The Global Times has devoted a lengthy article on the stigma faced in China by the approximately 39 million people with dwarfism, including the severe employment discrimination which they face.
The article claims that “Most dwarfs are from remote, often mountainous regions, where there is poor awareness of health issues. Even after an accurate diagnosis, they can’t afford the high medical fees to treat the condition. Most dwarfs interviewed said all hospitals or clinics firstly wrongly diagnosed the problem as malnutrition or delayed growth and prescribed calcium or zinc supplements or cod liver oil. Some desperate parents even resorted to witches or Shamans.”
A Chinese medical expert on dwarfism was described as saying that “poor knowledge of the disease from both parents and grass-roots medical staff, as well as high medical expenses, were key problems. Early intervention can result in an average or near average height.”
The employment situation faced by these people is bleak — the jobs which they can obtain are typically with zoos, parks, circuses, hotels or art troupes, where “Making use of little people as a selling point to attract customers is not uncommon for many employers, and it’s also unavoidable.”
For example, in “the World Ecological Garden of Butterflies,” there is what is called a “Dwarf Kingdom” with over 100 members. One said that “Many of us feel uncomfortable about the idea. The dwarfs are displayed like a mountain of monkeys in a zoo.” The zoo manager called it a “pure charity” effort.
Becoming Proactive: EEOC Complaints Filed In The US
A California-based group, the Little People of America Inc., is “a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families,” and for which “Membership is available to individuals with a medical diagnosis of dwarfism or form of short stature, as well as their families, grandparents, relatives, and all medical professionals.” The president of the group told the The Global Times that displaying “little people” in entertainment promotes “stigma and stereotypes,” and hurts rather than helps them.
He noted that “In the past months, two dwarfs have filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The dwarfs were fired in the restaurant industry after asking for accommodation.” A recent press release from the group described the two charging parties and their claims revolving around failure to accommodate:
“Laura Kercheva, from Houston, Texas, recently filed an EEOC lawsuit after a reasonable accommodation was revoked at her place of employment. Kercheva was a server at Nick’s Bar and Grill and had requested, and been given, a lower shelf for her to retrieve her drink tray. A new general manager was hired, revoked the reasonable accommodation and refused to reconsider or find an alternative accommodation. Shortly thereafter, Kercheva’s work hours were reduced and then she was fired (emphasis added).”
“Abigail McManus, from Mickelton, New Jersey, filed the second employment discrimination case with the EEOC. McManus had been hired and was going through employee training as a clerk/team member at a Heritage Dairy Store, when she was removed from the group training into a private room. The training coordinator proceeded to ask McManus to perform the duties that would be required of her. When McManus was able to conduct all duties, except for the one’s that required her to be of average height, she was fired. If given a step stool, a very reasonable accommodation, McManus could have easily performed all of the necessary job functions (emphasis added).”
There is still a long way to go since Randy Newman’s song in the 70’s (which he came to hate and was, in any case, misinterpreted) attacking bigotry by seeming to be prejudiced against a group which (at the time) he likely chose because he could not conceive that anyone could be offended.