Chances are, everyone of a certain age is familiar with Family Feud, a game show that premiered back in 1976. Two families compete against each other for money by answering survey questions. The original show was hosted by Richard Dawson. Since 1976, the show has been cancelled a few times, in 1985 and 1993 but it was revived each time. The current show is hosted by the comedian Steve Harvey.
I enjoy trivia but I always had a problem with the show because of the system of scoring. Typically, the two families would play three rounds before two members of the winning team went into a final "Fast Money" round. When I watched the show, the third round earned triple points. With triple points, a family could lose the first two rounds, but still win the game in the third round because of the triple points. It seemed to me, whichever team won the third round would win. It didn't make sense to even play the first two rounds. I haven't watched the game in a long time, so perhaps the format and the scoring has changed. I hadn't thought about the game until last Monday. A friend of mine sent a text that said, "Have you heard about tonight's Family Feud episode yet?" I hadn't heard anything, but later I saw a Facebook Post from my friend's wife. Evidently, friends of hers were on the show that night. My friend and his wife are both little people. She, along with many others, had received a message from her friends, announcing that they were scheduled to be on Family Feud on November 25. So that night, my friend's wife, along with many others who probably don't typically watch the show, tuned in. In the "Fast Money" round, one of the questions was, "What is a toddler most afraid of at a circus?" The second person to play in the "Fast Money" round answered, "A midget." My friend's wife ended her email post with, "I had to try to explain to my seven-year-old why I changed the channel."
I didn't see the show on November 25. I haven't been able to find a clip of that segment on the internet. But I would guess that the contest who answered "midget," didn't do so because the contestant thought it might be the right answer. The contestant did so because no other answer came to mind, and "midget," while it might not earn any points, could generate a laugh. If that is true, it reinforces the idea that a so-called fear of little people is rooted in prejudice and ignorance. People claim such a fear not because of any legitimate phobia but as a way to generate attention.
It's bad enough that a contestant on Family Feud answered the question using the m-word. It must have been many times worse for my friend, his wife, and his family to watch the show, especially considering that they knew the contestants. My question is, why did a contestant who announced a family of people of short stature use the word, and why didn't Family Feud edit that scene?
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 reference.com. (The reference people should get together and agree on something because Ask.com 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.
with dwarfism are people with disabilities. Disability is one of the
largest minority groups in the United States. Lohan should treat her
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 reference.com has a listing for achondroplasiaphobia and actually treats the listing seriously. They too should be called out.