Survey reveals Hongkongers lack an understanding of dwarfism, reflected in prejudice against little people
- The survey, carried out for the Equal Opportunities Commission, found 84 per cent of people in the city had poor knowledge of dwarves
- Little people in Hong Kong report practical difficulties in day-to-day life and derogatory comments from the general public
Some Hongkongers still believe dwarves are slow learners who will never grow old, a new study has shown.
The survey, carried out for the Equal Opportunities Commission by the department of public policy at City University, found more than 80 per cent of residents did not understand dwarfism.
Other commonly held stereotypes included the belief that little people – a term by which many dwarves identify – had lower IQs, and did not mind being mocked for their stature.
Dr Simon Yau Yung, who conducted the study into the social and physical challenges faced by little people in Hong Kong, said that the way they were portrayed in the media played a large role in how they were perceived by the public.
Pointing to the depiction of the seven dwarves in Snow White, he said they were portrayed as stupid and inarticulate.
“I hope that media and game designers will stop presenting them in a negative light, and instead help build a positive image of little people in society,” he said.
A total of 523 Hong Kong residents were questioned between November 2017 and July this year for the study. Of that number, 84 per cent lacked knowledge of little people, while more than 40 per cent considered them a special species with a strange appearance and looking like children who never grow old.
“Our findings show that the general public lack knowledge about dwarfism, thus causing a lot of misunderstandings and prejudice against little people. For example, some people think that dwarfism is caused by poor quality diet and deficit of calcium intake, and that little people generally have a bad temper,” said Yau.
Some of the city’s smaller residents and their families were also interviewed for the study, and they said that their lives were made difficult by a city that did not cater to their needs, with hard to reach cash machines as one example.
They also reported difficulties when shopping at supermarkets, and said it can be hard to find clothes in the right size.
Chung Oi Po said she cannot reach up to ATMs to withdraw money because of her height, while it is also difficult to use public bathrooms.
“Some people tell me to use the bathroom for the disabled, and it is really awkward because the toilet seat is even higher, as they are designed for people in wheel chairs, not little people like me,” the 37-year-old said.
Furthermore, little people were often called names for how they looked, the study found.
“When people call me Shrek, or Gollum from Lord of the Rings, I feel very uncomfortable,” Chung said.
Ferrick Chu Chung-man, director of policy, research and training at the Equal Opportunities Commission, said the city should adopt the principle of universal design to promote inclusive buildings and facilities, so people with different disabilities could live in a barrier-free environment.
“Through this research project, we hope to raise awareness about little people so that our city will be a discrimination-free society for them,” he said.