Like most 10-year-old girls, Melissa Shang loves American Girl dolls and their accompanying backstories. But she doesn’t see herself in any of them. Shang has Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, a form of muscular dystrophy that causes nerve damage and muscle weakness in the arms and legs, making it difficult to get around without leg braces or a walker. Shang has been collecting American Girl dolls for years, but now, with the help of her 17-year-old sister YingYing, she’s petitioning the company to make their next “Girl of the Year”–a special edition doll released annually–a character with whom she can identify.
“Being a disabled girl is hard,” Melissa wrote on her Change.org petition. “Muscular Dystrophy prevents me from activities like running and ice-skating, and all the stuff that other girls take for granted. For once, I don’t want to be invisible or a side character that the main American Girl has to help.”
American Girl embraces diversity — in the company’s official statement regarding the Shang sisters’ petition, a representative pointed out that its dolls have had various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as accessories like hearing aids, wheelchairs and guide dogs that can be purchased to go with any of the dolls. But for Melissa, additional accessories aren’t enough. “I want other girls to know what it’s like to be me, through a disabled American Girl’s story,” she writes. “American Girls are supposed to represent all the girls that make up American history, past and present. That includes disabled girls.”
The Shang sisters’ earnest plea has become one of the fast-growing campaigns in Change.org history, garnering more than 16,400 signatures in its first 48 hours. Since then, more than 63,000 people have signed, making the petition less than 12,000 signatures shy of reaching its goal. American Girl hasn’t said whether they’ll fulfill the sisters’ request. But either way, the story of 10-year-old Melissa Shang is an inspiration to disabled girls all on its own.