Tom Shakespeare

My daughter came visited for the weekend recently, bringing her boyfriend. My partner and I took them out and about. Just an ordinary family gathering. Except that this group included three people with restricted growth, of whom one also uses a wheelchair. Which makes a rather unusual sight.

My average-height partner has become used to how we get attention we get from strangers staring, and for me this is so normal that I usually just ignore it. But it’s rare for me to go places with another dwarf, let alone two other dwarfs. I suddenly felt that we were very conspicuous. Many people stared, giggled, or passed comments.

I asked my daughter how it was for her and her boyfriend. She confirmed that when they go out together as a couple, they get much more attention than when they are somewhere separately. Some people find them funny. Others comment on how lucky they are to have found another person like them.

On seeing the four of us together, other people thought that her boyfriend was actually my son. In the same way, people sometimes assume that my partner is my sister or my carer. Non-disabled people often find it extraordinary that disabled people lead normal lives, with families and careers. Because we look so different, the implication is that we must be different in other ways too.

As a result of the unwanted attention, some restricted growth people try to avoid meeting other people with their condition. They look the other way, or cross the road. Sometimes, meeting another person who has your disability reminds you of how you must appear to strangers. It was a little like that for me, when I was out with my daughter and her partner. I felt self-conscious about my difference, as if for the very first time.