OHIO VALLEY — October is designated National Dwarfism Awareness Month, but as the lone adult little person in Mason County, Jennifer Yonker tries to educate people every day.
Yonker was born with achondroplasia, which she said is the most common type of dwarfism. Caused by a genetic mutation, the majority of people with achondroplasia are born to average size parents. In fact, Yonker’s father is six-feet, two inches tall, her mother is five-feet, 10 inches, and she has a brother who is six-feet, four-inches.
Yonker’s torso is average size, she said, but she has short arms and legs. She added her parents were told if she hadn’t been born with achondroplasia, she would have been six-feet tall.
Yonker moved to Mason County six years ago from Birmingham, Alabama. At first, the transition was not a smooth one. She said people would stare at her and take photos. One time, a group of teenagers took a video of her walking down Main Street and posted it on social media.
But those type of things have calmed down somewhat since many people have become familiar with her, Yonker said. Bubbly and very outgoing, Yonker invites questions that people are truly curious about, and hates it when parents try to quiet their children when asking about her in public.
“I look at it as my job to educate people,” Yonker said.
And there are many common questions Yonker is asked frequently.
One of the first is where she buys her clothes. Since Yonker’s torso is of normal size, she buys regular size clothes and alters the arms and legs herself. Not owning, or knowing how to use, a sewing machine, Yonker said she is self-taught at sewing by hand.
While she added there are a few places that sell special clothes online, the fit isn’t always right, and they are expensive. She does have some special made, size three high heels that retailed for $500 that were donated to her.
Yonker said she also gets questions about her living arrangements. She said she lives in a regular house in Gallipolis Ferry, with no customizations. It does, however, have a lot of stools and step ladders, Yonker said, with a laugh. She added she also has some great neighbors who help her when she needs it.
But mostly, Yonker doesn’t need help, and does fine solo. She recently replaced all of her outside plumbing.
“My parents made me do things on my own,” Yonker said.
Yonker drives a standard size vehicle with the help of pedal extenders. The extenders are portable, so she can install them in any car, or remove them to allow others to drive her vehicle.
These days you can find Yonker working as a cashier in the service department of a Meigs County car dealership, Mark Porter Chevrolet Buick GMC. She said she appreciates all the owner and staff have done for her there, like moving and rewiring the printer to limit her from getting on and off a stool as often. Yonker said she has been provided with OSHA-approved stools, and frequently, co-workers will come up with ways she never thought of to make things easier for her.
Yonker is also very active in the Little People of America organization. Not having a little person friend until 10 years ago at the age of 28, Yonker said the organization’s get-togethers provide not only a means to socialize, but also to discuss medical issues specific to them. Many little people have, or develop, bowing of the legs that require straightening. Back and hip surgeries are also fairly common, she said.
Yonker serves as chapter president of a West Virginia chapter of the organization, called Little Mountaineers. Prior to COVID-19, the chapter’s 11 members gathered monthly for activities. She has also attended regional conventions, which are held twice yearly, as well as the annual national convention, with as many as 3,000 attending. One advantage to attending the larger conventions is the free medical consultations available, she said.
Yonker has done some speaking on the college level about her life as a little person. She said once activities resume following the pandemic, she would like to speak in local high schools, as well as elementary schools. Yonker said she wants people to know that little people can be just as productive as others, they are just a little shorter.
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Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at [email protected]