Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dwarfism Awareness Month V

Back in 2009, Little People of America launched Dwarfism Awareness Month to raise awareness about people of short stature and to confront stereotypes and stigma regarding dwarfism.  In the first few years, LPA as an organization and individuals within the community focused on legislative efforts, lobbying state politicians to issue proclamations in recognition of Dwarfism Awareness Month.

In 2012, LPA invested in a 15-second Public Service Announcement that ran in Times Square throughout the month of September.  Late in September of 2012, with a spotlight on the Public Service Announcement, LPA hosted a Dwarfism Awareness Month launch event in Times Squares.  Dozens of people attended a news conference and reception, and several different dwarfism organizations co-sponsored the event.

Over the past few years, Dwarfism Awareness Month has taken on a life of its own.  Media stories in Australia and England about people of short stature identify October as Dwarfism Awareness Month. This year, Mexico launched a campaign to celebrate October 25, the birthday of LPA Founder Billy Barty, as International Dwarfism Awareness Day.  Groups around the world, including Iran, joined the effort.  This year LPA didn't host a signature event or focus on a particular advocacy effort.  Dwarfism awareness means different things for different people.  With that in mind, the organization
encouraged and supported the efforts of individual members. I tried to do my part by running in the Madison Mud Run, a 5K race in a small town just south of Madison.  My wife ran with me.  She has always wanted to compete in a mud run. The course went over a variety of obstacles, including two streams, a big wooden wall, a water slide, and a wide mud pit filled with icy water.  Using the 5K as a vehicle, I raised more than $500 for Little People of America and also helped raise some awareness about the dwarfism community. 
Crossing a stream at the Madison Mud Run

Though the Mud Run was the focus of my Dwarfism Awareness Month efforts, one other moment in the past week stood out in my mind as signature dwarfism awareness moment.  For a person of short stature, everyday is full of moments that reflect dwarfism awareness.  Sometimes we use the moments constructively. Sometimes we let them go.  Sometimes our efforts to construct backfire in our faces.

 The moment happened Friday, October 25.  I stopped by a rental agency in my neighborhood to pick up a car for the weekend.  My wife and I were going to drive up to Madison for the District Six Regional of Little People of America.  I always stress out just before I pick up a rental car.  I love to drive, but I don't own a car so every time Katie and I leave town I need to rent a vehicle.  The problem is that my pedal extenders don't fit all cars.  The newer, more modern cars have gas pedals with a convex rear surface.  My extenders slip right off of the pedal.  I used to go out of my way, taking a train 20 minutes north of where I live, to a rental agency that would reserve a certain car for me, a car that I knew worked.  But my contact at that agency moved on so I started renting from the local neighborhood agency.  I've probably rented there 10 times over the past three years.  Though sometimes I've had to try more than one car, and once it took me more than an hour to install the extenders, each time I've been able to drive away with a car. Nevertheless, each time I stress out. 

Last Friday, I arrived at the Budget Rent a Car around 3:30 p.m. The office was empty.  No one else was waiting in line to pick up or return a car.  The man behind the desk had seen me before.  I had rented from him at least two other times.  When he saw me enter the office, he didn't ask me to check in.  "Follow me," he said, and he led me back to the garage.  In the garage, he indicated a row a cars and told me to find one that works.  Each car was unlocked.  While the rental agent went back to the office I examined three different cars, checking the gas pedal for one that would work with my extenders.

For me, that's what dwarfism awareness is all about.  People of short stature are really not much different from anyone else.  We want what other people want.  Sometimes though, in order to access what we want, we need supports of one kind or another.  For me, when I enter a rental agency just like everyone else, I want to leave with a car.  But in order for that to work, I need accommodations.  I need extenders and I need a car that works with the extenders.  The Budget Rent a Car in the South Loop of Chicago understood that.  And on October 25, as I drove away with a Toyota Corolla, that made me happy. 

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