Saturday, July 11, 2009


I returned from the Brooklyn National Conference two days ago. Though the conference was pretty amazing, considering all the media coverage about our concerns with language, never before had I been so happy to return. Everyday was a challenge, responding to follow up media requests (though the host committee was more overwhelmed than me) and dealing with on-site media (one attendee threw a plate at a camera man because he shined a light in his face). My biggest concern had to do with all the headlines claiming LPA wants to ban the word midget. Many conference attendees said many different things during the week. So I wouldn't be surprised if at some point the word ban was used, but in reality LPA passed a policy statement condemning the word midget and the FCC complaints list material that was found offensive. Neither the policy statement nor the FCC complaints ask for a ban. Perhaps we would not have received so much coverage without the word ban. Though some of the coverage has been bad -- people calling us the language and thought police; calling us overly sensitive PC Police --our concerns with language are more in the public eye than ever before. Going forward, I hope LPA can use this attention to our advantage, continuing to educate around language and continuing to present the message that people of short stature are just like everyone else, doing their part to contribute to an inclusive, diverse community.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Full Coverage

Not sure if any of us expected this. Back in April, when Little People of America and members within LPA raised concerns about "Celebrity Apprentice," one columnist picked up the story. With the back drop of the LPA National Conference and with an FCC complaint, hundreds of outlets have picked up the story. Though it's hard to follow all the coverage while at the conference, I've heard that issues raised here at the conference have been mentioned on "The View" and "The Tonight Show." Not sure if all this coverage is a good thing, but to borrow from Bob Kafka of ADAPT, "at least they hear us." On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to interview with KABC Radio from Los Angeles. The columnist who picked up the story in April, Buck Wolf, hooked up the interview for LPA. He picked me up at the conference hotel around midnight, then we drove to the ABC station on the Upper West side for a 1 a.m. interview. The program was broadcast live in Los Angeles. Though I think my live, on air radio comedic skills need polishing, I was happy for the opportunity to share LPA's message.

Monday, July 6, 2009

This time, I mean it -- "it's on"

Yesterday was a pretty good day at the Little People of America Conference. The motion to officially condone the word "midget," tabled on Saturday, was easily passed Sunday morning. Soon after the motion passed, I got on a shuttle with Mike Petruzelli (the President of LPA's Long Island Chapter and one of the NY Conference Coordinators), Clint Brown (a conference coordinator and the one who is running media in New York) and others for a news conference to announce the LPA Conference. We hosted the conference at the stadium where the Dwarf Athletic Association Games were being held. Petruzelli got the help of a pr guy in the area who works with some local politician. They all did a great job. At least seven outlets were there, including a television stringer that would feed the content to scores of other networks. I kicked off the media event with a welcome then some background on Little People of America. Mike P. then spoke more specifically about the conference. Clint then took the microphone to talk about diversity, acceptance and language. This was great timing to coincide with LPA's official condemnation of the m-word. To reinforce Clint's message, Amy Roloff of "Little People Big World" spoke about her commitment to inclusion, acceptance, etc...

The news conference was quite an exciting and exhilarating but scary event. Scary in so far as every time we, as people of short stature put ourselves in the public eye, we open ourselves up to objectification. I think we open ourselves up even more when we put forth a strong message about acceptance. But if we want change, we have to take chances and take risks. Kudos to the New York Conference Organizers -- Petruzelli, Brown and Jimmy and Darlene Korpai, who really pushed the envelope, bringing the national a step forward.

The conference also was a chance to revisit the issue of the April 5 "Celebrity Apprentice." Some people were worried this was a bad idea, that it would only open old wounds and open the door to more ridicule. But I disagree. Back in April and May, NBC, Trump and Burnett shrugged off our concerns. Considering that scores of outlets picked up yesterday's news conference, and many of them placed follow up calls to Trump, NBC, etc..., this time, we will be more difficult to ignore. Here is a link to the Associated Press coverage of the event.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Little People Big Apple *

I arrived in Brooklyn last night for the 2009 Little People of America Conference, expected to be the most well attended conference in the 52 year history of the organization. As well it should be, considering that the New York metropolitan area has never hosted a national and that hundreds of people have been waiting eagerly, hoping that some day the conference would come to New York. I think the wait was worth it. Unlike so many other conferences based out of hotels near airports and the outskirts of urban centers, this one is in a central urban area. In years past, often times we've been at the mercy of tour buses if we wanted to see anything outside the lobby, conference rooms and ball rooms of the hosting hotel. This year, there are hundreds of things to do, see (and smell) within a few easy walking blocks of the hotel. Tonight, a group of us wandered three blocks from the hotel, found some Italian Food, walked another block for ice cream, then mingled with hundreds of Brooklyners on their way to the promenade for the fire works.

But, as a member of the LPA Board, before I have fun, I go to meetings. Today's meeting was of particular interest to me because we were scheduled to talk about the word midget -- considered pretty negative and objectifying by most people of short stature when it is used to refer to a person of short stature. In my estimate, the vast majority of the LPA membership, and at least a majority of the dwarfism population in this country, feels the same way, that the word is hurtful and an insult. In my role as Vice President of Public Relations, I am sometimes contacted by media about stories relating to the dwarfism community. Without exception, the issue of language always comes up, and I always tell the reporters the same thing, "The word midget has evolved into a derogotary, degrading term." I am not the only one. Any other member of the organization who is interviewed says the same thing. But interestingly, LPA as an organization does not have a policy on the question of language. Obviously, no policy has not stopped me or others from speaking against the word midget, but if LPA, as the largest membership organization for people of short stature, were to have a policy, it could help the effort to eliminate use of the word in the general public. A policy would give more weight to individuals who request that papers, televion programs and radio personalities not use the word. With that said, today was the day that the board of directors was going to hear a motion that LPA would officially identify the word midget as negative.

Unfortunately, the meeting ran long so the agenda item was tabled until tomorrow. So tonight, rather than celebrate a successful motion, or wonder what went wrong with the motion, I will enjoy what Brooklyn has to offer in terms of pizza, ice cream and fireworks.

*I stole this title from a tshirt I saw here in Brooklyn, probably designed by one of the conference organizers building on the momentum created by all those TLC shows about little people.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More Little People Big World -- more little people

I am not an expert of the program, but I think “Little People Big World” has now completed four seasons. And I know that filming of another season is underway. Now that the show is well beyond its rookie and sophomore seasons, I often wonder if the show is thriving because the novelty of watching people of different stature on television doesn’t wear off or because the plot lines transcend difference, connecting with audiences on issues that impact all of us.

As “Little People Big World” moved into the third and fourth season, I started to believe the latter, that the Roloff family dynamics connected with viewers in a realistic, human way. Viewers tuned in not to stare at people who look different from the general population but to watch this one random family live day to day much the way millions of other families do. In my experience, through interaction with young students when making presentations on disability, kids refer to the Roloffs not as “those dwarfs on television,” but as the family on television. In other cases, peers of mine are drawn to the show because they love the interaction between Amy and Matt Roloff, believing this a great example, not of how two dwarfs interact, but how two married people interact. These reactions have reinforced my hope that the Roloffs and others are sending the critical message that, while we appear different at first glance, people of short stature are no different than anyone else.

Though the Roloffs have indeed sent that message, recently, I’ve had second thoughts about why people are tuning in. The second thoughts can be found in two news programs, both also a part of the TLC Network. The programs, “Little People Just Married” and “Little People Big Pregnancy” introduce the television world to two new dwarf couples. Obviously, one couple has just been married and the other has just had a child. The emergence of these new programs contradicts my belief that interest in the Roloffs has more to do with their dynamics than with their dwarfism. Clearly, TLC built on the momentum of Little People Big World, not with more programs that explore human dynamics, but with more programs about little people. Little people are the draw; not dynamics.

Despite my pessimism, even if people tune in to "Little People Big World" for the novelty of difference, the program has still covered enormous amounts of positive ground in terms of awareness. And though people may tune in for the chance to gawk, at least now they know to say “person of short stature” or “dwarf” rather than midget. And while the new programs offer more opportunity to look at people of short stature, the numbers of people who gawk will dwindle, and the amount of positive ground we cover as a community will continue to grow.

For much more on the Roloffs than I could ever offer, visit the blog, "Keeping up with the Roloffs."