Many Charities have a time of the year in which they specifically promote and educate the public about a specific cause, campaign or issue to help raise positive awareness about their given concern. For families whose lives are impacted by the medical condition of dwarfism, October is the month. The Restricted Growth Association (RGA, UK Charity) and its members use this opportunity to post on social media facts about dwarfism related conditions. For example, achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, impacts approximately 1 in 25,000 babies in the UK who will be born with this condition every year. The majority of children born with the condition have no previous family history, in fact 80% of children are born to average height parents. (Some Facts About Achondroplasia )
There are many misconceptions about dwarfism, often because of the portrayal of the condition in the media. This year has been a great opportunity to educate the public with positive representations of dwarfism, and it has been a privilege to be engaged with television documentaries, regional television and radio debates.
Edition Two of Strong and Mighty Max was released at the end of July 2018 and is now available to order online. It is great also to have an ebook edition released which makes the story so much more accessible around the world. No sooner had the book been released and BBC4 aired a critically acclaimed documentary described as ‘brilliant’ by The Independent and ‘best TV’ by The Guardian. Factual Programmes such as this do a lot to challenge historical representations of people with dwarfism. My son and I were both interviewed for the programme and it gave us the opportunity to give a contemporary face to the human story.
BBC Coventry and Warwickshire produced a short video in September which showcased Strong and Mighty Max Edition Two. This has been my contribution to Dwarfism Awareness Month as this new edition seeks to educate people about differences and the importance of kindness. It also challenges people to see beyond stereotypes and has a dedicated learning section for schools which highlights positive role models. The learn section of my website compliments the learning experience that can be gained from the book and it is my hope that schools will use it as a go to place to look at the issue of disabilities and differences
Paralympic swimmer, Ellie Simmonds, is one of the role models who features in the back of edition two. It is great to know that she too is enjoying the story. It is always wonderful to receive positive feedback from children and families who are enjoying Strong and Mighty Max. Just knowing that this book is a useful tool to help explain to their peers, family members and local schools is the best positive awareness raising that I could have hoped for. Education is key to understanding differences. If children learn from a young age that people with dwarfism are just the same as them, apart from the fact that their bones grow more slowly, hopefully they will be future advocates to challenge prejudice when they see it.
It was great to be given the opportunity to share this on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. The interview below is from the Vic Minett Show which broadcast on 17/09/18
There has been a lot of positive media in the run up to dwarfism awareness month, there has also been some controversial debates that caused a national press frenzy in the UK around the topic of ‘dwarf wrestling’. American performers due to debut shows across the UK were challenged by national charity RGA and its membership who campaigned against venues showcasing what had been advertised as ‘family shows…not seen since the Victorian era’. The language used to promote the wrestling was derogatory towards people with the condition describing them as ‘midgets’ and referring to the performance as a ‘side show’ with ‘dwarf tossing’ as part of the performance. As a result of the RGA’s successful campaigning, venues in Leicester and Dorset issued statements to say they would no longer be hosting these events. Venues is Wales and Liverpool are still scheduled to go ahead in October (the irony of dwarfism awareness month) This of course caused a back lash against the charity who were deemed to be ‘offended’ and in opposition to the wrestlers rights to earn a living in whatever way they choose. This will always be a moral debate, the actions of a few versus the well-being of the many. ITV and BBC both gave prime time television debate to this discussion, I would argue Piers Morgan gave voice to the wrestlers and the status quo whereas the BBC and the Victoria Derbyshire show presented a more balanced piece. However in all of this debate there are very important opportunities for educating the general public, who perhaps would not understand the issue with such shows in the first place.
Erin Pritchard, a lecturer in disability and education at Liverpool Hope University, wrote a piece for the Independent @indyvoices. Her voice in the debate was powerful for two reasons. 1) She has restricted growth herself and 2) She works in the city that still plans to host an event in October.
“As a person with dwarfism, I feel safer now that ‘midget wrestling’ events have been cancelled”. To read her arguments in full click here.
My contribution to the debate featured on BBC Radio Wales and the Dot Davies show. To listen to the interview, click on the link below.
In Summary, to conclude this piece around dwarfism awareness month, perhaps if you read only the final few bullet points you will have been educated and learnt something new and perhaps by being informed you can make the world a kinder place.
-The term midget- is a highly offensive term in the dwarfism community. It has similar connotations to the ‘n’ word as felt by another minority group. The term has connotations associated with historical ‘freak shows’.
-What you see on the TV and read in books is not always true to life. People with dwarfism are real people and are not mythical beings. They are teachers, doctors, engineers, shop assistants, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, neighbours….the list can go on. They are first and foremost people who deserve to be treated with equal respect as anyone.
-Just because you see an individual with dwarfism willing to entertain you and demean themselves for financial gain this does not mean they represent the majority of people with dwarfism. The voices for the dwarfism community are the charities that have been established for decades and have been advocating for positive representation and equality for this minority group. Both the Restricted Growth Association, and the Little People of America both have spoken up against ‘midget wrestling’ events.
-Kindness matters, to quote one of my favourite authors ‘When given the choice between right or being kind, choose kind.’ R.J.Palacio
-If you haven’t read the book ‘Wonder’ or seen the movie, please do. I guarantee it will make you a better citizen to engage with issues of difference and disability.