Living with stigma, working for change

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I live just outside of Forest Park, and I have worked in Forest Park for more than two years. I work at Progress Center, a nonprofit with services and resources that support independence for people with disabilities. Part of independence is the social aspect, trying to build communities that not only accept diversity but also engage with people who are different from the typical in one way or another. 

I have dwarfism. On a personal level, and on a professional level, I've found Forest Park to be very engaging. I've loved working with and interacting with other businesses along Madison Street, and with the Chamber of Commerce. Friday, Feb. 7 was a particularly lovely day in Forest Park. It was 37 degrees. With the sun, the pretty snow on the ground, and the limited breeze, the temperature felt more like the 40s. I was walking from the Progress Center office to pick up my car at Elite Tire. 

On Franklin Street, west of Circle, a car pulled up next to a condominium building and parked. A man stepped out of his car. He looked at me, raised his hand over his head, waved, and said, "Hello, midget." He said it in a tone that reminded me of June Cleaver greeting a neighbor. For most people with dwarfism, there is nothing more unwelcoming than the m-word. The word steals our humanity. One minute I was walking down the street, feeling good about the sunny day, and my place in the world. The next minute I shriveled under the focus of misguided attention. I tried to talk to the man, but he shuffled into the condo building. 

This event is not reflective of Forest Park, and this event is not exclusive to Forest Park. This happens in the neighborhood where I live. It happens nearly everywhere I go. Not every day, but it happens. I have always been able to live with it. I will always be able to live with it. 

But I also want to make change, so that in the future, people like me, and all people who face some sort of social stigma, will feel welcome here in Forest Park and everywhere.

Gary Arnold

Oak Park

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