Friday, November 30, 2012

Limb lengthening in the news

This week, the media covered a new non-fiction book written by a person of short stature.  The book, by Tiffanie Didonato, is called Dwarf:  A Memoir.  I haven't read the book.  From what I understand in the media, the book covers Didonato's experience with a series of limb lengthening surgeries.  The procedure carries some controversy within the dwarfism community.  For people with dwarfism, the common bond that unites us is our dwarfism, which in many ways is defined by our stature.  When people change their stature, it can be perceived that they are changing their identify.  In some ways though, stature is only a superficial way to define dwarfism.  As a culture, what unites us is not our size, but our experience as people with dwarfism.  People who undergo limb lengthening surgery, whether they gain a few inches or 10 inches, are still dwarfs and still share the dwarf experience.  That said, it can be difficult to process what it means when a person chooses to undergo a series of painful, time consuming surgeries in order to gain height and reach.   

More than six years ago, Little People of America published a position statement on limb lengthening surgery.  The statement is neutral and intended to be so.  Similar to the way the organization addresses many issues, LPA believes that any decision about limb lengthening should be well informed and should be made only with the proper supports.  Nevertheless, LPA is sometimes presented as anti-limb lengthening.  This either because pieces of the statement are taken out of context or a member of LPA misspeaks about the statement.  I may have been guilty of this several years back.  In 2008, well before the publication of her book, Didonato appeared on Good Morning America.  The story focused on her limb lengthening surgery.  The online version of the story included this quote from LPA (probably sent in by me (I was VP of PR at the time)), "Most members of the dwarf community believe that no child should undergo surgery unless it is for a treatable medical condition that will improve her or his health. Limb-lengthing surgery, by contrast, does not address any medical condition."  Though the spirit of the quote reflects LPA's official statement, and LPA does believe that limb lengthening is a cosmetic procedure, the quote does not come directly from the statement.  The statement by LPA is "not intended to either advocate for or condemn extended limb lengthening."  Nevertheless, it is understandable that, from the quote ABC published, people may believe that LPA is anti-limb lengthening.

In a blog post I published back in 2008, I wrote about the ABC segment.  I was unhappy, not because Didonato chose to undergo limb lengthening, but because the story celebrated a cosmetic fix without critically examining the social factors, and how to change those social barriers, that influenced the cosmetic fix.

Since the publication of Didonato's memoir, LPA's position on limb lengthening has again been presented as negative.  This post from a site called "The Gloss" says that LPA is "officially against it."  The site references an Associated Press article from 2004.  The AP article doesn't quote anyone or any statement, but says, "The advocacy group Little People of America has taken an official stand against it, warning of the risks of long-term nerve and vascular damage."  While LPA does warn of risks, its current official stand is not against limb-lengthening. 

If Didonato's memoir generates more media coverage, I hope LPA has a chance to explain more deeply its position on limb lengthening.  Explanation is important not just for the sake of the issue of limb lengthening.  Explanation is important because Little People of America is an organization for all people with dwarfism.  No matter the decisions a person makes, no matter the surgeries a person has or does not have, LPA needs to be there for individuals with dwarfism.  Paraphrasing a friend of mine from a conversation a few months ago, "LPA needs to be the place a person can always come back to." 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hockey and Football Leagues using the word midget

Of the many articles published this year about Dwarfism Awareness Month, one ran on a website called the West Island Chronicle.  The article included a short bit on use of the word "midget."  The writer wrote, "Also, for the record, the word 'midget' is a derogatory term..."  I found the piece interesting because the writer went to to say "... unless you are referring to the hockey or football age-grouping."

When searching the word "midget" on google news, the majority of hits come from stories about local hockey and football teams competing in midget divisions.  Such leagues exist all around the country.  Though the writer from the West Island Chronicle was correct, the word in this case is not derogatory or objectifying, use of the word in any context makes many people uncomfortable because of the word's legacy, so uncomfortable that some parents or relatives of dwarf children don't want to be associated with the league name. If I had children, I would not want my child, whether he or she be a dwarf or not, to be a part of the league.  What then is a parent or relative to do?  If he or she wants to play, is it fair to keep him or her out of the league because of a name?

A few parents that I know of are advocating for change.  A league near Seattle, Washington, because a coach spoke up, will eliminate use of the word midget in 2013 or 2014.  An Illinois-based league will also undergo a name change.  The change in Illinois came about because of a letter written by a concerned mother.  In both cases, change occured simply because one person expressed concern and asked that something be done. If there is concern elsewhere in the country, I hope those affected will share their concerns and ask that something be done.  Like in many things, it never hurts to ask.

The mother from Illinois has agreed to share her letter. It is reprinted below 

Good evening, 

I am a mother of 3 dwarf children who are residents here in Park Ridge. One of my daughters is on your "Midget" soccer league.  I personally find it extremely offensive to associate this word with one of your age groups. The kids and the coaches on my daughter's team know that she is a dwarf. The word "midget" is a derogatory word used towards a little person, just as calling a child or adult with cerebral palsy, retarded. My daughter knows that this word is used to make fun of people such as her, and to be quite honest with you, she is very upset with the name of the division that she falls into.  

In today's world, I am very surprised that, that word is used to associate 7 and 8 year old children for their division. We are proud active members of the Little People of America organization, and if it weren't for them fighting for the right to use the word dwarf, my children would be called midgets.

On behalf of my children and the other dwarfs out there that may/may not move into Park Ridge, that another name be chosen for this age group.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lee Corso uses m-word on "College Game Day"

I love many sports, including football.  In particular, I love the Chicago Bears and Wisconsin Badgers.  Typically, I will make sure to carve out time on Saturdays and Sundays in order to watch the Badgers and Bears Games.  Yet, unless the Bears or Badgers win a game, in which case I will watch and read post game analysis, I have never been a fan of listening to people talk about sports.  On Saturday and Sunday mornings, instead of watching pregame shows, I scramble to clean my house and finish my work so that I don’t feel guilty watching three or more hours of sports. 

With this in mind, I have never watched ESPN’s “College Game Day,” a show on Saturday mornings that previews the upcoming day of college football.  But this past weekend, it didn’t take long for me to hear about something that happened on the November 17 episode of “College Game Day.”  Since the show’s inception, the program has featured a man named Lee Corso.  A former football player and coach, Corso was hired by ESPN in 1987.  According to Wikipedia, on the show, Corso plays the role of “comic foil” next to his various co-hosts.  His “catchphrase” is “not so fast, my friend,” which he delivers to disagree with a colleague’s prediction about what team will win a game.  (In what I think is an interesting footnote, he always holds a pencil when he makes the statement.  According to the same Wikipedia post, Corso is the Director of Business Development for a pencil based manufacturing company.) 

This past Saturday, Corso delivered his signature line with a twist.  Responding to a five-year-old football fan who predicted Yale would beat Harvard, Corso said, “not so fast, midget.”  A lot has been said by me, by Little People of America, and by the dwarfism community about the word midget.  When raising awareness about dwarfism, among other outcomes, Little People of America hopes that people will stop using the word midget.  Nevertheless, we recognize that we will not eliminate use of the word.  The question then becomes, how do LPA and the dwarfism community respond when the word is used. 

That question came up after Corso called the five year old a midget.  Soon after the comment was made, someone posted on LPA’s Facebook page, asking what people thought of Corso’s comment.  Someone also sent an email to LPA’s Vice President of Public Relations.  The author of the email made some good points.  He argued that a response was warranted because ESPN is a major mainstream network, and because many people who watch “College Game Day” will be influenced by what they hear. 

Typically, rather than respond to use of the m-word, LPA focuses on proactive outreach.  My philosophy is, it is better to invest energy into opening doors than to fight against people that are closing doors. I think that philosophy applies in the case of Corso.  Corso may or may not know the impact of the m-word within the dwarfism community.  Even if he did know, I don’t think that would have stopped him. (I don’t have anything to base that assumption on except for the fact that later in the telecast Corso strangled a live duck on the air.) After all, Corso plays the role of the comic foil.  His use of the m-word is no different than a comedian using the word for a cheap laugh. 

Corso’s comment did draw laughs, from his co-hosts and from his viewers. But from what I have found online, his viewers know that there is something wrong with what he said.  One writer commented, “I’d hate to be the person at ESPN that is in charge of responding to the hate mail from overly sensitive viewers that object to Lee Corso’s comments, (Lee Corso Calls Cute 5-Year Old A “Midget”).”  Another wrote, “Calling a kid a midget in front of millions of viewers probably wasn't the most "politically correct" thing for Corso to say, (Lee Corso calls kid picker a 'midget').”  My favorite response included this comment, “In protest of Corso’s use of the word “midget,” not to mention the fact that he just screamed at a little kid on television, I will not be posting video of whatever dumb thing he dressed up as today to make his pick of the week, (Lee Corso Calls 5-Year-Old “Midget” on College Gameday).” 

I didn’t like the first two comments.  One suggested that anyone who would have a problem with Corso’s use of the word is overly sensitive.  The other used the term “politically correct,” which in my opinion always diverts attention away from issues of respect, equality and language.  Though I didn’t like the first two comments, both recognized that what Corso said was wrong and inappropriate.  These comments provide evidence that more and more people are aware of issues and language related to dwarfism.  This evidence is motivation for LPA and others to continue to focus on raising awareness within the general public and not to devote time to spend time to people who use the word. 

People out there like Corso, who are just trying to get a laugh, will continue to say offensive, inappropriate things.  If we call them on it too often, we will just get into discussions about political correctness and the first amendment.  But eventually, if LPA and others continue to raise awareness about diversity and differences, people like Corso will lose their audience.  At the very least, the audience will stop laughing.