Melissa Shang Leads the Charge for an American Girl with a Disability

January 8, 2014

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about taking my daughter to the American Girl store in Los Angeles. She had just gotten the historical Cecile doll for her birthday and my mom and I set a $50 budget for her to choose a new outfit or accessories.

Our trip to American Girl was as much about fulfilling a dream of mine to find dolls that actually looked like me and my daughter as it was about letting my Big Kid build the exact doll she wanted. When given the option of getting an entirely new doll (her lola is a sap), she stuck with Cecile and instead used her accessory budget to get Cecile one thing: a wheelchair.

Admittedly, when my daughter chose the wheelchair for Cecile, I fumbled that teachable moment. I thought it was great and I was proud (okay, bordering on smug) that my kid would be so open-minded, but in hindsight, her fascination with wheelchairs was probably more closely tied to not feeling like walking after a long day at Disneyland or some other family excursion. I've always tried to answer her questions about different abilities as honestly and neutrally as possible, but the presence of a doll wheelchair alone doesn't tell a story.

I'm not even sure that my answers to her questions necessarily help her understand anything about the experience of people with disabilities. I tell her that people with disabilities are no different from us, except that they are not easily be able to do things we take for granted, like running on a playground. Regrettably, I actually don't know much else about the experience of living with disabilites, despite the access I have to the public libraries and the whole wide internet and the many personal blogs it offers.

Today, Melissa Shang, a 10-year-old American Girl fan is petitioning American Girl to make its 2015 Girl Of The Year doll one with a disability. Shang lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. From her petition:

For once, I don’t want to be invisible or a side character that the main American Girl has to help: I want other girls to know what it’s like to be me, through a disabled American Girl’s story.

Living with a disability may not be something many of us are able to relate to, but Shang's appeal to have her own story told and not just be a peripheral character to some other American Girl is part and parcel of the Asian American experience. Halfway decent representation is something we still struggle with in Hollywood in 2014.

Just as it's important to me that my kids know that their stories and experiences are worth sharing, it's important to me that they are interested in hearing the stories of those they may not think they are immediately able to relate to. And it's become important to me that Shang knows there are people out there who do want to know her story.

It would be awesome to see a 2015 Girl of the Year, or better yet, an historical American Girl doll with a disability, and I love that an Asian American girl is leading the charge. If you agree, please sign her petition. She has about 11,800 signatures to go.


Theresa Celebran Jones


Theresa Celebran Jones was born and raised in Connecticut and has moved cross-country four times. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young daughters. She works full-time as a technical writer and is an MFA dropout. Her only other hobbies are reading, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and listening to hip hop. Clearly she has no social life.