Becoming aware about little people in October and beyond

Clearing up some misconceptions

Have you ever walked into a room and had everyone stare at you? Have you ever walked through campus and known that every person you passed had taken note of your presence?

I know for a fact that if you have ever seen me before, you could probably pick me out from a crowd without even knowing my name.
That is because I am a little person.

October is Dwarfism Awareness Month. As mentioned in a previous issue of the Uniter, October is an extremely busy month for awareness campaigns and charitable organizations, many of which go unnoticed.

However, this does not make the awareness campaigns less important.

Dwarfism is a subject that many have heard of or seen on television, but don’t actually know much about.

That is why last year, the Little People of America Organization began the awareness campaign to bring knowledge and understanding to those in the world who are unaware or misinformed about the people affected by dwarfism.

The first question I am usually asked by those who approach me is, “Why are you so small?” The answer is simple: I was born that way. 

Dwarfism is caused by a genetic mutation of the fourth chromosome, which happens before birth. Most little people (75-80 per cent) are born to average height parents, and a dwarf is born once in every 30,000 births.

The other 25 per cent are born to one or both parents being little people. However, a little person can give birth to an average height child.

That is probably why you haven’t seen many of us on a day-to-day basis. There are approximately 651,700 little people across the globe. We are few and far between.

Since there are so few little people in this world, it can be difficult to do simple activities because the world has not been built to accommodate adults of short stature.

Yet, this fact does not deter most little people.

For instance, as long as I’m provided with a stool or a helping hand when needed, I can do anything. Cars can be modified so that little people can drive them, clothes can be tailored so they fit properly and many businesses have been modified to accommodate those with disabilities. 

Staring is a common issue most little people face on a day-to-day basis. Most staring occurs because many have never seen a little person before, and I completely understand the shock that would come with that.

But when the staring doesn’t stop, when it becomes gawking or amusement, it becomes very disrespectful.

Personally, though I recognize that I could be the first dwarf you have ever seen, it gives you no right to treat me as someone who is different from you.

You may be wondering if the term midget is appropriate in referring to little people. The term “midget” has fallen into disfavour amongst the little people community because it is considered offensive. 

The term dates back to the height of the “freak show” era in the late 19th century, where it was applied to those of short stature who were displayed for public amusement.

Many little people view the term as an unnecessary label placed upon them to point them out in a crowd.

So, to be politically correct, little person is the proper terminology for someone with this condition.

Dwarfism, on the other hand, is the medical term.

For example, I am an achondroplastic dwarf. There are over 200 different types of dwarfism, with achondroplasia being the most common.

However, we prefer not to be labeled, and would rather be called by our names.

My name is Sarah. It’s nice to meet you.

Sarah Manteuffel is a second year student at the University of Winnipeg and is the youth co-ordinator for the Little People of Manitoba. To learn more about Dwarfism Awareness Month, visit Little People of Manitoba at www.lpmanitoba.ca or Little People of America at www.lpaonline.org.

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