I want to cover the topic of achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, in a large introductory biology lecture. How can I discuss it in an appropriately sensitive way, one that respects people who have the condition or are close to people with the condition? I'm used to lecturing about sensitive but biologically relevant topics like race, incest, and "extra-pair copulation" [mating outside of a socially monogamous pair, which would be adultery in a human context], but these are topics that are applicable to a broad audience. In this case I'm more worried about offending or annoying particular individuals. (I may be feeling particularly sensitive about this because I've had a little person in a couple of my other classes in the last few terms.)
- the talk page for the Wikipedia article mentions that what to call achondroplasia ["a medical condition, disorder, disease, disability, or none of the above"] is controversial; "condition" feels most neutral to me.
the online FAQ for the Little People of America doesn't say much more than
Such terms as dwarf, little person, LP, and person of short stature are all acceptable, but most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label.
(this is in a section explaining that "midget" is considered offensive).
For what it's worth, I'm going to be discussing the rate of mutation in the gene responsible for the condition; the strength of natural selection against the condition; and how we can calculate the expected frequency of the condition in the population from this information. This does raise some potentially problematic topics (such as the lower probability of survival and reproduction). In the past when I've covered this topic, I have mentioned Peter Dinklage, a little person who has been both professionally (Emmy-award-winning) and reproductively (he has a child) successful.
The reason it's worth discussing achondroplasia in class is that it's a surprising example of a deleterious, autosomal dominant genetic condition that's maintained by pure mutation-selection balance (i.e., we don't know of any counterbalancing selective advantages that would have caused it to stay in the population).