Evan Artran runs his own print shop, lives in his own house in Simi Valley, and he and his wife are raising their three children--no problem. But trying to use a water fountain or find a pair of shoes for his size 5EEE feet--that's a problem.
At 4 foot, 6 inches, Artran doesn't consider being a dwarf a true handicap. But the daily hassles of living in a world constructed for taller people does have its irksome aspects. Insensitivity is not the least of them. Artran still winces when telling about the time an adult saw him passing by and yelled out, "Look, there goes a Munchkin!"
"It's hard to believe that there are still some adults out there that can be that rude," Artran said. "The environmental problems, such as pay phones that are too high to reach or all those big cars that you can't reach the pedals, are easy to fix. But the big problem is some people's negative attitudes to anyone different from themselves.
"But all in all, things have changed drastically in the past 10 years. I think it has a lot to do with all the exposure and advances handicapped individuals and ethnic minorities have gained recently. There's more acceptance and less prejudice these days."
Artran also credited the Little People of America as a catalyst for some of the changes. The organization, which has about 6,000 members, through meetings, conventions and a quarterly newsletter provides useful information regarding dwarfism, and social support to a group of people who often feel isolated in a tall world.
The Artran family has just returned from the organization's 33rd annual national convention. About 500 people met in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho for the four-day event which ended Tuesday. Featured were sporting competitions, a fashion show and workshops. As one of 12 district directors in the country, Artran's territory includes California, Hawaii and Nevada. He is organizing the next district convention scheduled for Nov. 2-4 in Concord.
Artran, his wife, Marilyn, and two of their children, Daniel, 16, and Michelle 11, are achondroplasia dwarfs, which is the most common form of the more than 200 types of dwarfism. They have an average-size torso but their limbs are short.
"When I was younger kids use to tease me and stuff, but now that they've gotten older and more mature they don't do it anymore," Daniel said. "The problem that I have now as a teen-ager is girls and dating. Most tall girls won't go out with me, but I don't really get upset about that. I can understand. But still it's hard. It's the worst at school dances.
"One good thing about the convention is that I get to meet girls my size."
The Artrans' second son, Clint, was born average size, and doctors predict that he'll grow to be six feet tall. At 5 foot 2, the 12-year-old already towers over the rest of his family.
Dwarfism is caused by a genetic mutation--a regular-size child can be born to dwarf parents, or a dwarf can be born to a family with no prior incidence of dwarfism.
"In some countries having a dwarf child is considered a curse upon the family, a social stigma," Artran said. "There are stories of parents literally leaving their child at a bus station.
"Things are better in America but you still hear about people giving up their baby for adoption because it is small and doesn't look right."
The LPA quarterly newsletter contains a section for the names and pictures of dwarf children up for adoption. The newsletter also features a section on newlywed couples. According to Artran, about 85% of the dwarfs he knows marry other dwarfs, and it seems that most of them meet each other through LPA. In fact, the Artrans met more than 20 years ago at an LPA-sponsored ice skating party.
"I'd prefer it if my dwarf children marry other dwarfs," Marilyn Artran said. "It's nice to be able to walk side by side with your spouse; to be able to turn around and whisper something romantic in his ear without first having to yell at him to stoop down. It's nice to be able to dance with your husband, not his belt buckle."
Dating and adolescence are topics Evan Artran recalls with a wince. "Growing up was tough," he said.
It's been a long, hard road, he said, but Artran is now able to deal with rude people in a positive manner. But there are a few things that still grate. Like most dwarfs, he does not want to be called a midget, which is a slang term. "And every now and then someone will pat me on the head. It takes all of my control," said the brown belt, "not to use my judo on them."
UP CLOSE EVAN ARTRAN
Title: District director of the Little People of America Inc.
Favorite sport: Judo
Pet peeve: Being patted on the head
Favorite dessert: Strawberry shortcake
Outlook: "LPA was designed for people 4 foot 10 and under for a medical reason. But I won't hold a tape measure up to anyone to check. If a taller person wants to join, that's fine with me. Restricting what someone can do because of their height, whether it be short or tall, is a real bugaboo of mine."