Dwarfism awareness – thoughts on doing right by adult little people

I wrote this post for Dwarfism Awareness Month (which was in October) in collaboration with a friend who is a little person. It wasn’t ready until now, so I am posting it now.

Here are some things worth knowing:

Adult little people are adults, but people often treat them like children. You might be doing this too, and it’s important to get over that. Many people strongly associate being a certain size with being a young child. It’s important to be aware that not everyone that size is actually a child, and to act to mitigate any reactions you might be having that lead you to see an adult little person as a young child.

For instance, at work:

  • If you’re in a professional setting and someone is wearing professional clothing and acting like a professional adult, they’re not ten years old.
  • If you keep viscerally responding as though they are a child, it’s important to realize that it’s not ok and get over it. Don’t express that reaction, and don’t try to justify it.
  • Treat them as an adult
  • Respect their professional competence
  • If they are above you in the hierarchy, do not treat them as junior
  • If they are at your level in the hierarchy, do not treat them as junior
  • If they are actually junior, do not treat them like a visiting child or a teenager getting work experience. Respect them as an adult professional.

Another example: bars:

  • If you are in a bar, and someone is wearing adult clothing, acting like an adult, and drinking beer, they are not ten years old
  • They are an adult drinking beer in a bar
  • This is not a problem. This is something that many adults choose to do.
  • Do not look around for a caregiver. Adults do not have to bring minders to bars.
  • Do not ask them if they are ok unless you have an actual reason to think they might not be. Being a little person in a bar is not cause for concern in itself
  • If they are flirting with someone, this is not cause for concern either
  • Many adults flirt with people in bars. This is a thing that people do.
  • (Also, do not make jokes about tossing them, ask to toss them, or in any other way treat them as a toy. Adults have the right to drink beer in bars without being treated as a novelty attraction.)

And when you’re setting up an environment, remember that some adults are less than 4’10” and some are much shorter than that. Adult little people need access to anything that other adults need access to.

More specifically:

Adult little people need to be able to get through doors:

  • If you use a latch high on the door to prevent children from entering or exiting, you’re also making it impossible for adults of the same height to enter or exist
  • Latches need to be in places that adult little people can reach
  • Adults with disabilities should not be locked in like little children
  • If for some reason this kind of safety system is unavoidable, there needs to be an alternative way in and out that is reliably available
  • And you need to make it clear what that is

Keep this in mind when you put things on shelves:

  • If you’re putting things on shelves that a four foot tall person could not reach, you need an alternative way of reaching the thing
  • Or to put the thing in a lower place.
  • Keep in mind that if you put something on a high shelf in order to prevent children from reaching it, you’re also preventing adult little people from reaching it
  • Consider alternatives such as using child locks or supervising children more closely
  • (Or reconsidering whether the thing actually needs to be restricted. Eg: It might not actually be so terrible if your 7 year old students can reach the copier paper. You might not actually need an adults-only candy jar (and if you do, it’s not so nice to keep it where kids can see it anyway.))
  • If putting things on high shelves for safety reasons is truly unavoidable, make sure that there is an alternative way for adult little people to access them *and that you make it known what that way is*.

More generally:

  • Do not simplify your language the way you might when talking to a young child.
  • Do not assume that an adult little person is unemployed or only employed in a sheltered workshop or in jobs that can be done by children and teenagers.
  • Do treat adult little people as the age they actually are. (Eg: if they are elderly, don’t treat them as though they’re 20).
  • Do not ask invasive medical questions.

Short version: Adult little people are adults. Since many of them are the same height as young children, a lot of people treat them like children. Don’t do that. Also, make sure that you’re configuring things so that short adults can do the things that adults need to do.