Barbie's friend finds doors closed

Shelby Gilje

The following article, reprinted with permission, appeared in the June 7, 1997 issue of The Seattle Times.

Becky, the strawberry-blond babe in the hot-pink wheelchair, has a problem. Big time.

Amid much ballyhoo and a drum roll of press releases last month, perky "Share a Smile Becky," as toymaker Mattel has dubbed her, made her debut as the newest member of the Barbie doll family.

Advocates for people with disabilities heralded Becky's arrival, because youngsters who use wheelchairs now would have a doll just like them. The doll is intended to change attitudes about people with disabilities, Mattel said proudly.

But, alas, Barbie and friends have not read the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires accessible entrances for wheelchairs. Becky's wheelchair, it turns out, doesn't fit through the doors of the Barbie dollhouse.

That's fueled plenty of conversation on the Internet this week among those with disabilities.

On Thursday, staffers at the Easter Seal Society of Washington in Seattle received an e-mail from Kjersti Johnson, a junior at Curtis High School in Tacoma, and Priscilla Wong, a Bellevue Community College student.

Johnson and Wong are involved in the DO-IT (Disability Opportunities Internet Technology) program through the University of Washington and apparently learned the bad news about Becky via e-mail exchanges with others.

"How ironic and true . . . housing for people with disabilities that is not accessible! Mattel said they will redesign the houses in the future to accommodate . . . now if it were that easy for the rest of us!" their message said.

"This (inaccessibility) is what we live with every day," added Johnson, 17, who has cerebral palsy. She called the dollhouse situation hilarious. "When you're having a bad day, it's good to have something to laugh about."

A local "Barbie," Barbara Allan, director of access/abilities for Easter Seal, has offered to act as a consultant for Mattel.

For three decades, Allan, a wheelchair user, has toted a tape measure with her to check the width of doorways and the height of toilets, to aid those with disabilities.

"Maybe I should send Barbie and Becky a tape measure," she said.