My name is Jacob. I always introduce myself as a twenty-something software developer, gamer; who has a Christmas cracker sense of humour; a slight affinity for caffeine; and who just happens to have Achondroplasia.
I saw the RGA was running the #SpreadTheWord campaign – asking libraries and schools to stock books that show a positive image of dwarfism. I wanted to take part and contacted my old primary school to see if they’d welcome the books into their library. The current generation there would not have grown up with any real-life representation of dwarfism. They accepted my request and wanted me to revisit the school to deliver a presentation.
I arrived as a representative of someone with dwarfism; that representation you give will shape the pupils’ opinions for many years to come. Pre-empting the questions was important. So I opened the presentation with “I bet you are all wondering why am I small?” and “What should you call me?” Their reaction to my almost psychic predictions showed it made them intrigued and it began to break the ice.
I had researched the school and found they taught equality to the students, within their school values. I used this to relate to, and reinforce, my message. I spoke in my presentation about diversity and equality, dwarfism, and a small bit about my life. I showed a trailer for ‘7 Little Johnstons’, which features a family with dwarfism in America. As some of the children are the same age it made it relatable to them.
I also toured each of the classrooms to take questions. Most questions were about programming and gaming. At this point, I realised that, rather than treating me as a bizarre curiosity walking into the classroom, I was being respected as another person.
The pupils then started sharing stories about their differences, which wasn’t part of the plan. This unexpectedly struck me as brave and inspirational. It made the point that, as human beings, we all have differences. We should not focus on the factors we can’t control. What make us human are our personalities, feelings, emotions, and experiences. This was the key message in my presentation.
The major importance is not to teach the pupils what to think, but to show a human perspective, so when they see a negative portrayal of dwarfism they can turn around that negativity and see the person within. It was hugely positive. I took as much from the experience as I gave to the pupils and I highly encourage anyone with differences to take the leap, take the chance, do what scares you (I admit I was terrified) and make an impact – however small. Remember, that impact will cast a ripple and the resulting ‘butterfly-effect’ will shape many lifetimes to come.
It’s only when a person sees past the differences and casts out any pre-conception, that they see the everyday person you are. Portrayal is an important part of this; people are impressionable with what they see and hear. We are all partly responsible in shaping each new generation’s perceptions. The resulting portrayal casts an impact on all our futures.