The excerpt from Robert Murphy’s book, The Body Silent, was poignant and powerful. Murphy pragmatically addresses his disability while also acknowledging the deeply emotional issues his story brings up. Murphy faced profound hardships in social situations due to his physical disability as well as society’s treatment of him. I am going to extend that notion by focusing on extreme and violent behavior that some disabled people have experienced.
As Murphy describes, the social stigma, selective blindness, and lack of understanding all contribute to the difficulties that disabled people face in society. When general uneasiness about people with disabilities is compounded by ignorance or intolerance, violence can occur, leading to tragic consequences. Disabled children are especially vulnerable to violence, with “children with disabilities 2.1 times as likely to endure criminal physical abuse and 1.8 times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children without disabilities” (Petersilia, Human Rights Magazine, 2000).
One example that has been in the news recently is the controversy surrounding “dwarf tossing”. It has been banned by many countries, including the United States. However, State Representative Ritch Workman of Florida wants to bring the appalling bar activity back. He wants to make it legal under the guise of the goal to “seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people” because he feels the government should not infringe on a citizen’s “right” to toss a dwarf across a bar (Chappell, NPR, 2011). By using “dwarf tossing” as the outlet for his political agenda, Rep. Workman further demeans and marginalizes disabled people in general, and dwarfs in particular. (While the dwarf community has not reached a consensus on whether dwarfism is a disability, it is included in the Americans with Disabilities Act. More can be read on the disagreement surrounding whether the term applies to dwarfs here.)
Even more recently, Peter Dinklage acknowledged a man with dwarfism named Martin Henderson during his Golden Globes acceptance speech. Henderson was picked up and thrown in October and was severely injured. He is pictured below and more can be read about his story here and here.