Mega Weekend 2017 (dwarfism convention)

Wowzers! We’ll be hosting our annual Mega Weekend event between October 26th and 29th 2017 at the Woodland Grange hotel – of which we have exclusive use – in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

Three full days in which people with dwarfism and their families can attend a range of interactive workshops, informative talks, and fun activities, including:Read More

Role models in the dwarfism community: Tom Shakespeare, Professor of Disability Research

Professor Tom Shakespeare

Welcome to the fourth installment in our series of interviews with role models in the dwarfism community. We spoke to Tom Shakespeare, Professor of Disability Research and radio show presenter. Here’s what he had to say to us:

Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?

My name is Tom Shakespeare, I was born in Aylesbury, Bucks, and now I live in Norwich, Norfolk.

And what do you do?

I am Professor of Disability Research at the University of East Anglia.  I teach medical students, and I also conduct disability research, both in UK and Africa.

Do you enjoy it?

Yes, I enjoy my work very much.  It is very varied: teaching here, interviewing someone there, writing a paper after that.  I enjoy meeting different people all the time.  In particular, I really like my medical students, they work very hard and they are committed to what they’re trying to do. I also do media work – particularly giving talks on Radio 4 – which I find very rewarding because I get instant feedback from listeners.  It’s always very satisfying to write a book – the feedback is not instant, more like a slow burn of appreciation.

How did you end up doing it?

I left Uni and worked for a couple of years in the co-operative sector.  I then went back to Uni and did a Masters and a Doctorate. After that, I worked as an academic for most of my career, with one five year break working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, and another three year break to do arts activities.

If you were 21 again, would you do something different?

I sometimes wonder about that.  I love media work, and maybe I could have tried to have become a journalist, either on a newspaper or in BBC radio.  But I feel mostly content with what I’ve done with my life.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting different people is always rewarding. But I also love learning things, and this job is about continually finding new things out.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

My first paid work was counting laundry in a hospital for people with learning difficulties for a week. The laundry was soiled. I don’t think it’s possible to find a worse job.

What are the best and worst aspects about being small?

Best aspect is that everyone remembers you. Worst aspect, from the age of 50, has been the health problems – back pain for years, now paralysis and being reliant on a wheelchair.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?

Don’t worry about relationships. If you have a positive personality, people will love you.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

Maybe Barrack Obama. He’s very clever. He’s very funny. He had a great impact on the world, and above all, he’s so cool.

How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?

Cooking, reading, watching films, listening to music.

What’s your favourite book?

Possibly The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Or maybe The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brian. Or To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.  So many books, so little time!

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I once used the word ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, in the correct context, on BBC Question Time.

When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?

I hope people are still reading my books after I’m gone, and that at least one of them is a novel, not just an academic tome!

Role models in the dwarfism community: Simon Minty, trainer, consultant, comedy producer.

In this, the third installment in our series of interviews with role models in the dwarfism community, we speak with Simon Minty, trainer, consultant, comedy producer. Read on…

Simon Minty

Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?

My name is Simon Minty and I live in London. I was born in Epsom in Surrey and moved to London when I went to University and stayed.

And what do you do?

I’m not very good at explaining this. I’m self-employed. I’m a trainer and consultant. I talk to large companies about employment and customers who have a disability. I also produce comedy with Abnormally Funny People. I currently co-host two podcasts, one for the BBC called Ouch and one with my friend and colleague Phil.

Do you enjoy it?

Yes, in the main. I get nervous when I have to make a big speech but I love it too. I enjoy being asked to go in to a BBC radio studio and talk. I really enjoy the comedy we make and perform. A good training course when I can see delegates get ‘it’ is hugely rewarding. I have travelled for my work and that’s been fantastic. But, I have to write tender documents, have to do long conference calls and always have some admin to do which I enjoy less.

How did you end up doing it?

I left school at 18 and worked for Barclays Bank until I was 25. I ran training courses for Barclays as well as advised small businesses. My manager told me about a consultancy that worked in disability. At the time, I wasn’t thrilled to be categorised but stored the information. After realising I wanted something different from banking, I took a sabbatical and back-packed around Australia and New Zealand. Whilst away, I had the chance to think about where I fit in the world, about being short and I decided to go to University. A fellow back-packer suggested I studied philosophy. At University I continued to explore my height, disability more broadly and then met up with the chap who ran the consultancy. I started running training courses for him and, well, here I am.

The comedy was a different route, a best friend from school was a comedian and I loved everything about it.

If you were 21 again, would you do something different?

Phew, that’s a big question. I feel I had to do the things when I did to get to where I am now. I wonder if I’d stayed at the bank would I now be married with children, be mortgage free and living a different life?

What’s the best thing about your job?

Variety, freedom and the people. In the last few weeks I’ve been to Windsor Castle and the House of Lords, I recorded a show at the BBC, I spoke with a friend about writing a book, have been asked to do a talk in Hong Kong, and have written some comedy to pitch to Channel 4. I still have a mortgage though.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

I’ve been lucky in that I don’t think I’ve had a truly terrible job. I even enjoyed my Saturday job when I was 15 working as a cashier for Bentalls department store. I used to baby sit for neighbours and loved that too.

A part of my job that I don’t like is how it makes me nervous. My anxiety before a big event can kick in a month before. A few years ago I was asked to talk at a huge government backed event and was a mess for weeks beforehand. I retched on the journey there. Waiting back stage I wanted to run away and decided there and then, I was never doing this again. Then I went on stage and loved it.

What are the best and worst aspects about being small?

How long have you got? I’m generally ok with it now, I’m well in to middle age. I can get affected if youngsters shout something horrible, or if someone clumsily leans over me. Being an ‘ambassador’, that is being polite when I don’t want to be, can be tiresome. Pain and discomfort aren’t welcome and increase as I get older. Romantically and emotionally it’s been tough sometimes. However, I do like being me. I wouldn’t have taken this path if I’d not been short. I love the people I’ve met, I also love the short person community even though I was a latecomer. Being short has opened more doors than it has closed.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?

Being short is part of you, don’t resent it nor obsess about it. Do what you want to do. Try and be nice. You will get a girlfriend.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

Argh, will you quit with these big questions? My answer does vary but right now, it would be my parents. They didn’t know what was coming (they are average sized as is my sister) and no one gave them any training so I’d say they’re pretty special.

How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?

Being self-employed and working in comedy means work and pleasure often overlap. I like theatre, travel, football, food, lie ins and socialising.

What’s your favourite book?

Two that affected me hugely at the time of reading are The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll. I love a bit of angst. I read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins whilst at school and again later and was gripped.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

These questions! Recently a friend sent me a twenty year old article in which I had been interviewed. In it I said I would be content when I saw a short person be in a soap opera and their height be irrelevant to them being there. This is happening now. I know a lot of people made this happen but I’m proud to have contributed.

When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?

Good company, could be serious but was also fun.

RGA UK and ground-breaking children’s authors urge libraries to help combat dwarfism stereotypes

School and public libraries can help combat prejudice by promoting positive portrayals of people with dwarfism, according to the new ‘Spread The Word’ campaign launched today by leading dwarfism charity, RGA UK.

The charity – which campaigns to ensure people with dwarfism have the same opportunities as everyone else – has teamed up with two ground-breaking authors to encourage school and public libraries to stock children’s books showing dwarfism in a positive and realistic light.

Supporters are encouraged to contact their public or school library to request they stock ‘Strong and Mighty Max’ by Kristina Gray and ‘We Are Giants’ by Amber Lee Dodd, as well as ‘I can’t not never be very tall’ by Susan Hatton.

Template emails and letters to send to libraries – as well as Tweets, and Facebook posts – are available from the RGA UK website. Click here.

The aim of ‘Spread The Word’ is to promote more positive and accurate depictions of people with dwarfism who are otherwise often widely mischaracterised as people from fairy tales, myths, and fantasy stories.

RGA UK believes such misrepresentations can perpetuate stereotypes, prejudice, and misconceptions among children at a young age.

Books such as these help to introduce children to dwarfism, disability, and difference in a positive and realistic light.

Both authors have some availability to visit libraries and schools and talk to children about their books.

Chair of RGA UK, Gillian Martin, said: “There is an urgent need to address depictions of dwarfism, in our media and popular culture, which too often misrepresent members of our community as people out of myths, fairy tales, and fantasy novels.

“Introducing children to dwarfism and disability – of all sorts – at a young age helps them to become familiar with and accommodate difference and diversity, which we believe should be celebrated and embraced.

“These authors have done wonders to help us achieve this and we are very proud to support their books, which should be in every library across the country.”

Commenting on the campaign, Kristina said: “I am thrilled to be part of the RGA’s campaign to combat negative stereotypes of people with dwarfism. Educating young minds with positive role models is the key to empowering the next generation to value each other’s differences as something to be celebrated and respected.

“For a child who is born with a rare condition there is no greater feeling than picking up a story book and finding out that the main character is just like you.”

Amber Lee Dodd said: “Children’s fiction can often be a powerful medium for positive social change, which is why I’m very honoured that ‘We are Giants’ has been picked by RGA to promote positive representations of dwarfism – especially as ‘We are Giants’ is about never needing to be anything other than who you are.”

‘Strong and Mighty Max’ is aimed at Early Years and Key Stage 1. Max, born with Achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism), explains that Achondroplasia is a ‘big word’ and not a special ‘superpower’; it simply means his bones grow differently. It is a wonderfully illustrated story encouraging discussion about how everyone is born different.

‘We Are Giants’, for readers aged 9+, is written from the view of a young girl who lives with her sister and her mum who has dwarfism. Her deceased father also had dwarfism. When her mum gave birth to two average-sized daughters, people were sceptical about whether she could take care of them. It has been endorsed by best-selling author, Jacqueline Wilson, and reviewed by The Guardian.

It was also nominated for a number of national awards including the 2017 Branford Boase award for most promising children’s debut novel and Longlisted for the 2017 Waterstones’ children’s fiction award.

Template emails, Tweets, and Facebook posts are available from the RGA UK website. Click here.

To find your local library visit https://www.gov.uk/local-library-services or http://www.findmylibrary.co.uk/.

Are there other books that you think positively portrays people with dwarfism? Why not add these to your list and let Team RGA know via office@restrictedgrowth.co.uk.

ENDS

Notes

RGA UK is in no way commercially connected to the authors nor does the charity benefit financially from sales of these books.

We are Giants / Amber Lee DODD / Quercus Children’s Books / ISBN 9781784294212

Strong and Mighty Max / Kristina GRAY / Matador /ISBN 978178589046

I can’t not never be very tall / Susan HATTON / CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform / ISBN 13: 9781499717747