Dwarfism, disability and why universal design matters

Angela Van Etten

I was honored to be asked by the Disability Justice Project if I’d share this excerpt from “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes.” It’s on the importance of universal design and focuses on the work of Angela Van Etten, a longtime activist with Little People of America and the author of several books — most recently “Always an Advocate: Champions of Change for People with Dwarfism and Disabilities.”

The Disability Justice Project is based at Northeastern University and headed by my School of Journalism colleague Jody Santos.

Speaking out against dwarf-tossing

Angela Van Etten, an old friend from Little People of America, has written an excellent commentary for the Huffington Post on what’s wrong with dwarf-tossing. (And good grief, Arianna. “Weird News”? Really?) As you may have heard, a state legislator in Florida wants to repeal that state’s law against dwarf-tossing on the grounds that letting drunks hurl little people across barrooms would somehow help the economy.

Van Etten does a good job of explaining the difference between people with dwarfism who exploit their short stature for profit, like Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer, and people who allow themselves to be exploited — that is, the tossees. Among other things, dwarf-tossing is dangerous, because people with dwarfism have unstable spines.

In 2002, Van Etten and her husband, Robert, were interviewed by John Stossel, then of ABC News’ “20/20,” who mocked their opposition to a campaign led by a dwarf to overturn the Florida law. Fortunately, the law held.

I had the privilege of interviewing the Van Ettens during the 2002 LPA national conference in Salt Lake City, and they pop up several times in my book “Little People.”