The Misperception Of Disability
In the summer of 2018, the Colin McEnroe Show and the entire talk show team at WNPR had the honor in selecting Jason Perez for an internship at Connecticut Public Radio. Perez worked with Colin McEnroe Show senior producer Betsy Kaplan to produce an episode, aired August 8, that focused on what the general public typically gets wrong about people who have a disability. Along with guests Lila Call and Maysoon Zayid, the three opened up and discussed their lives living with their respective disabilities and how they’re often mistreated.
Here, Perez goes deeper on what exactly inspired his desire to create the episode. He discusses his experiences, his achievements, and why this conversation needs to happen in order for people to understand how to treat, and act around, those with a disability.
I was born with achondroplasia dwarfism. Dwarfism is a condition of short stature and achondroplasia is the most common type of dwarfism. It is caused by a mutation of the FGFR3 gene and it happens to one in 26,000 to 40,000 babies. Basically, anyone can be born with dwarfism, and in my case, I’m the only little person in my family’s history. Actually, 80% of children with achondroplasia dwarfism have average size parents. Common characteristics of achondroplasia dwarfism are a long trunk, shortened upper parts of the arms and legs, a large head with a prominent forehead, a flattened bridge of the nose, a curvature of the spine, and bowed legs. These gifts obviously make me look a bit different than the average person but who cares, right?
Typically, people want to be unique and stand out. Aren’t you impressed by a Lamborghini on the road amongst all the other cars? You appreciate how it looks, and it puts you in awe. Well, as I grew older I realized that being unique can have some disadvantages and standing out is not always a good thing.
People would point, stare, and laugh. They would do that either behind my back or in front of my face. They would use profanities, call me ugly, they would say I should die, and I vividly remember one person running away screaming bloody murder after she saw me.
People also made assumptions because of my appearance. They challenged my intelligence. When I visited a prospective college an employee actually spoke to me one word at a time as though it was some form of baby talk. People thought I was unable to do things without even asking me. One time, in my early 20s, a restaurant hostess asked my friends whether I needed a kid’s menu.
It seemed that people felt I was too much of a hassle and they had no willingness or patience for me. How did I notice this? When you’re among “normal” able-bodied individuals most of the time you can’t help but observe their interactions. I noticed that for some, their attitudes and personalities would dramatically change for the worse when they interacted with me. Was it because I was a little person?
As I grew older I came to realize what I was born with is considered a disability. That’s not to say my life has been all disappointments and sadness. I recently graduated with honors from Queens College in New York with a double major in Media Studies and Political Science and I will be performing for my ninth year as a swing for the Elves in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes at the iconic Radio City Music Hall in New York City. I have a loving family who continue to give me a foundation of love and support, and I have a close group of friends who always have my back.
But I’m not naïve. Even at the age of 30, people continue to show me ignorance. There are opportunities afforded to able-bodied individuals that are not afforded to me or to others living with disabilities. Now more than ever, those with disabilities are not supported in the current political atmosphere. But one in five people in the U.S. has a disability. It is no longer different and weird, but instead, it’s the new normal.
I was proud to produce a segment for The Colin McEnroe Show because I realize stories and ideas through this medium are conveyed to thousands of listeners, potentially changing perspectives and perceptions. People living with disabilities need to be involved in the conversation and the equation in a respectful and humanizing manner. Until the perception of those with disabilities changes for the better, people will continue to get things wrong when it comes to disability.