WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hannah Withers thinks the new Barbie doll in a wheelchair is fun because it reminds her of her own bright purple wheelchair. Her mom is hoping ``Share a Smile Becky'' will be more than just fun for her 9-year-old.

Mattel, Inc. unveiled the newest member of Barbie's circle of friends on Wednesday. She's an 11 1/2-inch strawberry blonde in a hot-pink wheelchair.

This doll is billed as not just another pretty face, but a step in breaking down barriers for kids and others with disabilities.

``Becky's legs, you can bend the knees,'' said Hannah's mother, Tina. ``This is something Hannah is working on. Hopefully, she can teach her doll to walk as she learns herself.''

``I'm really excited they made the doll that way. She's not just stuck in her wheelchair,'' the Springfield, Va., woman said.

With the bendable joints that are an exclusive feature among Barbie dolls, Becky is being sold at Toys R Us stores for a suggested retail price of $19.99. Like other Barbie dolls, she wears outfits that can be changed.

Hannah was smitten as she clutched the doll and stroked her hair. ``She's in a wheelchair,'' she exclaimed with a huge grin.

``The visual image is worth a million words,'' said Patricia McGill Smith, executive director of the National Parent Network on Disabilities.

``It's a big step through a great big door. Madison Avenue America has recognized that children with disabilities are a part of their whole constituency,'' Smith said.

Mattel product manager Marla Libraty noted that Barbie's friends include dolls from various ethnic groups. She said, ``This is another doll in her world that will really showcase the richness and the diversity that we see in the real world today.''

Washington youngsters shown a picture of the doll agreed. Many said they had friends and relatives in wheelchairs.

``It's saying that everyone is not perfect, everyone is not able to walk,'' said 11-year-old Ashley Best of Stevens Elementary School. ``It's showing kids with disabilities, they have an example.''

Even the boys found a lesson in the new Barbie.

``I think kids will learn not to be afraid of people in wheelchairs,'' said 8-year-old Robert Mayo. Then he added, ``But I don't fool with Barbies.''

The doll hit the shelves without announcement almost two weeks ago, and between 4,500 and 6,000 dolls already have been sold nationwide, Mattel officials said.

While Mattel is the largest toy-maker to market a disabled doll, it is not alone.

Minnesota-based Cultural Toys introduced a rag doll in 1995 in a wheelchair. Pleasant Company, the Wisconsin toy company that makes the American Girl Collection, also has a wheelchair accessory for its line of dolls.

Fisher Price makes a toy bus with a wheelchair ramp and Little Tikes has a dollhouse with a ramp, analysts said.