Twenty seven years ago, I was born an achondroplastic dwarf. This means that I have an average height torso but shorter arms and legs. I stand 4 feet tall. Every day I’m forced to adapt to the “average” height world that we live in.
Dwarfism is a recognized condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a large number of people with disabilities will tell you that they wouldn’t change anything except for how the world reacts to their disability.
There are an estimated 30,000 people in the United States living with one of the 200 forms of dwarfism. Dwarfs only represent 0.02% of the U.S. population, which means that most little people encounter at least one person each day who has never seen one before. It is not uncommon for these people to stare and occasionally laugh when they first see a little person. Both of my parents and older sister are “average” height, and my parents always taught me to stay positive no matter how harsh the outside world may be.
I feel responsible for educating everyone I come across in my everyday life that people with disabilities really are no different. Whether it’s using a stool or pedal extensions for driving, I figure out a way to overcome the obstacle in front of me and work it out. I’ve learned to accept that the world isn’t going to adapt to me so I choose to focus on everything I can do, even if it’s a different way than everyone else.
Growing up, I was extremely active on my high school swim team. It took me a lot longer than my “average” height peers to finish the laps required at practice; however, I stayed at practice until I completed what was required. My junior year in high school was the most challening one for me. The girls in my group of friends since preschool started dating guys, and some of them were embarrassed having me around their newfound guy friends or love interests. This was very painful and difficult to accept. However, I discovered the strength I needed to rise above it and learned that true disability can only be found in our insecurities and the limitations we set for ourselves.
We were all brought to this earth for a reason and have the ability to do whatever we want with our lives. The truth is that everyone struggles in their everyday life in one way or another. It’s about staying positive and making the best of what you have.
Our real disabilities come from the inside. All of us, even those without any type of legally-accepted disability, can fall prey to self-defeating thinking by focusing on what we can’t do and comparing ourselves to others. Here are my tips for how to overcome any obstacle — or perceived disability — that life may put in front of you:
1. Stay focused on the positives instead of the negatives. No matter what obstacles have come my way, staying positive has allowed me to overcome them. When I was in tenth grade, I had to miss 29 days of school in order to have major back surgery, where seven vertebrae were removed due to spinal cord compression. I knew that the back surgery was crucial and I found a way to make up the school work that I had missed. Staying positive allowed me to keep up with my classmates and graduate on time.
2. Don’t ever give up. When I first moved out to Los Angeles after growing up in Boston, I went on one hundred job interviews before starting my current position. If I wasn’t right for those one hundred positions, I knew there still had to be an opportunity out there for me.
3. Challenge yourself and try new things every day. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I encounter a new challenge — whether it’s trying to reach something high in the kitchen or volunteering to participate in an optional pitch lunch at work. As long as you try, that’s all that matters in the end.
4. Each day you should ask yourself if you’re happy. If there’s something that’s making you unhappy, you should find a way to make change. I find myself unhappy whenever I’m surrounded by negative people. Now I’m more cautious of the people with whom I surround myself.
5. Smile. A smile goes a long way. Whenever people are staring or laughing at me for whatever reason, keeping a smile on my face causes them to wonder why I don’t react.
6. Don’t compare yourself to others and find time to celebrate your little accomplishments. I always set my own goals. Although we all wish we could get there as fast as it seems others have, I’ve found ways to enjoy the journey and celebrate each little success on the way. After missing almost a whole season on the youth soccer team, due to my back surgery during the spring of my sophomore year in college, I found a way to play in the last game of the season. I never scored a goal but participating was just as important to me. After long recovery, this was a huge accomplishment for me.
Next time you’re out and about, try to find someone to smile at and say hello to. If they look like they’re struggling, try to help them out. Take the chance to learn from them.
Disability can only be found in the way you think…and life is only as hard as you make it.