Like so many girls her age, Melissa Shang of Westborough, Massachusetts, loves American Girl dolls and the accompanying books that tell the dolls’ stories. The company’s BeForever line includes dolls and stories that teach children ages 8-13 about American history, with characters including Kaya, a Native American girl living in the mid-late 1700s, Felicity, whose story takes place at the beginning of the American Revolution, Josefina, a Mexican-American girl living in the early 1800s and Molly, who resides in Illinois during World War II. Beginning in the early 2000s, the company launched its Girl of the Year line, featuring contemporary heroines of different races, religions and ethnicities dealing with a variety of challenges.
Melissa enjoyed playing with the dolls and learning about their stories, but as a girl with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a type of muscular dystrophy, she longed for an American Girl doll who like her, had a disability. With the support of her older sister Eva, in 2014 Melissa initiated an online petition asking the creators of American Girl dolls to add a Girl of the Year doll with a disability. Though the petition went viral, was signed by more than 140,000 people and garnered significant media attention, the company has not committed to produce a doll with a disability.