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Gary Arnold, person with dwarfism

'I'm going to attract a lot of attention, and sometimes it's not going to be good'



First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford

"If you're a person with dwarfism, you have to deal with it all the time. You'll go for months and feel like all the strangers on the street are really cool and no one's paying any mind, and then all of a sudden you'll hit a streak. It's not like I sit in my home and worry about going outside, but I know that I'm going to attract a lot of attention, and sometimes it's not going to be good.

"For me, it's mostly on my bicycle. I like biking, and I bike a lot. I'm about four foot three, so I'm the size of a seven- or eight-year-old kid. And seven- or eight-year-old kids cross the street, so when I'm biking, cars can't use the excuse that they can't see me.

"Anyway, if I'm riding my bike and I notice someone passing me with a camera, that's the toughest thing. You have no idea where that photo's going to turn up. They think it's funny: 'I just saw a midget on a bike.' It just makes me so mad. My rule is, if I can catch up to that car without pedaling faster or breaking any rules of the road, I'll do something.

"A couple of years ago, I was biking down State Street, and this car came alongside me. An arm came out of the back window of the car with a digital camera pointed right at me, and they took my picture. But the car hit a stoplight right away, and I was only a few yards behind them.

"I went up and planted my bike right in front of the car, and I didn't move. I told them, 'I want your camera.' The driver started yelling at me to move. Then there was a woman in the backseat, and she screamed out at me, 'I deleted the photo! Let us go!' But I still just kept asking for the camera. We were there for three or four red lights. Finally this Northwestern police car drove by and told me that taking someone's picture is not illegal, so I left.

"My wife has a theory. She says that if you use a wheelchair, well, maybe you acquired that disability. So the average person feels a connection to that person, because they understand that maybe that person wasn't disabled at one point. They understand that anyone could become disabled.

"But dwarfism—you're born with it. That's never going to impact most people on the street. Because of that distance, I think people feel more entitled to treat you poorly. It's so different from their life experience that they're not making a human association.

"When something like that happens, my goal is to let them know that what they've done is wrong. And also—and maybe this is mean on my part—I want them to get as mad as I've gotten. This situation was kind of cool because they were getting really, really mad. I've never gotten a camera, though."


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