When Clare Tawell tried to find a doll with hearing aids for her deaf daughter, it was a frustrating search. So she took matters into her own hands.
What started as a way to make her daughter feel included has blossomed into a range of inclusive dolls. Clare made a hearing aid doll back in 2017 for her youngest daughter Matilda. It wasn’t the most perfect creation, but Tilly loved it. And it made her feel included.
“There was nothing out there that represented my little girl, it was like she didn’t matter, she didn’t conform to what society considers ‘normal’ so why bother acknowledging her,” Clare explains on her website. “These feelings of upset also enraged me at the same time and the mumma bear inside me just came raging to the surface! I thought I will make her one myself and I did.”
Inclusive dolls for all children
Tilly adored her hearing aid doll. And it wasn’t long before other mums Clare met through the UK’s National Deaf Children’s Society wanted inclusive dolls for their children.
So Clare started up BrightEars.
“The name BrightEars came about because Tilly and I ‘pimp’ her hearing aids with a range funky stickers (from unicorns to dinosaurs!). She also has a vast array of retainers (made by me as well) to jazz up her hearing aids. Her hearing aids are purposefully designed to be colourful and noticeable, she essentially has ‘bright ears’. They are a part of her and I never want her to be ashamed of them or be made to feel she has to hide them. She is deaf and proud.”
As word of her dolls spread, parents of children with other conditions and medical devices contacted Clare. “Yet again the mumma bear in me was awoken with rage that there were not any dolls for these children. So I created them with the same amount of love, care and attention that I gave to making my daughters own one.”
Accessories and dolls for kids of all abilities
Clare now sells a range of different inclusive dolls on her BrightEars including dolls with cleft lips, Down Syndrome dolls, dolls with hip dysplasia casts, dolls with birth marks, dolls with scars, haemangiomas, feeding tubes, stomas, insulin pumps and dolls with sight loss.
She’s sold more than 3000 items so far, but Clare says the store isn’t about making a buck. “As you can see BrightEars grew from one hearing aid doll to a range of inclusive dolls that not only empower children but also promote inclusiveness through play. Bullying often stems from ignorance and knowledge is the power to overcoming this.
“BrightEars has, and always will be, run as a non-profit company (using the word company might be a long stretch as my ‘office’ is the dining table!) because the purpose of BrightEars isn’t to make money but to instead shout loudly that we’re not going to hide away with our ‘differences’. We’re here, we exist, we have the right to be acknowledged and we’re proud!”
Available online from Bright Ears (from $47).