Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Regarded As

I was in St. Louis last weekend.  The 2015 Little People of America Conference is scheduled for July of next summer in St. Louis, to coincide with the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the St. Louis Arch. Along with the Conference Management Committee of LPA, I was in town to check out the Hotel and the surrounding area.  Before this trip, I had never spent quality time in St. Louis, and had never given much thought to the Arch.  In a way, the Arch is kind of like the Bean (or Cloud Gate) in Chicago.  It doesn't sound like much, but when it stands before you, it's pretty spectacular.  I could have spent a lot of time just staring at the Arch.

The majesty of the Arch wasn't my significant takeaway from my weekend in St. Louis.  On Saturday afternoon, as I left my hotel room to head for a meeting on the 17th Floor, one floor above mine, I ran into two young women.  One of the women, when she saw me, said, "I'd love to take you home." Perhaps that sounds flattering but she didn't mean it in a 'you are very sexy' kind of way. She meant it the way a person browsing an animal shelter might want to take home a cute dachshund. I wasn't too amused. I let the two women pass then followed them to the elevator.  I stared at the woman who made the comment until she got in the elevator going down.  As the door was closing, she told me, "You should smile more."

Later I was making my way over near the baseball stadium where I was meeting a group for dinner. On my way, I passed this cool looking blue fountain.  One person in my group told me the water was blue in order to discourage people from swimming in it.  Anyway, I wanted a picture of the blue fountain with the Arch in background.  I made my way to the opposite side of the fountain in order to put the sun behind me.  A number of people and small groups were hanging around the area, including a group of three young people, two women and one man.  One of the young women saw me and then had a pretend panic attack.  She screamed and ran away from the fountain and hid behind a stone structure.  I call these pretend panic attacks because whenever people act as if they are freaked out by dwarfs they spend a lot of time giggling about it.

Today, I thought about both of the run-ins that I had in St. Louis. I thought about them because the media and popular culture spend a lot of time reminding people with dwarfism, and in general people with disabilities, that they are deformed, that they have defects, that they have disorders, and that they suffer from this or that.  But in reality, most people with disabilities, and most people with dwarfism, are pretty average.  We go about our ho hum lives just trying to get by, getting an education, finding a job, finding a place to live, and if we are lucky, finding a little bit of love and some happiness.   The biggest difference between people with dwarfism and others isn't who we are and our lives, but rather the lens through which people without dwarfism view and treat us.  We are regarded as being much different than we actually are. That's why popular culture portrays us differently -- and many people buy into what popular culture sells.

The way other people regard us often causes us many more problems than the dwarfism does.  That must be why dwarfism was included in the original Americans with Disabilities Act under the "regarded as" protections, protections which I believe were reinforced and strengthened with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

I am using this image because I like Peter Dinklage
and I like this picture and I couldn't find the correct meme.
In the end, the ADA doesn't do me much good if I come face to face with people suffering from a dwarf phobia when I am minding my own business around St. Louis.  But I am happy to know the law is there.  It's a nice reminder, that, as Peter Dinklage evidently said in some meme on Facebook that I can't find now, "it's not my problem."

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