At a staff meeting earlier this week, a co-worker introduced an intern who would be working with the organization over the summer. The new intern wasn't at the meeting. When introducing the intern, my co-worker said something like, "he's the really tall one that you will see walking around the office."
That introduction reminded me of my freshman year of high school. In history class my freshman year, I had a classmate named Kathy Winkler. She was taller than all of the other girls in the history class and she was probably one of the tallest girls in the entire freshman class, if not the entire school. She probably also was taller than most of the boys in the school.
I have no idea if Kathy graduated when I did, if she moved away, or if she dropped out. I just have one memory of Kathy. At some point during freshman year, when I was in the hallway with a friend of mine near the gym locker rooms, I saw Kathy. In front of my friend, I asked her if she was on the basketball team.
"No," Kathy said, answering my question with all seriousness.
I don't know if I was trying to be funny or if I seriously wanted to know if she played for the basketball team. But either way, I never would have asked her the question if she wasn't taller than the average person at the school. Just as people have made assumptions about me and other people with dwarfism because of our stature, I made an assumption about my classmate. To this day, that assumption bothers me a little bit. I think that is why I remember nothing else about Kathy except for the question asked of her outside the gym locker rooms.
Later in the week, I talked to my co-worker about the introduction she made. She and others who were around at the time thought the introduction was appropriate. Maybe they are correct. In the society in which we live, size carries authority, respect and power. Identifying someone as tall would therefore be considered a positive. Or, at the very least, not negative.
Nevertheless, I couldn't help but be bothered by it, probably because I just kept wondering what it would be like if someone at a staff meeting described me as "the little one walking around the office."
Sunday, May 20, 2012
People with dwarfism in the United States, like most other people with dwarfism, face challenges directly related to dwarfism, and related to how the world in which we live relates to dwarfism. These challenges may range from medical impairments such as bowed legs and spinal stenosis, to difficulty accessing doctors with expertise in dwarfism to acquiring physical accommodations in order to access transportation and employment opportunities. All of these things are legitimate barriers. Barriers that pose a serious threat to our independence and well being f we are not able to accommodate them. Though they are all serious, a recent newsletter from a group of little people in Uganda put some of those barriers in perspective. The newsletter was produced by Little People of Uganda, a group that was formed two years ago to provide support for people with dwarfism in the country. One story in particular from the newsletter stood out in my mind. It was a story that we will hopefully never read within the pages of the LPA Today, the quarterly magazine of Little People of America. The story was from a young man with dwarfism whose baby girl had been murdered by the mother of his girlfriend. According to the writer, the baby had been murdered simply because her father was a dwarf. It was not known whether or not the baby girl was a dwarf. It was devastating to read the story, and to come to grips with the fact that the little girl was murdered because of her connection to dwarfism. While in the United States there is bias against people with dwarfism, we have protections that will protect us from what happened to the baby girl and her father.
In addition to the tragedy of the baby girl’s murder, it was difficult to read the story because it didn’t seem that the young man could do anything to hold the murderer accountable for what she did. There probably is more to the story than what I read, but it seemed as if no criminal charges would be brought against the woman who killed the baby girl. All the young man could do was seek support from other people with dwarfism in Uganda. In the Uganda newsletter, the young man wrote, "I felt relieved the first time I shared this story with the members of the Little People Uganda."
I am thankful there is a Little People of Uganda who could give him support. And I am thankful there is a Little People of America to give people with dwarfism in the United States support. But in the future, I hope more can be done. No matter the bias toward dwarfism in the United States and around the world, what happened to the baby girl in Uganda should not have happened to anyone. We do have resources to fight against such a tragedy. While I don’t know the details of the convention, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is one tool was can use to stop this from happening again. Among other things, the Convention is intended to "guarantee that persons with disabilities enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others (Article 10), ensure the equal rights and advancement of women and girls with disabilities (Article 6) and protect children with disabilities (Article 7)." Uganda has not signed the convention.
As LPA increases communications with international groups, I am hoping we can utilize these types of resources to bring international awareness to dwarfism and to strengthen our rights around the world.