‘ doll unique is Feda’s personal understanding of children with disabilities. “They’re age appropriate,” Feda, a mother of six, said. “A lot of times kids with intellectual disabilities are given baby toys. It’s condescending. It doesn’t mean their understanding of what they are is younger.”
Feda, with the support of her family and encouragement she has received from throughout the world, is working to change that standard.
“We’re trying to say, ‘Look, none of us are the same. No one aspect of what you are or who you are defines who you are as a person,’” Feda said. “In general, people with disabilities are dismissed and their personhood is diminished because people don’t look at them as a person first.”
Eventually, Feda would like to establish a company with the ability to employ as many people with intellectual disabilities as possible in whatever capacities they could work. “I look at my Hannah,” she said. “There’s nothing she’d rather do than help you with what you’re doing.”
Now Hannah, and many other children with disabilities, can play with dolls to which they can relate.
“There’s so many kids out there, and we’d like to do as many as we can,” Feda said.
“Play is what a kid does all day long, so if you can, make that play better.”