Riley Windeler may be shorter in stature than the average person, but that hasn’t stopped him from standing tall for little people.
The new University of the Fraser Valley student, from Horsefly, B.C. – a town of roughly 1,000 residents, close to Williams Lake – was born with a form of dwarfism called Hypochondroplasia.
At 26 years old, he has already spent much of his life advocating for and spreading awareness of little people.
His work has brought him to many of the continent’s biggest cities for annual Little People of America conferences.
The conferences are the number one advantage to living with dwarfism, Windeler says, as they provide the unique experience of being in the majority, among other little people.
Windeler has also gone to many events, including having a table at a Vancouver Canadians baseball game last year.
There, he was able to talk to people and hand out literature about dwarfism and the experiences of little people in everyday life.
One of the key things he and other little people want the public to know is the appropriate language to use when talking to someone with dwarfism.
“The word ‘midget’ is considered highly offensive,” he says.
Yet he hears it daily, including in his new home of Abbotsford.
“You notice it and at the same time you just keep going with what you’re doing,” he says. “You get used to it.”
He also dislikes it when people stare at him in public, and if it is done to the point where it makes a scene, he’ll simply confront them.
“I’ll walk up to them and I’ll say, ‘You know, this is the case’ … I’ll try to educate them.”
For Dwarfism Awareness Month (October) he has been making Facebook posts highlighting some of the less obvious challenges little people face.
One post is directed at shoe manufacturers.
“Please create a common shoe that you would see in adult sizes in smaller and wider sizes,” he wrote, adding that his shoe size is between most children’s and adult shoe sizes.
“When I do hit the jackpot of finding a shoe that fits and looks good, I will generally buy two or three pairs.”
He has also requested that hotels include stools or install lower counters, to better accommodate lower-statured people.
Windeler moved to the Fraser Valley to begin studying aircraft structures technology at UFV – which may one day earn him a job in the field after graduation next June.
Abbotsford came with lifelong friends built in for Windeler – through his work with Little People of B.C.
His schoolmates have so far made him feel like he belongs, he says, which is in contrast to the harsh bullying he experienced when he went to high school in Williams Lake.
At UFV, he has not yet encountered any physical tasks his short stature has prevented him from doing.
There have even been instances where schoolmates have tried to adjust tools to make it easier for him, even when it was unnecessary.
He said that feels somewhat condescending, but he knows people are simply trying to help.
When he is not studying, Windeler is working on a children’s book about a young little person chasing athletic dreams.
But given the chance, would he would switch bodies with a taller person?
“Maybe for a week, to see how the whole average-stature world lives like, but no – I was born this way, I want to be this way. I’m me.”