Shauna Rae Bravely Raises Awareness
- Standing at 3-feet-10-inches tall, TLC star Shauna Rae is a 23-year-old with pituitary dwarfism after battling brain cancer, which can make people mistake her for a child.
- Shauna told SurvivorNet that those situations make her “feel very vulnerable” and sometimes even “become an unsafe environment.”
- Little People of America (LPA) refers to scenarios like being mistaken for a child in public as “infantilising.”
- Shauna and the LPA offered advice to others with dwarfism facing similar situations: speak up for yourself.
- But in addition, to truly make a change, others have to educate themselves about little people and their needs.
“I feel very vulnerable and that it is best to remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible,” Shauna told SurvivorNet. “I don’t want it to become an unsafe environment, like it has in past experiences.”Read More
“I’m hoping that by raising awareness for my type of dwarfism and disability, that it will help the world and us as humans be more open minded when it comes to the variety of people we have in our world,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post. “Everyone deserves to be treated the same no matter their difference”
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She talked about her experience of being mistaken as a child when out to eat at restaurants. Shauna says it’s “something that happens to me very often, and used to be an every-time-I went-out occurrence.”
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“Getting things like kids menus, kids cups, crayons at restaurants is common,” she explained in the video. “It’s less common I’ve noticed when I’m out with my friends, very common when I’m out with my older sisters or my family in general.
“I think it’s just the environment I’m around and the way I carry myself that sometimes affects it. But also I think if they see you in a family environment, they see a short-statured person, they just immediately think child.”
This type of situation, being mistaken for a child when you are an adult, is referred to as “infantilising,” according to Little People of America (LPA), a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families.
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“Infantilising happens in our community all too often,” Jennifer Crumly, the Public Relations Director for Little People of America, told SurvivorNet. “Being talked down to, condescended or treated as lacking in judgement or authority is a common problem in our community. It’s insulting. Some may find it humiliating and dehumanizing.”
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Shauna Rae Feels ‘Vulnerable’
Understandably so, these sort of situations make Shauna very uncomfortable. But the impact is far greater than simple discomfort. And depending on the people involved, infantilising can even make her feel “unsafe.”
“As someone who is an adult and gets perceived as a child quite often when in these situations, I feel very vulnerable because depending on the person I am dealing [with] I could be getting a variety of reactions,” she said. “Some people are accepting and become quiet or apologetic. While some people deny all fact of me being an adult and call me a liar or my friends or family liars.
“I’ve also had some cases where people have prevented me from leaving an area despite me wanting to leave, and vocalizing that. When situations like those happen, I feel very vulnerable and that it is best to remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible because they refuse to understand that people can be different and I don’t want it to become an unsafe environment, like it has in past experiences.”
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Shauna says there are many ways to raise crucial awareness for people with disabilities. She hopes sharing her story will mean fewer people have to experience what she’s had to deal with.
But, at the root of it all, she knows society needs to change. We need to recondition people to not automatically put others into categories.
In the wise words of Shauna: “We’re all human, and we’re all the same, deep down.”
“Society, in general, has no teachings about disabilities or specifically dwarfism unless you are exposed to them,” Shauna said. “Most people who are born without a disorder or disability and do not know someone with one are not taught how to approach or any information in general on people with disabilities.
“Information has to be shared and the younger the better. Children are taught not to stare, but no one is taught that it’s okay to ask questions appropriately and it’s okay to treat people with disabilities as ‘normal’ human still. People treat other people with disabilities as if they can only be with other people with disabilities. Or that in general asking questions is rude.”
Advice for Other Shorter-Stature People
Shauna Rae knows she is not alone in her experience as a person with dwarfism. So, she has advice for other people that end up dealing with the harmful effects of infantilising a shorter-stature person.
“As a shorter stature person, I believe any other person experiencing the same things as I that they should speak up for themselves in the moment,” she said. “I also think after the moment, those times we’re alone and think back, you must remember that what happened really didn’t have anything to do with you.
“The person didn’t approach you correctly, and most people weren’t taught how to approach people that are different from them. That all questions or comments came from a lack of understanding.”
In a similar vein, Crumly says people with dwarfism have to speak up “every time.” But the responsibility to foster change really shouldn’t be on the person being infintilised.
“Staff at restaurants need to be properly trained and observe their patrons to accurately assess their needs,” she said. “Host staff can speak to LPs and other disabled patrons directly, that is something I don’t see a lot when the LP or disabled person is with a group. Often they talk to the non-disabled patrons in the group.
“Discrimination is inexcusable and unacceptable to our community, just like any other minority community. Our community is comprised of beautiful people and if others outside of our community differ from that, then that is on them.”
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