Little People: Parvum Sed Potens

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a professor of education at Harvard University, believes that respect is the single most important ingredient in creating authentic relationships, building healthy organizations, and establishing thriving communities. In her book, Respect, she maintains that curiosity is fundamental to relationships of all kinds and advises her readers to be genuinely interested in the stories and dreams of others. We are fueled by curiosity. Listen to her words: “Who are you? Who am I? How are we different? How are we the same? What are the feelings and experiences that we both share?Each question invites another and offers the opportunity of going deeper and discovering more. Each question hopes for understanding and is an offering of respect.” Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot declares that one of the ways to honor and enact the mission of diversity is storytelling. Authentic curiosity and rapport with someone who is different and identifying with this person across traditional boundaries leads to discovery and “weaves the tapestry of human connection.” This is compelling reinforcement for Irish Americans because we have an over-developed sense of curiosity, are natural storytellers and love a great yarn. These traits are useful tools for diversity work.Years ago I placed a senior executive, a “little person,” in a demanding position with an international corporation. One of her references was, and still is, a very well known national leader in her field. The reference he gave her was the most memorable I’ve ever heard. “Do you remember the E.F. Hutton commercial that took place in a noisy restaurant? Everyone was talking, waiters were hustling, dishes were clanging but when the E.F. Hutton representative spoke there was complete and absolute silence. Well, your candidate is the E.F. Hutton of our industry. When she speaks, everyone listens, including me no, make that especially me”. This made a tremendous impression on me and to this day I remember that candidate as “parvum sed potens” – small but powerful. This was the first occasion I had to work with Little People. Then my natural curiosity took over.Let’s define some terms. “Dwarfism is a genetic condition resulting in short stature.” “Midget is an extremely little person who is of proportionate nature.” The term “midget” dates back to 1865, the height of the “freak show” era, and was generally applied only to short-statured persons who were displayed for public amusement. Both terms can be offensive. Instead use “person of small (or short) stature” Although dwarfism is an accepted medical term, it should not be used as general terminology. When in doubt, ask. Some folks prefer the term “Little People.” Some labels beget stereotyping and seem to encourage ignorance and prejudice. Forget labels; call people by their names.Go to Little People of America’s website (http://www.lpaonline.org/) for the answers to a number of frequently asked questions. For example: is dwarfism considered a disability? Opinions vary, but dwarfism is a recognized condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Search practitioners should have more than a passing knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), more specifically, Titles I and V of this act. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all employment practices. An individual with a disability under the ADA is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty, e.g., walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, and working.A qualified employee or a candidate with a disability is someone who satisfies the skills, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position. Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities
  • Job restructuring
  • Modification of work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Revising or up-dating examinations, training materials, or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters

Reasonable accommodations may be necessary to apply for a job and to perform job functions but an employer is not required to lower production standards to make an accommodation. An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. Before making an offer of employment, an employer may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability but the employer may ask candidates about their ability to perform job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in the same job category. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.Keep in mind that the ADA covers all private employers, state and local governments and educational institutions that employ fifteen or more individuals. These laws also cover private and public employment agencies.Little People of America is a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families. Membership is offered to those people who are usually no taller than 4’10” in height. Their short stature is generally caused by one of the more than 200 medical conditions known as dwarfism. Membership is also available to relatives and interested professionals who work with short statured individuals. There are 50 local chapters which meet monthly. The LPA annual national conference usually attracts more than 1000 people for a week of fun, sharing, and learning. This summer Boston will be the site of the 2003 annual conference.Little people, like all people, have a variety of jobs. No big surprise! Take a panoramic view of what some little people are doing in the American workplace. There are lawyers, accountants, quality assurance managers, journalists, teachers, controllers, chemical process engineers, psychologists, psychiatrists, webmasters, college vice president, occupational therapists, architects, programmers, systems analysts, special education teachers, drama teachers, child day care teachers, and copywriters. Some have fun jobs, too. Jobs like bartending, basketball and tennis coaching, managing a day care center for retired people, running a dairy farm, designing video games, writing science fiction, hosting a disc jockey show, and dealing cards at a Black Jack table.Little People’s Research Fund (http://www.lprf.org/) in Towson, Maryland is a charitable organization that relies on the generosity of thousands of people whose donations make research and other programs possible. Charles McElwee, the Executive Director with over thirty-five years in this field, believes that the statistic cited for the world population of little people, 195,313, is very conservative. He was most generous with his time on the phone with me and is proud and appreciative of the significant advances made possible by LPRF.When I asked him what he would like to say to The Fordyce Letters readers he responded: “Tell them that as a result of research sponsored by our donors we now know what causes dwarfism and we know how to correct it. Most Little People encounter progressive deformities during childhood. These deformities may lead to disability. In some cases breathing difficulties, gradual paralysis and even death result. But with treatment, deformities can be corrected, mobility returned, and affected people can become capable of living independently and contributing to the world. After extensive treatment, many little people have become doctors and lawyers and successful executives. Let me tell your readers about one little girl who had twenty-three major surgeries. She persevered with heroic courage. She later graduated from the University of Miami with a double major in biology and anatomy. She then received her M.D. from John Hopkins and is currently doing an internship in pediatrics. She is 34 inches tall but is a gigantic success story.”

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Frank X. McCarthy is Partner in Charge of Diversity Practice with The Corporate Source Group. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. He founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: frank@diverseworkplace.com

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