As Communications Coordinator at Columbus Regional Health, being an effective communicator is important to Emily Westhafer – it is equally important to her personally as it is professionally. Because she has dwarfism, Emily has spent most of her life communicating to people why she is shorter than her peers.
Emily was excited to join our DEI Steering Committee, in particular because people with disabilities represent all areas of diverse populations; and people with disabilities often deal with discrimination in various settings, so it was important for her to be a voice representing that group.
Emily grew up in a family as the only person who has dwarfism. That is often surprising to people, who assume her entire family must have dwarfism. Her type of dwarfism – achondroplasia – is the most common form of dwarfism, and it occurs due to a genetic mutation in about one out of every 20,000 births.
The most challenging part of having dwarfism, Emily said, is not actually having dwarfism, but how some people respond to her. That includes being laughed at, yelled at, and having pictures taken of her. However, most people can learn from their ignorance. When young children stare and point, rather than pull them away, or hush them, parents should let them ask a question.
“Kids are naturally curious. Letting them ask questions allows them to express that curiosity and for me to help educate them,” Emily said. “It is easy for people to make assumptions about those who are unlike them – having conversations helps erase those assumptions.” For example, a lot of people do not know that “midget” is an offensive term to call someone who has dwarfism, and it is often used in a derogatory way. “While I may not be able to help those who use the term in a derogatory way, I can help those who just do not know it is offensive,” she said.
Little People of America, an organization devoted to supporting people with dwarfism and their families, celebrates Dwarfism Awareness Month in October. Emily does not promote it very much, because, “I’ve been pretty aware I’ve had dwarfism my entire life,” she joked, but she encourages people who want to know more to look up the organization.
What Emily does promote is advocating for oneself. She and her husband, Ethan, have stressed to their two kids the importance of self-advocacy. When Emily’s oldest child was in elementary school, a spelling book lesson had ‘midget’ as a word. It gave the family an opportunity to speak to the class about dwarfism; and it also gave Emily an opportunity to write the publishing company about the inappropriateness of having the word in the textbook. She wrote an email to the vice president of media and communities, who connected with the textbook team. The word was removed from all future publications of the textbook. “A little self-advocacy can go a long way,” said Emily.
Through CRH’s DEI work, Emily hopes we continue to advocate for our patients and fellow workforce members, provide a welcoming and inclusive environment where individual thoughts, ideas, and talents can be supported, and embrace each other’s unique differences as strengths.
Outside of work, Emily loves to spend time cooking new recipes, playing trivia, and traveling with her family.