Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Fear?

At work two weeks ago I dropped off a stack of papers at a personal assistant training.  Personal assistants are people who support people with disabilities.  They help out with day to day tasks like bathing, cooking, cleaning, and eating.   They are a key link to independence that allow many people with disabilities to live independently in their own homes.  Once a month, Access Living, where I work, holds a personal assistant training.  During a break in the training, one of the women at the training, who had seen me drop off the papers, announced to a few people around her, "I'm scared of midgets." I experience similar behavior on a somewhat basis, perhaps every other month someone on the train or on the street will act as if they have a fear of little people. As a person of short stature, it's never pleasant to encounter someone with a supposed fear, but at work it was unacceptable.  Access Living's mission is the inclusion of people with disabilities.  An alleged fear of little people is nothing but prejudice towards difference and is a blow against the mission.  People who announce their alleged fear do so because they think it's funny and cool.  It reminds me of people who say they are afraid of clowns.  The clown announcement never elicits a "Oh, I'm sorry, what are you doing to deal with it?"  Instead, people respond with an excited, "Oh my god, so am I!" as if it is hip to be afraid of clowns.

At work, I confronted the woman in the personal assistant training who announced her fear.  "Do you know where you are?" I asked her.  I don't remember what she said but she knew I was upset.  Miraculously, she somehow overcame her fear because she tried to give me a hug.  I told her to stay away from me and I left.  Later in the week, I told the Human Resources Department about what happened. I've worked at Access Living for 14 years.  I want it to be a safe space for me and for everyone who works there.  Though bad things will occasionally happen over the course of many years, and sometimes nothing can be done about them, I wanted to report what happened.  The Human Resource person was sympathetic and said if I gave him the woman's name he would make sure she didn't enter the pool of personal assistants who work with Access Living consumers.  I never gave him the name because it turns out the woman didn't come back to the second day of personal assistant training. 

Fast forward to earlier this week, and I get an email from In Touch, some sort of tabloid, asking Little People of America for a comment on a story about Lindsay Lohan.   According to the story, Lohan has Achondroplasiaphobia -- a fear of little people.  It is actually a listing on  (The reference people should get together and agree on something because calls it three different things: nanosophobia, Khuzdophobia,  and achondroplasiphobia) Though In Touch is a silly tabloid and though the alleged incident involving Lohan and little people happened seven years ago, I wanted to respond.  Again, it was clear that the issue, coming from the magazine and if it was true, from Lohan, was rooted in attention seeking and prejudice.  Little People of America sent a statement which indirectly called out the fear for what it is-- prejudice. 

“People with dwarfism are people with disabilities. Disability is one of the largest minority groups in the United States.  Lohan should treat her fear the same as she would a fear of any other protected minority population."  A piece suggesting a diversity training was added to the end also. 

People of short stature have to deal with a variety of issues.  Some of those issues concern attitudes and stigma.  In most cases, when we deal with them, we are able to go about our days and carry on soon after.  Though we've moved on from the Lohan phobia, and I've moved on from the woman at the personal assistant training, I think it's important that we confront people who claim to have little people fears. It's not a matter of helping them get over their fears, it's about calling them out on prejudice.  

With this in mind, it is ridiculous that has a listing for achondroplasiaphobia and actually treats the listing seriously.  They too should be called out.  

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