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How an American Girl Doll Inspired This 11-Year-Old to Change the Way We View Disability

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Melissa Shang knows firsthand what it feels like to grow up without being able to relate to characters in the media. The 11-year-old has muscular dystrophy, a group of diseases associated with weakness and loss of muscle mass. Books, TV shows and movies geared toward kids rarely feature people with disabilities, and those that do tend to include them as sidekicks rather than main characters.

So Melissa, 11, is embarking on a project to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with a disabilityShe and her sister, Eva, are coauthoring a book whose protagonist is a young girl with muscular dystrophy, which they promote in their awesome TED Talk below.

Melissa and Eva’s project began with Melissa’s love for American Girl dolls. One morning, Melissa expressed to Eva that she wished the company would release a “Girl of the Year” doll with a disability so she could relate to the character’s story. The sisters saw this as an ideal opportunity and started a petition to convince the company to do just that. The petition garnered more than 140,000 signatures, but American Girl didn’t respond, according to Mic, and instead chose “Grace the baker” as their 2015 selection.

That’s when Melissa and Eva took matters into their own hands and decided to write the book themselves. They hope to raise enough money to self-publish through an updated petition and a Kickstarter campaign.

“As my sister proved, people with disabilities can be protagonists,” Eva says in the video below, “and can change the world just as much as anyone else can.”

Watch their inspiring TED Talk in the video below.

h/t Mic

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Originally published: January 21, 2015
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