The M Word campaign: will you pledge?

Ashley Bernard, who is blind and has a form of dwarfism,talks to Disability Horizons about her  life, her achievements, and her latest challenge to stop the use of the word midget.

Hi, I’m Ashley and I am a 20-year-old college student studying communications and living in Massachusetts. I also have a disability; when I was born it was discovered that I am blind and also have an unknown form of dwarfism.

Ashley Bernard - disability & dwarfismHowever, I’ve never let any of that stop me from achieving my goals. Throughout high school I was always participating in something. While I originally believed that athletics were not my thing, I suddenly found myself engulfed in a world of 25 and 50 metre swim races, 75 and 100 meter sprints, shot put throws and long jumps.

Then there was my favorite activity ever; goal ball. Often described as being similar to soccer, the game has 3 people on each side, all trying to role a ball, which has bells in it, into the other team’s goal. Each player wears a blindfold, regardless of the amount of vision they have. It’s aggressive and you get hit with the ball constantly, but it’s fun and a team sport like nothing I’ve seen on TV.

At around same time my English teacher informed me that he had nominated me to be part of a film class. I’ll admit, I thought he was crazy. Does he really want a blind person to learn to operate a video camera? But although I went to my first class filled with scepticism, it turned out to be the best experience of my life. Before I knew it, I was standing on a stage with my 2 best friends made in the class, receiving our award for 2nd place in a very competitive film contest. We did it, all 3 of us, each with varying amounts of vision loss, worked hard together to create an award-winning film called Seeing Through the Lens. Take a look:

Now, I’m reaching for an even bigger goal; creating my own non-profit organisation to teach people about dwarfism. If someone had told me a year ago I’d be doing something this big, I would probably have laughed in their face. I have never been closely associated with the ‘little people’ community, nor did I ever want anything to do with advocacy and whatnot. However, 1 thing lead to another and what started out as something simple grew to an even bigger idea.

It all began when I came home this summer from my first year of college. What was to be a typical Friday night with my friends, turned into a night full of brainstorming after a friend posted her disappointment on Facebook at a celebrity using the word ‘midget’ on TV.

It got me thinking: if you look up the word midget, you get a lot of definitions and Wikipedia articles, but you won’t find anything written by a little person or person with dwarfism about how derogatory the term actually is.

The R-Word campaign came to mind. I remember my school setting up a table in the student center encouraging students to pledge not to use the word retarded. It occurred to me that I could do the same to educate people about the M word.

I realise that many people say we shouldn’t be bothered by words, and I agree with this to a point. But there are just some words that are meant to be offensive, even if the person doesn’t know it’s typically offensive. And midget is one of those words.

Midget comes from the rout word ‘midge’, which is a small fruit fly. Do you want to be called a fruit fly? It was also used to describe little people who put themselves on display for the circus so it became a term meaning ‘circus freak.’ I don’t think you want to be called circus freak either.

So, 3 weeks later a website was born: It  was created to educate people about the word midget and about dwarfism in general, and as a place where you can pledge not to use the offensive term. With 149 pledges, the same amount of facebook likes, and many twitter followers, my next step is to become a non-prophet organization so I can fundraise and spread even more awareness about dwarfism and the stereotypes that come with it around the world.

With that said, I would like to invite everyone to take a look at this page. Check back often, because I am always adding a new feature or writing about something in my blog. If you feel so inclined, do take the pledge. Promise to yourself and to the world that you will not use this horrible term and that you will educate people about the use of the word. Remember to share the site with all of your friends, too. The more people who know about this goal the more awareness we can raise together.

By Ashley Bernard

You can follow the M Word campaign on Twitter or Facebook.

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