Friday, May 28, 2010

siblings with dwarfism

My wife has been a leader in the effort to create support and advocacy groups for siblings of people with disabilities. One group is the Sibling Leadership Network. My wife has a sister with an intellectual disability. From my experience, most conversations around sibling issues are in the context of people with intellectual disabilities. But here is a piece on siblings of people with dwarfism.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Get ready to rumble

There is a guy named Grady who is part of the Dwarfism Yahoo Group listserve. He plays an important role on the listserve. He posts scores of media hits that involve people of short stature. Whether the hit comes from a mainstream newspaper, a major television network, or some random person who uploaded a video to youtube from a camera phone, Grady will post it. It's sometimes hard to wade through the material he posts, but Grady is a great resource.

He recently posted at least one piece about the reality show about the little people wrestling troupe scheduled to air on Spike TV starting on June 2. One the hooks of the show is that the centerpiece of the program, a wrestler who calls himself puppet, embraces the word midget and uses the word heavily as a marketing tool. As I think I've written earlier, I am a little concerned about the message of the show, especially with all the work done over the past year to stop use of the word midget. But I am also a bit fascinated with the media coverage leading up to the reality show debut. I am interested because most of the media talking about the new show, including Spike TV, is stepping back from the word. When reporting about Puppet, though he likes to be called a midget, the media is not using that word to identify him. From what I have read, this includes Spike TV. One would hope the media wouldn't, considering thousands of people have expressed anger over the word while just a handful embrace it. But nevertheless, I thought spike TV would promote the show like a wrestling agent promotes his or her client.

I thought maybe I was reading too much into the media. Maybe I was the only who believed Spike TV and others are stepping back from Puppet's persona, and reviewing the show objectively, using the most acceptable language. It turns out the Grady concurs. Along with the media links, Grady often posts a little description with what can be found on the link. And sometimes, he offers a bit of commentary. When he posted a link about the upcoming reality show, Grady wrote a comment that corresponds to what I believe. That Spike TV, rather than promote the Half Pint show the way Puppet would promote the show, is being somewhat objective.

Here is a promo piece about the show from a publication called the Post and Courier . Contrary to what I write above, this piece actually does use the m word a bit, but only when referring to wrestling troupes that include little people. The piece also includes long quotes from Puppet.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

ADA 20th Anniversary

On July 20, the disability community will gather in Washington D.C. to celebrate the Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each year, the disability community recognizes the anniversary in order to highlight accomplishments and build support for more that can be done with what is the most important piece of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities.

The celebration on July 20 will be different from years' past for at least one reason. This year, the law turns 20 years old, a significant and notable anniversary. By trade a public relations person in the field of disability, I pitch stories on the Americans with Disabilities Act every year. Often the pitches fall into the dirt. Last year, pitching an op/ed to a local paper, I was told most anniversaries are boring, not worth covering. But whether it be a marriage or civil rights legislation, 20 years is significant. And while an anniversary in and of itself may not be news worthy, the energy around disability rights is. With the new administration in Washington D.C., there is new vibrancy in the disability community. Whether people with disabilities are republican or democrat, most people recognize there is potential for change, and a diverse group of disability groups are banding together in order to create positive change. That energy for change will be alive and thriving in DC on July 20 at the anniversary celebration.

I hope this year's anniversary is different for at least one more reason. Unlike some notable ADA events of the past, I hope Little People of America will be a part of the celebration on July 20. In terms of participating with the at-large disability community, LPA has made important strides over the past few years, joining and engaging in coalitions that push for the implementation of rights for people with disabilities. We are building a stronger presence in the disability community. Participation of LPA on July 20 is an important step in that process.

With reality shows consistently pushing a message of acceptance of dwarfism and with LPA's recent outreach efforts around the word "midget," I believe more minds are open around the country than ever before. We've earned support from the at-large community, but in order to continue making positive changes, we need to build more partnerships from the within the disability community. We need to ally with groups that may have similar interests and we need to build support from groups that could help us in areas such as health care, reproductive rights and employment. The July 20 event is an opportunity to build some support.

Monday, May 3, 2010

of the people and for the people

Last week my friend and I lamented over an event scheduled to take place in a physically inaccessible venue. Chicago is an old city with many inaccessible spaces and buildings. Many events are hosted in inaccessible venues. But this event was a fundraiser to support the Chicago Contingency of the U.S. Social Forum. A good number of people with disabilities, and specifically people who use wheelchairs, are part of the Chicago Contingency planning to go to Detroit for the Social Forum. “How could they plan this event without considering physically access?” my friend asked. Without trying to justify the oversite, we wondered the degree to which activists not directly connected to disability may have to people with disabilities. Without much connection, physical access may not ever cross the minds of event planners. While Chicago has a strong disability rights community, it could be that most activists with disabilities focus their activities on disability rights issues, therefore limiting the degree to which people outside the community experience disability. Even if there is an amount of truth to the hypothesis, it's still no excuse, especially when flyers for the event purported to forging a “Chicago for the people.” The flyer should have said, “Chicago for all but people with physical disabilities.”

Nevertheless, the incident made me consider how much or how little the disability rights community and the progressive community overlap. Sometimes I label myself an activist, yet my advocacy is primary geared within the dwarfism and the disability community. If we are limited by the issues that affect us most directly, how far can we extend our influence and concerns?

Soon after I learned about the fundraiser at the inaccessible venue, I was reminded that there are many little people out there whose activism goes far beyond the dwarfism and disability community. Last week, a person with dwarfism named Harry Wieder died when he was struck by a taxi cab while attempting to cross the street in New York City. Stories that followed in the wake of his death describe Wieder as a round the clock activist. According to the New York Times, Wieder spent “most waking hours of his adult life campaigning for gay rights, safe public housing, health care, access for the disabled and hundreds of local lefty candidates.” I don't think I ever met Wieder, but I am sad about his death. Though I was energized to read about his life. The issues I work on within LPA are important and I am proud to work on them. But it was great to hear about a little person whose work went so far beyond dwarfism. At the risk of sounding like a TLC producer who is compelled to use the word “big” in the title of every single reality program that features people of short stature, Wieder set the bar high.