"Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess with golden hair, blue eyes, and pearly white teeth. Her prince was tall, dark, and handsome....."
A popular line we have seen time and time again in fairy tales and children's story books. While seemingly innocent, it probably wouldn't occur to most of us that the line "tall, dark, and handsome" would be offensive to anyone, and yet it is one of the first things that we discuss when I sat down with Zahra to learn more about their extraordinary family and the challenges they face living in a world that is made for people of average height and above.
Zahra and her daughter Zoya have Achondroplasia, a form of Dwarfism, and see the world from a whole different perspective.
I first met Zahra through an event where she was promoting her support group Little people of the UAE, and then again recently at Mawaheb from Beautiful People where Zahra is a volunteer.
I really enjoyed spending time with this amazing family and learning more about their world. I'm sure they would all be grateful to know that you took the time to learn a bit about them too.
I am learning so much from this project, and every day my heart opens that little bit wider. Thank you for the opportunity to learn about your incredible journey, Zahra, Muffadal, and Zoya!
1) Tell us about your family!
We are a family of 3, and have a daughter who is 7.5 years old named Zoya. My husband is a banker, and I'm a computer engineer. I was born with Achondroplasia which is the most common form of Dwarfism. Before and during my pregnancy with Zoya we did genetic counselling in which the Dr mentioned if the mother has Achondroplasia there is a 50% chance the child will inherit the gene.
During the 4th month of my pregnancy we were told that Zoya carried the gene. We have not yet been able to identify the exact form of Achondroplasia in Zoya. I am desperately trying to find a genetic specialist in Dubai who can confirm the exact type of her condition.
As a child, my husband Muffadal had a condition where he grew rapidly (the medical reports are not available) and was given hormonal injections to restrict his early hair growth as he was going through puberty at an early age. These injections subsequently stunted his growth uniformly. This is different to Dwarfism in that Dwarfism affect the joints, specifically the limbs.
2) What has been your biggest challenge living with your condition?
I believe this world is made for people of average height and above. I am 1.26 m tall. When out in public you feel eyes turning towards you. I am used to it now, but my concern is for my daughter.
It's really difficult to go to an overcrowded place. I am at the exact height of most people's posterior region. This is not always a pleasant sight or smell!
The disabled toilets are really high. There is only one mall in Dubai that I know of that has special low toilets and wash basins.
I feel we are not catered for in many facilities. The hooks on the door of the toilets are very high which means I have to put my bag on a dirty floor or on top of the toilet which can be awkward.
Many reception counters in shops, offices, and institutions are very high. This can be awkward.
When standing in a queue with a high counter, I am often overlooked by both the person at the counter, and the person behind me. The person behind me will often start having a conversation with the person on the counter as if I am not there, while the person at the counter either overlooks me, or can't see me. I now have to use my voice to get their attention.
When walking in any car park, and particularly large ones, we feel unsafe as many of the cameras in cars today will not see us and from many angles the driver is not able to see us. We need to be extra careful.
Most seating is uncomfortable for us including park benches, airplane seats, cinemas, and any type of public transit. Imagine sitting on a plane for 6 hours with your legs suspended in mid air with your calf muscles feeling constricted! The solution for this is very simple. A block or pedestal to res the feet on at the appropriate height would be helpful. A person with shorter limbs cannot reach the footrest.
One of the most common challenges we face is trying to reach items on the shelves of supermarkets. We often have to ask staff, or kind customers to assist us.
3) Do you feel you are given equal opportunities when applying for jobs?
I feel that people associate abilities with height. Having achondroplasia does not affect my intelligence or my abilities to do my job.
Largely speaking, people get colored in their views. They are not as discerning when making a decision about hiring me. Perhaps this is due to societal conditioning.
Many people who have dwarfism end us as objects of ridicule for the purpose of entertainment in a circus, hotel, or public arena.
Society needs to allow them the opportunity to explore possibilities of working in the mainstream.
4) What is your biggest gift?
We haven't allowed our physical height to be a drawback in our personal and professional lives. We have adjusted well to society, and we have not allowed our personalities to be subdued on account of societal mores which are largely discriminatory to people with short stature.
I run a support group called Little People of the UAE.
Many people are afraid to come out in public because hey are afraid of the public eye. If you are reading this then please join us, you will find community spirit here! We are open to any nationality, age group, and ethnicity.
5) What are your fears for Zoya?
She needs to be independent and to be able to care of the normal course of life.
This is frustrating for her.
Even something as simple as using a lift or getting in and out of a car requires assistance.
6) What would you like the world to know about living life as and with a short person?
We want the world to empathise but not sympathise with us. It would be interesting to see people of average height living in our shoes for a day.
Don't pity us.
We all need a little inspiration in our lives, thank you for sharing and please be sure to SHARE with others.