Girl with Muscular Dystrophy Petitions for Disabled American Girl Doll

updated 01/01/2014 at 09:25 AM EST

originally published 12/31/2013 12:00PM

When Melissa Shang was 7 years old, she fell in love with American Girl dolls. Now America is falling in love with her as she petitions the company to make a doll that reflects her and her disability.

Shang, now 10, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of muscular dystrophy that requires her to use a wheelchair or walker to get around as she lives with the incurable genetic disease that damages nerves and causes debilitating muscle weakness and numbness.

As with many girls around the world, Shang loves to read about the adventures of the American Girl dolls, such as Saige, the artist and horseback rider, and McKenna, the gymnast. Many of Shang's favorite stories feature the dolls overcoming their own obstacles, such as bullying or dyslexia or historical struggles with slavery, child labor, the Great Depression or life as a pioneer. But so far, none of the stories have shown a girl with a disability.

Now, Shang is challenging American Girl to change that. She has just launched a petition on Change.org called "American Girl: Release an American Girl with a disability."

In the petition, Shang says, "Being a disabled girl is hard. 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: I want other girls to know what it’s like to be me, through a disabled American Girl’s story."

People from across the country have signed the petition and many of their comments serve as a reminder for the need for such a doll. One reads, "Every little girl deserves to feel special!"

Another says, "My daughter has cerebral palsy. She is now 20 but I have always looked for toys that represented her. Even Barbie has a friend in a wheelchair. I was also able to find a Build a Bear wheel chair for her special bear. I would love to add an American Girl to Miranda’s collection and for many girl’s out there with disabilities to have one to represent the awesome girl’s with disabilities!"

Shang's sister added, "Disabled girls deserve to be heard! For my sister's strength, passion, and dedication to American Girl – let the stories of disabled girls be told!"

American Girl has already made strides in representing diversity in their doll collection. Last year the company introduced a line of "Special Sparkle" accessories that included a hearing aid and guide dog. They also created a bald doll to represent girls dealing with hair loss. Shang thinks the company could do more, though.

At the time this article was published, Shang's petition had more than 11,000 supporters.

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