‘My doll with a hearing aid looks like me’

A mother who set up a not-for-profit company adapting toys to represent all disabilities has told how it is “empowering” for children.

Clare Tawell started Bright Ears UK to sell dolls with hearing aids after her daughter had one fitted as a baby.

The former Milton Keynes Hospital radiographer said she had not been able to find any others on the market.

“I’m not doing it to make money,” she said. “This is just fulfilling the need that isn’t being met.”

Mrs Tawell had wanted to buy her four-year-old daughter, Matilda, who was born deaf, a doll featuring a hearing aid but “couldn’t find anything”.

“A couple of friends through the National Deaf Children’s Society asked me to make one for them and by word of mouth, it kind of snowballed,” she said.

Ceri Evans, from Bedford, said one of the dolls had “transformed” her eight-year-old daughter, Heidi.

Heidi, who is deaf in one ear, wanted a doll with a hearing aid for her birthday in June.

Mrs Evans, 42, said: “I didn’t realise how different she felt about herself in comparison to others.”

When it arrived, it “completely transformed her”, giving her a new inner-confidence, said Mrs Evans.

Heidi said: “She looks like me and she has the same hearing aid.”

Mrs Tawell, who is also training to be a sign language interpreter, said: “I would like it if toy manufactures could take my idea and run it with and make it more main stream and accessible.

“I know first-hand how special and empowering these dolls can be to children.”

After setting up the business in 2017, she now makes dolls with feeding tubes, cleft palates and stoma bags.

Orders have come in from as far as America and Australia, said Mrs Tawell, from Lidlington, Bedfordshire.

Rosie Eggleston, from the National Deaf Children’s Society said: “Deafness is often misunderstood and deaf children usually grow up knowing few people with first-hand experience of what they’re going through.

“It’s so important for them to see deafness represented in as many areas as possible, because it helps them understand that there are other people just like them.”