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Disability is everywhere: Lady Tanni and Little People of America

by Simon Minty

22nd July 2010

Scratch the surface and you'll find that there's a disability link in most things. Simon Minty brings you up-to-date proof of this theory with his latest
Tanni Grey Thompson
I've taken a bit of time off work recently and easily slipped in to the bad habit of staying up late watching trash TV. The other night I really should have gone to bed but decided to have a quick headlines update with the BBC News channel - always important at two o'clock in the morning.

I caught the end of a politics programme, reporting on the days' events at the Houses of Parliament. Post election, it's not just about changes to government and MPs, there are newly appointed Lords and Ladies, and they all get to make a maiden speech.

I nearly slipped off to sleep - as most of the House of Lords seem to do even when sitting - but I decided to give it another five minutes. I'm so glad I did.

Like a gift from heaven, on screen was a sight to behold, a scene that made my chest rise just a little bit. There, in the House of Lords, were three women in a row, all of them wheelchair users.
Paralympian superstar Lady Grey-Thompson was making her maiden speech flanked by two established peers and respected senior disability figures, Baroness Jane Campbell and Baroness Sue Marsham.

Three visibly disabled people in the House of Lords is a pretty awesome thing. However with respect to the Lords and Ladies, 2000 people of short stature in downtown Nashville is truly amazing. You may have heard me talking to Liz Carr on this month's Ouch Talk show about attending the Little People of America annual convention, which this year was in Nashville, Tennessee. Despite this being my sixth convention, it still shakes me when surrounded by 1999 people who have a similar condition; the mirror image moment where I see others how others see me.

The convention provides heaps of useful information such as the medical workshops where the best US skeletal dysplasia doctors and surgeons offer free consultations. For new parents of a short baby, this is a god send, for adults with increasing mobility difficulties this is a boon. There's the added reassurance that the medics have worked with people with your condition before.
Simon Minty in Nashville with some Little people of America
In case you think I've gone all 'medical model', limb lengthening is sensibly not on the agenda, and three of the musically talented doctors joined five musically talented short people one evening to create the 'Little Big Band' knocking out gems such as Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Proud Mary'. There was a talent show and fashion show and this years Expo (I told you it's a big event) had cool ideas from made to measure furniture to sex advice and aids.

It's not all education, socialising plays a big part with day trips, a nightly disco (which I am too old for) and the more sedate Barty Club (which I hope I am too young for). I managed to reconnect with someone with whom I should have never lost contact with for which I'm truly grateful.

On the final night, after midnight, I went out walking with two friends, one short, one average sized. We went down to the heaving Nashville bar scene which was thronging with drunken bar hoppers and a few undesirables.

Bracing myself for comments or confrontation, there was unbridled joy when I realized no one even took a second glance. For one week in Nashville, disability was everywhere so nobody cared about our 'difference'.

There was no time to watch television during convention but if I had I would have sought out HBO, America's high brow, down and cool, cable television channel. HBO has produced a long list of modern classics including: The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and more recently True Blood.

American friends of mine (and a few British) happily sit down for a day or two with DVD box sets - of a series or 'season' if you're from the US - and lose themselves for hours.
Actor Peter Dinklage
With the notable exception of producing the painfully funny Curb Your Enthusiasm that has dabbled fearlessly with the subject of disability, I've not really seen HBO and disability as natural bedfellows. It's not a criticism just an observation. So I was surprised to spot a Northern Ireland casting company seeking amputees (is that the best term?) to be in an HBO production called 'Game of Thrones' being filmed in Belfast.

I'm guessing that, if you get a role, initially you'll be a warrior wearing a prosthetic limb and later on you may well lose said limb in an epic battle.

Peter Dinklage, an actor with dwarfism best known for the film The Station Agent is in the production. I admire Peter as he tends to avoid dressing up in costumes, but this being a fantasy I'm anxious he hasn't been swayed by the dollars. Strangely though, I didn't see him at the Nashville convention.


    • 1. At 11:36am on 26 Jul 2010, MrKitka wrote:

      Hey! No worries about Dinklage's choice of a fantasy costume epic. My sister is avidly reading the series of novels it's based on and says that the character he'll be playing is one of the heroes... not an extra, not comic relief or "curiosity" but genuine hero. I personally can't wait to see it!

      And of course Dinklage did "dress up in costume" as Trumpkin for the Narnia movie but again he was playing a leader and hero (if a crotchety one) and did so very well.

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