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Mattel Unveils Line of Disabled Dolls

June 3, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mattel Inc. on Tuesday announced a line of dolls with disabilities, saying it hopes the toys will help disabled children develop a positive self-image and teach able-bodied ones not to be prejudiced toward handicaps.

Any profits from the line - a ski instructor and amputee called ″Hal″ and his variously impaired but active ″Pals″ - will go to organizations that help disabled children, the nation’s second-largest toymaker said.

″We want to spread the message that it’s OK to have a disability,″ said Spencer Boise, a vice president for Mattel.

The line consists of seven 19-inch, soft-sculptured dolls.

Besides Hal, who lacks a left leg, there is a ballerina wearing hearing aids, a boy in a gray warmup suit in a wheelchair, and a dressed-up girl with leg braces and canes. The fifth disabled doll, a black girl, is visually impaired and comes with a red-tipped cane and guide puppy.

The two other dolls, a preppy boy and a Madonna lookalike, do not feature specific disabilities. However, they can be bought with the various accessories, such as the wheelchair, so that they can be customized for a particular child.

Hal’s Pals look a bit like Coleco Industries Inc.’s Cabbage Patch dolls. The disabled ones will sell for $44.95, the plain ones for $39.95, Mattel said.

Hal wears a glitzy silver racing suit, a ski boot and a ski, special poles called ski-outriggers, a hat, goggles and a bib that identifies him as an instructor.

″You couldn’t look at him and say ‘pity,‴ said Susan Anderson, the dolls’ creator.

Ms. Anderson named the dolls after her friend Hal O’Leary, director and founder of the Winter Park Handicapped Sports and Recreation Program west of Denver.

″There is a great deal of need to introduce the handicapped into society in a dynamic manner,″ O’Leary said.

There were 45 million physically impaired Americans in 1983, 7 million of them under age 18, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the Health Interview Survey division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Paul Valentine, a toy-industry analyst with Standard & Poor’s Corp., said: ″I’m sure the idea is well-intentioned and it will be tastefully executed, but I doubt that this product is going to be a hit with children, who tend to be very cruel when it comes to disabilities.

″Handicapped children already feel different,″ he said. ″I doubt that they would want to feel even more different, to have a doll specially geared to them that is not part of the mass culture.″

The dolls ″could serve as a useful emotional development tool for handicapped children, but as a toy, I would think the response would be fairly limited, even among those children,″ the analyst said.

Mattel, which declined to project sales, introduced the dolls at a news conference also attended by disabled children and adults. Remarks were translated into sign language.

The company has formed a separate not-for profit company called For Challenged Kids By Mattel Inc. to produce and market the dolls and donate the profits. For Challenged Kids plans to sell the dolls through mail-order. It has set up a toll-free number, 1-800-227-3800. The address is 5959 Triumph Street, Commerce, Calif., 90840.

Mattel, based in Hawthorne, Calif., is the nation’s No. 2 toy maker, behind Hasbro Inc.

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