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  • Oh God! I better watch where I step.

    Little people celebration; National dwarf conference comes to Danvers

    By Julie Kirkwood

    Staff Writer

    DANVERS -- Becky Kennedy is a typical 10-year-old girl in every way except her height. At 3-foot-8 she is the typical size of a child half her age and, because of a genetic anomaly, she isn't likely to grow more than 2 to 6 inches taller.

    At her home in Danvers, Becky uses a ruler to flip light switches that are out of reach. There is a step stool by the phone. The cereal boxes are kept in a low cupboard so she can get to them.

    Her parents have tried to keep the adjustments minimal, because they know as she gets older and her friends get taller she is going to face more challenges.

    "Becky has really got to make her way in a world made for people who are 5 to 6 feet tall," said her father, Dan.

    This weekend, though, Becky will be surrounded by people who know exactly what it's like to be a little person in a big-person world. The Little People of America, the largest nonprofit dwarfism group in the nation, is holding its annual national conference at the Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers.

    About 1,500 little people and their families are expected to attend the conference. Only one in every 26,000 to 40,000 babies is born with the most common type of dwarfism, achondroplasia, so dwarfs don't tend to see many other people in their daily lives who look like they do.

    The workshops and dances at the week-long conference are closed to the general public, but the attendees will be taking tour buses to downtown Salem, local restaurants and the Northshore Mall. For one week there are likely to be more dwarfs on the North Shore than this region has ever seen.

    Conference attendees usually run the gamut from doctors and lawyers to clowns, said LPA president Matt Roloff, and they often have no more in common than their height.

    "We're a segment of society as a whole," Roloff said. "We want people to celebrate with us. If everybody was exactly the same, how boring would that be?"

    It is a coincidence that the conference is being held this year not only in the Boston area, but at a hotel in the home town of Becky's father. Dan Kennedy, who writes for the Boston Phoenix, just spent 13 months writing a book about dwarfism, called "Little People: Learning to see the world through my daughter's eyes," which is scheduled for release in October.

    Though average-size, Dan is a well-known member of the little people community. He designed and maintains the LPA's Web site.

    "Everybody in LPA, I would say, loves Dan Kennedy," Roloff said. "He's pretty much one of us."

    Since Dan took over the Web site in 1998, a whole new type of connection has formed between the group's 8,000 members, Roloff said. "The impact of that is very, very profound in many ways," he said.

    The online discussions, which Dan set up, are useful for "rattling the cage," Roloff said. If an airline is giving him a hard time about boarding with his crutches or he wants to encourage a hotel chain to keep stools on hand for dwarf guests, all he has to do is post an electronic message to the group and the companies hear quite a response.

    "It's a great force for us to be together on things," he said.

    The Web site has also allowed parents, like Priscilla Woodbury of Salem, N.H., to reach out for advice and support. Woodbury recently learned, through an electronic conversation with another parent, that her 7-year-old daughter Caylea's ear problems are typical for a child with her type of dwarfism.

    The Woodburys, like the Kennedys, have registered to go to the LPA conference in Danvers. Woodbury wants her daughter to meet other short stature children her age. She also plans to take advantage of the free medical consultations with top dwarfism doctors and to meet online friends for the first time face-to-face.

    The family has never been to an LPA conference before, but Woodbury said she likes the idea of seeing so many little people in one place, all celebrating their differences.

    "Everybody's happy," Woodbury said. "I think that's the greatest thing."

    It will be a relief, she believes, from the cruel stares and snickers she and her husband draw when they walk through the mall together. Woodbury, who is 5-foot-1, married a man who has a form of dwarfism and is only 4-foot-7. Their daughter inherited his dwarfism gene, and now she has to tolerate teasing from children at school who tell her she's too short to be in second grade.

    Roloff, who overcame severe complications of dwarfism to become a book author and a software salesman, firmly believes small stature is something to be celebrated. Some people dye their hair purple and pierce their bodies to attract attention, he said. All he has to do is walk in a room and all eyes are on him. It gives him an advantage professionally because clients remember him, he said, and he tends to meet interesting people at the grocery store when he asks for help reaching the top shelf.

    "Dwarfism is actually, in my mind, a pretty cool type of difference, a pretty cool gift," he said.

    Dan Kennedy and his wife, Barbara, who is a photographer for the Salem News, have come to think of it the same way.

    Becky has achondroplasia, which is caused by a mutated gene passed down by one of her average-size parents, probably her father. She has an older brother, Timothy, who did not inherit the gene.

    The family didn't know anything about the culture of dwarfism before Becky was born. Dan didn't know, for example, that "dwarf" is a perfectly acceptable term for a person of small stature, but "midget" is considered a slur because it is associated with public performance and circuses.

    "But who would have known this?" he said. "People on the outside really have no way of knowing what the correct terminology is."

    His book discusses the history, culture, genetics and medical aspects of dwarfism, interspersed with stories about Becky and his family.

    Becky hasn't had much trouble so far accepting that she's different from other people, her father said, but he worries about what will happen in the next few years.

    "The adolescent years will be difficult," he said. "Everybody wants to be the same."

    Becky already has a friend her age and size she met at a regional LPA conference. As she gets older, Dan said, he will probably make an effort to get her to national LPA conferences, too. It will never be easier than it is this year.

  • #2
    world is cruel for 6'5"+ people like myself. Especially basements
    Yea it is and im only 6'1 and still hit my head in basements.


    • #3
      and at 5'8'' i uhhhh... oh i hit my head on the top of the car door when i try to get in
      I havent failed, I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.

      - Thomas Edison


      • #4
        Originally posted by WannabeintheFD
        and at 5'8'' i uhhhh... oh i hit my head on the top of the car door when i try to get in
        Wannabe for the last time Ill say this! Gocarts do not count as cars.


        • #5
          I'm 6' and i have hit my head on over head things. but nothing compares to this fireman at my firehouse he is 6'9". standing next time him everyone looks like a midget. i went down to this one girls basement and it must have been made for people under 5' because i had to like bend down to go in the room.


          • #6
            am i the only one who saw this and realized that no one was upset at dfd for making a joke about the vertically challenged?


            • #7
              Originally posted by HFDEXP777
              am i the only one who saw this and realized that no one was upset at dfd for making a joke about the vertically challenged?
              Mmmmmmmm Yea I think you are.

              Its running from 6/28-7/5. Already have seen the influx of dwarfs or midgets or whatever there called when I was getting ice-cream last night and I was talking to a group of them and they are pretty cool. But when they mean little they aint joshin you! Im doing a fire detail at the fire muster(odd huh?) and that they had inquierd where to park there vans that day so they could come.So on the 5th I know im going to get to see alot of them.


              • #8
                Little People of America's conference offers speed dating

                By ANNA SCOTT

                Staff writer

                DANVERS -- Love hurts. Ask Winn Huntley of New York, who attended the Little People of America's national conference for people with dwarfism this weekend in Danvers.

                At 41, he has never kissed a woman, except on the cheek. Several years ago, after a five-year friendship he hoped would become romantic, his 5-foot-tall red-headed girlfriend married another man -- who was much taller than Huntley.

                "Still was looking for a cop with a 6-foot build," Huntley said. "I tried not to blame it on my height, but you wonder. It's a psychological thing. She thought because I was short I was not strong or couldn't take care of her."

                For the first time in the conference's 46-year history, organizers set out to address what has become a shared story of heartache among its members, who have an average height of 48 inches.

                Last night, at the Sheraton Ferncroft Hotel, about 50 of the 1,500 conference attendees took part in the game popular with average-size bar-hopping singles: speed dating. Men and women -- strangers to each other -- paired off to talk for six minutes until a DJ announced it was time to switch partners.

                "I've been out with a few female friends," Claude Rabinowitz of New York told Melanie Helms of Virginia. "But it wasn't really dating. We were friends, but it never mobilized."

                Helms, 22, quickly nodded in agreement. "I get that a lot," she said. "I'm always the friend."

                Helms has dated a few average-size guys. If he's a confident person, she said, it's no big deal.

                So has Jennifer Stillman, 24, of Los Angeles, Calif. Although she planned on participating in speed-dating last night, she decided against it at the last minute.

                Starting when she was 14, Stillman, with long blonde hair and manicured nails, never wanted for a date. Her first boyfriend was the most popular guy in her high school -- a 16-year-old average-size guy named Vince. But she has been single for the past two years now, after a spate of Internet dating left her with 25 dates and no soulmate.

                The Internet was alluring, she said, because it gave her a chance to hide her height, giving her a break from the stares that usually marked her initial encounters with men.

                "I was hoping people could look past my height," Stillman said. "I didn't bring it up. I just said I was really petite. I didn't say how petite."

                Stillman says she would still try dating people who aren't dwarfs. But now, she has no qualms about letting them know who she is beforehand.

                "It's going to be difficult," she said about dating. "There are a million times a day I wish I was average size. I'll always have that."

                Others with those feelings are more hesitant about what some dwarfs call "inter-spacial dating."

                "I haven't taken that step, " said Amy Clemons, 37, of Westborough. "If I really had my choice, I would rather be with someone of short stature. It's a comfort level. If I'm dating a guy of average size, people would wonder why he wanted to be with me ... I live my whole life around people who are average size."

                That, according to Little People of America spokesman Barbara Spiegel, is the point of the annual conference -- giving dwarfs a chance to let down their guard and see eye-to-eye with friends and even potential love interests.

                According to Helms, sometimes it's nice to dance with someone who doesn't have to get down on his knees or refers to you affectionately as "little sis."

                For Huntley and many other members, the national conference has been his only opportunity to meet others with dwarfism.

                Between 6-minute dating intervals, sipping a drink and waiting for his next partner to arrive, he called the dating program "long overdue."

                "It's tough to be out there," he said.

                Helms agreed, but added a clause.

                "If guys don't like me for me, they know where the door is."


                • #9
                  am i the only one who saw this and realized that no one was upset at dfd for making a joke about the vertically challenged?
                  No, you're not the only one.
                  BE SAFE
                  Before Everything, Stop And First Evaluate


                  • #10
                    i dont understand why yall are mad its not like dex was making fun of them.


                    • #11
                      No, I didn't get the impression that he was making fun of them, however I did find the title of the thread in poor taste.


                      • #12

                        Originally posted by LadyCapn
                        No, I didn't get the impression that he was making fun of them, however I did find the title of the thread in poor taste.
                        My thoughts exactly....
                        Once again....the above views are my own and not that of my department. (And probably should not be construed as having any real meaning, whatsoever!)



                        • #13
                          Originally posted by LadyCapn
                          No, I didn't get the impression that he was making fun of them, however I did find the title of the thread in poor taste.
                          that was more or less what i was referring to.


                          • #14
                            Another brilliant brain child!!!

                            Hotel bomb scare forces evacuation

                            By THOMAS LAKE and JULIE MANGANIS

                            Staff writers

                            MIDDLETON -- A 29-year-old conventioneer touched off a 90-minute evacuation of the Sheraton Ferncroft hotel yesterday morning after telling a bus driver that he was carrying a bomb, a claim he insists was simply a joke.

                            "I'm only kidding," Benny Ziv, of Tel Aviv, Israel, told a judge during a court appearance yesterday afternoon . "I said it like a joke. I take back my words. I'm sorry to God. I'm very sorry, judge."

                            But now Ziv, who was ordered to surrender his passport, faces the possibility of up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines on each of the two counts of making a bomb threat he was charged with yesterday.

                            His comment forced some 800 hotel guests and workers, most of whom were there attending a weeklong Little People of America convention, and employees, to wait outside for about 90 minutes while the state police bomb squad investigated. The bomb squad X-rayed Ziv's two black duffel bags, finding only clothing and other personal items, and no bomb, Middleton Sgt. James DiGianvittorio said.

                            Ziv was also attending the convention.

                            As Ziv, who was staying at a hotel in Peabody, boarded a shuttle bus, the driver, who was assisting him with his luggage, remarked on the weight of the bags, prosecutor Benjamin Richard said.

                            "Boy these bags are heavy," the shuttle driver said he told Ziv.

                            "Yeah, they should be, there's a bomb in them," Ziv allegedly responded, his face deadpan, according to Richard.

                            "You shouldn't be talking like that," the driver allegedly told Ziv, remarking that as an Israeli, Ziv should be familiar with the fear that is caused by bomb threats. Ziv allegedly went on to say he believes Israel is a superior nation to the United States, where Ziv was born and remains a citizen, though he has lived in Israel since he was 3 years old.

                            Middleton Police Chief Paul Armitage said Ziv also allegedly made comments proclaiming his dislike for Arabs and non-Orthodox Jews, though Ziv's lawyer said he saw nothing like that in the police report he was given.

                            "He now says it was all a joke, but it certainly wasn't something to take lightly," said Armitage.

                            According to the prosecutor, the shuttle van driver continued to drive Ziv and his bags, and several other passengers, to the hotel, which is on the Middleton-Danvers line, a distance of about four miles.

                            When they learned of the threat, at around 10:30 a.m., hotel workers and firefighters swept the eight-story building, rousting people from their rooms. Because elevators are off-limits during bomb scares, some handicapped guests had to be carried down several flights of stairs.

                            Meanwhile, police, who found Ziv in a room, placed him under arrest. Ziv repeatedly insisted that he was just kidding, but police were taking no chances.

                            Ziv "spoke without emotion and made no indication that he was joking" while on the bus, Richard said.

                            A lawyer representing Ziv yesterday said the incident was a misunderstanding, possibly brought on by Ziv's accent.

                            The bus driver "probably didn't understand what he was saying," said defense lawyer George Abi-Esber, who said Ziv is a deeply religious man with no criminal record.

                            "Let's not crucify him," said Abi-Esber. "It was a joke."

                            While Richard, the prosecutor, asked for a bail of $20,000, Salem District Court Judge Dennis Healey set bail at $500, ordering Ziv to surrender his passport and his return ticket to Israel. Ziv was taken to the Middleton Jail, where he will be held until his bail is posted. Abi-Esber said he was trying to reach the Israeli consulate in Boston for assistance in posting bail.

                            A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

                            The incident was an unexpected event for the convention, which is wrapping up tomorrow.

                            "We were in bed," said Judy Gootjes of Chicago, who attended the convention with her daughter Aimee and heard the alarm over a loudspeaker. "I never leave my room without a shower, and I had to today. I couldn't believe it."

                            During the commotion, general manager Julie Campisani said, corporate executives called to say Starwood Hotels and Resorts had closed a deal to sell the Ferncroft to a group of private investors.

                            Once his compatriots returned to the building, Little People of America President Matt Roloff said the convention would continue. A volunteer awards banquet was scheduled for last night.

                            "At every one of our events, we have some excitement like this," he said. "It was an inconvenience to move people outside, but it's not really a big thing we were worried about."

                            Although Roloff said the threat may actually have been beneficial because it led to a successful evacuation drill, he wasn't amused by Ziv's alleged prank.

                            "Hopefully," Roloff said, "he's going to suffer the consequences."


                            • #15
                              Charges dropped, restitution paid in bomb threat case

                              By JULIE MANGANIS

                              Staff writer

                              SALEM - Prosecutors yesterday agreed to drop bomb threat charges against an Israeli man who was attending last week's Little People of America convention, after he agreed to pay the cost of the police and fire response.

                              Benny Ziv, 29, of Tel Aviv, was arrested last Thursday after telling a shuttle bus driver there was a bomb in his bag -- a statement he said he meant as a joke, but which touched off a 90-minute evacuation of the Sheraton Ferncroft Hotel in Danvers, where Ziv was among hundreds of people attending the convention.

                              He was initially charged with two counts of making a false bomb threat -- a crime that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines, and with disorderly conduct. Though a judge on Thursday released Ziv on $500 bail, he had surrendered his passport and return ticket to Tel Aviv.

                              Yesterday, after some discussion between Ziv's lawyers and the district attorney's office, Ziv agreed to pay restitution to the Danvers and Middleton fire departments and the Middleton Police Department, in exchange for the dismissal of the bomb threat charges.

                              He admitted to a charge of being disorderly. That case was continued without a finding for six months, and as long as Ziv stays out of further trouble, it will be dismissed as well.

                              The restitution -- $2,900 to cover the cost of police and fire overtime for the three departments -- was paid yesterday.

                              Ziv had already apologized to a judge during his arraignment last week. Yesterday, his lawyer, Jim O'Connell, said Ziv's attempt at humor may not have registered as such because of a language and cultural barrier.

                              Prosecutor Benjamin Richard told Judge Patricia Dowling yesterday that the decision to resolve the case was made after consultation with senior prosecutors in the district attorney's office, who decided not to seek an indictment.

                              Because the bomb threat charges are beyond the jurisdiction of the district court, an indictment and transfer of the case to superior court would have been the only way to keep the case open.

                              Ziv was required to pay restitution immediately, before leaving the court and the United States. Ziv received assistance in making the immediate restitution from the Israeli consulate in Boston.


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