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For All Abilities

Aug 3, 2020

For All Abilities – The Podcast Episode Thirty Two - Becky Kekula - DisabilityIN/Advocating for Others and Yourself Part One 


In this episode, I interview Becky Kekula of DisabilityIN. On the podcast, Becky talks about her early years as a Little Person and her education and career were affected. We discuss her early career in the film/tv industry and the importance of advocacy. 

To connect with Becky, please follow her  on LinkedIn (Becky Kekula) and visit her website at  


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Full Transcription from


Betsy Furler  0:05  

Welcome to for all abilities, the podcast. This is your host, Betsy Furler. The aim of this podcast is to highlight the amazing things people with ADHD, dyslexia, learning differences and autism are doing to improve our world. Have a listen to for all abilities, the podcast, and please subscribe on whatever podcast app you're listening to us on. Hi, everybody, welcome back to for all abilities, the podcast. This is your host, Betsy Furler. And I'm so excited that you're here along with my special guest, Becky kulula, which I hope I said that correctly. Becky is was introduced to me by a friend and the the diversity and inclusion space. And I'm so excited to have you here. So Becky, why don't you make the Yeah, Tommy if I mispronounced your name and then introduce yourself to my audience.


Becky Kekula  1:04  

My last name is Kekula. I was recently married within the past year. And my former last name is Curran. And one of the reasons I bring that up is because I started my speaking career under Becky Curran and just recently added the kukula. So no worries on that piece. And I just wanted to say that I'm excited to be here, I identify as a person with dwarfism, person with a physical difference, okay to call me a little person, a Gore. also identify as being someone who's proud to be part of the disability community. And in my current role, I work as the director of the disability Quality Index at disability in a nonprofit that helps business advanced disability inclusion. We're all on a mission to reduce the unemployment rate. of people with disabilities in this country and in the world in order to make people more people feel empowered and independent, and happy to have a place in this world when it comes to employment.


Betsy Furler  2:14  

Awesome. And normally I interview people with neuro diversity, which you don't fit into that category. But when I met you and talk to you, I thought you would be really interesting to have on the podcast because the of the career path that you've kind of been on. And but let's start with what were you like as a little girl growing up going to school? Normally people talk about their diagnosis, but I guess you can talk about that, too. You. You may not have memory of that, but I'm sure you know, you've heard the story.


Becky Kekula  2:45  

Yes, definitely. So 80% of people with dwarfism are born to appetite parents and that includes myself. When I was born in 1984. My parents had no clue what it meant to have a child dwarfism. And the only reason they were actually able to find out that I had dwarfism was because there was someone in the delivery room a medical professional, who had seen another person with dwarfism, more specifically 100 plastic dwarfism, which is the type of dwarfism that I have being born in that hospital. It's very common for a lot of people with dwarfism, since they're over 400 types of dwarfism to not even have a diagnosis when they leave the hospital after they're born. So they were fortunate to have that scenario where they could at least identify what my condition was. But they also found out that it was very possible I wouldn't make it through my first night that I was having breathing difficulties related to sleep apnea, which is common among people with dwarfism. And there were some issues that maybe they thought I had that didn't even seem related to dwarfism, but here I am. 36 years. Later still alive. And that was just the beginning of their journey really not knowing what that meant. And I know you mentioned how you do work to advocate and speak on behalf of the neuro diverse community. And although I don't identify as such, people often get people with dwarfism mistaken with certain communities because of our height. They assume as adults, we still should be talked to as children. And it's really just lack of the unknown lack of previous exposure, and figuring out where to meet us. So a few days after I was born, my parents were released from the hospital, but they knew that they had a long journey ahead of them, and it was recommended to them to go meet with the geneticists, and they made an appointment and they got to the office where the geneticists worked, and they met with the receptionist and asked for directions on how to get to the gym. This office, and the receptionist immediately told them to follow the signs that say birth defects, and then go into the elevator that says birth defect floor, and then follow the hallway to see another sign that says birth defects. And then the genetic counselor will be waiting for them there. And that was something that really didn't settle well with my parents. So they decided that maybe it was time to write a letter to the hospital and let them know that there are a lot of new families who have found out that their child has some sort of difference. And it is not really fair for them to be told that their child has birth defects when they're learning to figure out how to find beauty within the difference that their child may have. Unfortunately, that hospital did change the signs to say genetics, and it matched exactly what the genetic counselor did work in genetics. And that was kind of just a testament of how I was was raised and how if they saw something that seemed off, they were going to question it and challenge societal views, and making sure that they could find a way to help me grow and thrive in this life that wasn't necessarily made for someone of my stepdaughter.


Betsy Furler  6:20  

Yeah. Hi, I relate to that story so well, because my son, my 22 year old son, who we've just recently found out has a neuro autoimmune disorder, but he's 22 years of not knowing. But how his life started was, when I was six weeks pregnant. I knew I was pregnant because I'd already taken a million pregnancy test. I went to my ob and he said, I don't know why you women think you're pregnant when you're not hot. And I learned to start fighting for his life at that point. And I think parents who start on that road of advocacy really early for their And how that, that idea of I don't want my child just to survive. I want them to thrive and be the best that they can be. I, you know, I just keep hearing this, this refrain over and over and over again as I interview people. So I'm so glad you had those parents.


Becky Kekula  7:18  

Exactly. And really that's what I've tried to dedicate my life to do is advocate on behalf of those potential new parents, the next generation of new parents as they find out any type of difference their newborn child may have. I would love to get to a day where people are equipped with the tools and resilience and confidence to raise their child no matter the difference. I recently spoke at a conference and someone was sharing this book about children being born with Down syndrome and it was a book Had letters from all of these people with living with down syndrome as adults, writing congratulations instead of I'm sorry, because people try to say I'm sorry. Like, we've got nothing better to say to you, and we don't know how to help you. Good luck, versus congratulations. This is what your child can accomplish and still has the potential for.


Unknown Speaker  8:26  

Oh, yeah, that's amazing. Yeah. But the perspective is, it makes all the difference, doesn't it?


Becky Kekula  8:32  

Yeah. So my parents really just didn't have a ton of resources. Even my dad's brother worked in the medical field, and all he could offer was a brochure that he found once on dwarfism. And it took about six months for my parents to find a specialist in Baltimore, Maryland. I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and they had to find a doctor eight hours away, who was hosting people with dwarfism who weren't current patience for a sleep study. It was a research project they were doing. And in order to get an appointment with him, we have to sign up for the sleep study. And we got to his office. And my parents immediately, just like showed how panicked and nervous they were, but also kind of about to feel relieved because they found the answers to what they were praying for just someone who was an expert in this area. And he had a doctor had a waiting room full of people. And he ended up calling my parents and even though these people had been waiting for hours for their appointments, he just saw their ghostly looks on their faces and said, basically, just lay it out there. What are your concerns? Let me help answer the questions you may have. And that kind of led to me being able to be patient of his and we were okay with waiting eight hours for those annual appointments. Even If we arrived for the original time, because we knew that he helped us in a very important moment when I was six months old.


Betsy Furler  10:09  

So what was it like when you were in preschool? And then elementary school? What were those years? Like? I think


Becky Kekula  10:16  

one of the greatest things my parents tried to do is help me fit in seamlessly with our community. And one of the ways they did that was they worked closely with the family friend, who I think we may have met just while we were going to preschool and preschools pretty early on. So I was still around the height of most kids in my preschool. So a lot of questions didn't start till people started growing taller than me in my age range. And there was a person in my preschool class who my parents worked with her parents to have her be in my class all the way up until seventh grade when we were separated by alphabetical order because I was C and she was w four last names. But still, that was a good chunk of my early childhood, where I had at least one friend in my class who could protect me from any potential beliefs in the community. And really, I don't remember many times being made fun of and it could have been, I do have narrow ear canals. So I have a little bit of hearing loss in my right ear. So it's possible that maybe I didn't hear certain things, but other things, I really think that she was able to stick up for me without me even knowing and it just kind of felt seamless, being a part of community. And then my mom was actually a special education teacher in middle school. So when I got to middle school in fifth grade, she was already a part of that community within that school and well respected. She was never one of my teachers, but at least I was kind of in that environment that people knew and respected her and I think that really helped me feel like that middle school. Those middle school years were just a seamless and then junior high in high school. I did have some medical procedures growing up. And the biggest procedure that affected my older high school years, was losing my ability to walk and I had to miss 29 days of school in 10th grade. And oh, wow, the community was super supportive during that time. Unfortunately, I did fall back in classes, I was in all honors classes, one of my biggest fears was falling behind. And I decided to still stay with my grade. But I had to work extra hard to try to keep up and make up for those 29 days of school, and everyone was super supportive. I think one of the reasons I needed to stay dedicated to staying with my class was that doctor we had gone to at six months and beyond. He mentioned to my parents try your best to keep her in the same school. system with the same people. And I think it even applies to try to stay with your grade because you know those people the most from early on. And that's one of the decisions I could have taken a year off not feel as rushed to finish my junior and senior year. But it was equally as important for me to stay with those people who knew me and grew up with me. Yeah, I


Betsy Furler  13:24  

think that's really, really important. I know I say to parents that all the time really, no matter what, you know, your child has that could be a potential struggle. My son's issues are mainly medical. And he was also with the same kids from kindergarten or from first grade through eighth grade and it made a huge difference. And one of the girls he was with all those years, they ended up going to college together and they lived in the same dorm and it was so wonderful. You know, that she kind of like was kind of looked out for him. For me, so I think it's really important to stay with your peers and when you can.


Becky Kekula  14:07  

Absolutely. And a lot of what I've done now, as we get to that point in talking about kind of the speaking that I do advocating on behalf of the community, I go into schools where sometimes there isn't that choice A family has to move to a different community, and try to try to help make that transition a little easier for those kids who are also sometimes it's five elementary schools coming together for middle school and if you don't already know someone at the middle school like me being fortunate to have my mom there. It's going to be a scary place because we'll only know a fifth of the people.


Betsy Furler  14:50  

Right, right. That's very limited. So what did you do after high school or and also in high school, were you in any clubs or anything like that?


Becky Kekula  15:00  

My mom was I was very good at getting us active in Student Council because she was in charge of it in the middle school and then I just continued on with it in the older years, and then I did speech and debate but it was the speech side it was forensics, where you compete based on how well you can present materials. So I focused on children's books, those competitions and how you can read children's books and really learn some of the presentation skills that way. I took some public speaking classes and photography while in high school, and then I was involved with the high school swim team and sailing team. Sailing was like a, it was a club that was newer there were not as many participants but my my dad actually made the decision to help me get that started so I could have a high school sport to participate in after my bachelor's surgery I had been on the swim team, but it was harder for me to participate as actively as I wanted to after that.


Betsy Furler  16:09  

Yeah, that's, that's wonderful. So what did you do after high school? I ended


Becky Kekula  16:14  

up applying to nine colleges. And I ended up choosing Providence College. Because when I was in the cafeteria, while going on a tour, there was a little person who's already attending school there. And I was able to see someone like me in that environment, even though it's not a very diverse school. It's predominantly Irish Catholic,


Unknown Speaker  16:38  

is at a small school.


Becky Kekula  16:39  

It had about 4000 people, so about 1000 each grade. Uh huh. But I knew that since most environments, there are only 30,000 little people living in the United States, and 180,000 or so in the world. Most environments have not met a little person. So it really does matter. If someone has touched that community in one way or another, so as soon as she was there, it helped set up the tone that whether or not she was having a great time. And it seemed like she was having a great time. I knew that people would be a little bit more respectful because they had seen her before seeing me.


Betsy Furler  17:20  

Right, you kind of had a, the door was opened a bit a little bit.


Becky Kekula  17:24  

Right. And, and that didn't make it extremely easy. That was just kind of the reason why I chose to go there. And it almost felt like applying to jobs, deciding whether or not you're going to disclose your difference. This was back in 2002. So when they were doing the roommate selections, I didn't feel like I needed to disclose that I was a little person and I don't, I don't really think Facebook was fully available by then or any of the social media. So it was pretty much Just what you have on your roommate profile, and I had two roommates that I was matched up with, and one I got along really well with on the phone. And once we arrived at school, she was not too happy about me not disclosing because she just didn't know what to expect. And it was a very challenging six months we still we talked about it to this day. We we've been in touch and we just talked about how it was a learning experience. But in the moment of it, it was very hard not knowing how to fix apologizing or like being forgiven for just being who you are.


Unknown Speaker  18:42  

Right. roommate situations are so touchy anyway.


Becky Kekula  18:46  

Right and that and I had a few days before we moved into school I was involved with this program called urban action. And it was like Habitat for Humanity where we went and cleaned up a farm, but it was a way to go to college a few days early. And meet the amount of people that you are going to be taking classes with. So it was about 150 of the people who were going to be in my class that I could get to know ahead of time. So I was already, like prepared them going above and beyond getting involved before even moving into college. So this will give me a head start. But I think it just kind of comes with the journey, the roadblocks that come with it. And I was fortunate during that program to meet someone who is my best friend to this day. And after that freshman year, she and I were roommates from sophomore to senior year and it really made a huge difference. Just having someone who, I didn't have to apologize for being myself too. And someone who gives me a lot of constructive feedback. That's something I asked for a lot. And I'm sure that you kind of witness that a little bit within the community that you advocate on behalf of wherever People just want to say they're doing a great job, and don't really know how they can improve. And I really appreciate when people tell me if I'm doing something wrong, so I can learn how to do it better in the future. And she's one of those people always been in my life willing to give that feedback, honestly and authentically. And I think that's so important.


Betsy Furler  20:22  

Yes, we all need friends like that. I know, I appreciate that too. Because I don't want just everybody going, Oh, you're doing great, Betsy. Because then it's like, but I know, like, There's something I need to be doing better. There's gotta be. And so after, what did you major in and what did you do after you graduated?


Becky Kekula  20:40  

I was a marketing major. And I just thought it was super interesting. It wasn't. Providence now has a business school with a more detailed program. So it was still kind of part of the liberal arts, just in general, the liberal arts, they want you to take all those general courses, so I didn't really focus as much on marketing specifically until the junior and senior years, we had to take four semesters of Western civilization, freshman and sophomore year. And that was challenging because I am one of those people where I look at something and I think everything's important. So I highlight everything. So it was hard to study and figure out what was important and what I should remember. But I think the life skills that you learn in college and just learning how to live on your own and be independent, add just as much value. So the whole experience regardless of how challenging it could have been at times, I ended up starting to do some different internship experiences throughout the summers. We had a family friend in our neighborhood who owned a fire insurance company, and I worked in the accounting department my first summer after freshman year. Found out fast that I didn't like that progression. The next year I ended up working in marketing iRobot they make the robotic vacuums and then they also have a war division where they make robots that can go on the war lines closer than people would want to go to the action to tech for bombs. So that was fascinating just learning about that whole robotic business. And while I was there, we also received some television scripts, where we could try to determine if there were appropriate moments, like in the TV show friends and Sex in the City, where they could have the robotic vacuum featured, but also talked about, rather than it just being product placement or you have it in the scene. Is there like an effective way to get brand recognition in a TV show? And that was kind of my first exposure to Oh, wait a minute, this industry has a lot of influence.


So I kept trying to figure out okay, even though marketing major, super passionate about marketing, I'm going to try to figure out how to get closer to what it is this industry does with a lot of influence. And I ended up right before my senior year in college I applied. I actually just thought maybe advertising in general because that's media advertising. just fascinated by the profession. I found an article in a Boston newspaper and it was the top 120 ad agencies in Boston. I just sent my resume to all them. I knew it was going to be an unpaid internship, but I was willing to get experience anywhere. And the one that got back to me, the only one was allied advertising and they are the intermediary between the movies, the movie companies and the general public. So they try to find target audiences for advanced screenings before a movie is released. To the wider public. And then if they find that audience and someone goes, as a representative from the agency, they can take notes on what people reacted to, and any tweaks they may want to make before the wider release, like maybe jokes that didn't work too well, or where there was maybe too much silence when people should have been laughing. Just those things. So I would go and I would write notes in the dark on how people reacted to these different movies. And I did that for summer. And when I went back to school in Providence, my senior year, they didn't have anyone to cover the screenings in Providence, and I was able to continue doing that for the fall. And while I was doing that, I also applied to the local NBC News affiliate, and I was at promotions and publicity in turn. And while I was working there, I found out about the movie underdog being filmed in Rhode Island. In that next summer, which was going to be right after my graduation, and Peter Dinklage was going to be in the film. And they found out since I was in the area, maybe I want it to be his stand in. Meaning that if they're setting up the film set, he can stay in his trailer. Well, they set up the lighting and me being close to his height. I could stand there until it's time for him to actually go and act. And a lot of times they have standards because children on movies and television sets need to go to a certain amount of schooling. So they are able to go do that schooling while someone standing in for them in a lot of times it ends up being little people since we are at the height of children. So it has been a profitable career for a lot of people. But unfortunately, it was seemed like a great opportunity. They were ready to use me, but it conflicted with my last two weeks of college and I had to turn The opportunity because I needed to graduate and we know how important it is even to me staying on track with my class.


Unknown Speaker  26:09  

Right, but what a shame, but I guess, the way it's supposed to be,


Becky Kekula  26:13  

right, so what I ended up doing so that was going to be like a $4,000 summer opportunity. I had to turn that down. But I did since I had already made the contact with the casting director. I asked if I could still help out with the casting process throughout the summer so I could learn really what goes on behind the scenes as a casting director. So she was she was happy to have me help her find people for crowd scenes. Sometimes I would have to call over 300 people a day just to show up to the movie set and some people were canceling life threatening doctor's appointments because they just wanted to be on TV and film, which is a lot different than like in New York and LA where it happens. More often, I think because it was taking place in Providence and not many things are filmed in Providence. People were like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don't want to miss it.


Betsy Furler  27:10  

Thanks so much for tuning into this first episode with Becky. Next week, we'll air the rest of the interview and you'll find out what amazing twists and turns her career took after the disappointment of not getting to work on that film. So Becky is so wonderful Her name is Becky Kola, and you can find her on LinkedIn. I will put all of her contact information in the show notes so you can get in touch with your feed like but please join us next week as we finish the interview with her. Also, please like subscribe, rate review, follow all of those things for all abilities podcast. You can do that on Apple podcasts stitcher pod bean anywhere Where you are listening to this podcast. And to find out more about my consulting services and my software that I use to help employers support their employees with disabilities, you can go to www dot for all Thanks for tuning in today. And I'll see you next week for the rest of my interview with Becky. Thanks so much for listening to the for all abilities podcast. This is Betsy Furler, your host and I really appreciate your time listening to the podcast. And please subscribe on any podcast app that you're listening to a song. If you'd like to know more about what we do and our software that helps employer support their employees with ADHD dyslexia, learning differences in autism, please go to www dot for all abilities calm. You can also follow us on Instagram. And you can follow me on LinkedIn at Betsy Furler f isn't Frank you are elhuyar have a Great day and we will see you