A Better Way with Kurt Roskoph of The World of Ability Podcast


Do you consider yourself as having a disability?

This episode of Causepods highlights a unique perspective, one where we take a look at the question “do you have a disability?” Kurt presents a view that, typically, most people will not identify as someone who has a disability unless you receive a rating from the government. 

To identify as someone with a disability means you have less abilities than others. Kurt’s podcast takes that idea of less, flips it on its head, and says; let’s not focus on what you don’t have, but let’s focus on what we do have. 

We all have abilities, and we all have disabilities that are less great than others.  Not everyone has the ability to make a slam dunk in basketball, but we don’t choose to label ourselves as disabled.  We just simply say we are not at good. 

An episode rich in perspective, insights, hope for a better way of thinking on a globally important topic. 

Key Topics:
  • What is the back story in starting a podcast on the issue of disability (1:14)
  • How to reframe the question, “do you have a disability?” (3:42)
  • Being the voice for a cause that you don’t identify as (5:45 )
  • How did a 15-year journey lead up to starting this podcast (7:27)
  • Why is empathy towards each other so hard as a society (10:08)
  • Where does someone begin to create change on such a challenging issue to move the needle (13:21)
  • When it came to podcasting, what compelled Kurt to get the message out (15:56)
  • What struggles did Kurt have to overcome to get his podcast launched (18:00)
  • Looking back, what are the memorable moments of leading this cause (21:35)
  • What made The Onward and Upward Foundation the charity of choice for this episode (23:43)
  • For others looking to start a cause-focused podcast, what is Kurt’s advice to them (27:40)
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Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues.

Please visit us at CausePods.org where you can learn about our guests, show their favorite charitable cause. Join our Facebook group of resources for CausePods podcasters and find a link where you yourself could be a guest here on CausePods. Again, that’s all at CausePods.org.

All right, going to take you out to Milwaukee today for a topic that we haven’t really covered here on CausePods that often, so I’m excited to dive into it and learn more about it. We are chatting with Kurt Rascoff.

He is the host of The World of Ability podcast. And as always, you can find a link to the show in our show. And that’s at CausePods.org. Kurt, thanks so much for joining us here tonight.

You are very welcome. My pleasure. You do a good show here. I like it. Oh, thank you.

Thank you very much. But tell us a little bit about what the world of ability is all about and what got you into wanting to do this podcast. Well, let’s see if I can start with what got me into it, what got me into it is the sport of water skiing, where I’ve been water skiing with people with disabilities for 30 years. And so six years ago, I had an incident where we do water ski shows and I was venturing to put a man with physical disability in the water ski show.

And I had a couple leaders tell me that he was not going to be in the show. So and they had reasons why he was going to be there, be out on the water during the show and that we weren’t going to do that. And so the whole thing just kind of, you know, was a disconnect for me. I was not really tracking with what happened there. And so it got me thinking overnight about it all. And so what I ended up doing was rethinking my life to the point of rebooting my life, thinking in terms of integration, to the standpoint of people with disabilities, really looking at that.

If that night, you know, my friend was not able to go out on the sit ski, being a power will choose or that we could have transferred around the city and he was good to go, that that was not permissible. And so if that’s not permissible in that situation, I started to realize that if we think of our faith life, our service life for lifelong learning, our politics and our professional work and other sports or hobbies, pastime, leisure activities, travel, so forth, and that every place people with disabilities go, they could easily have a tougher time than necessary to just participate with the rest of us are doing.

And so that’s what the world of ability is all about, is to create this narrative around the world to say with two billion people on planet Earth that designate themselves in the disability community, that’s a pretty significant conversation. And I just found it amazing that prior to six years ago that nobody was really leading that conversation. So that’s what I set out to do and partner with transforming MediaNet, where they partnered with me on this. And we have the world of ability to talk about that.

Oh, so I’m totally clear on this. You yourself do not characterize yourself as having a disability, correct?

In terms of when I’m asked the question, I absolutely say you’re correct. And then I add now, if I were to reframe, to create the paradigm for how I think in the future people will answer the question. I think all of us on planet Earth have a disability, but there’s this thing of benefits, government benefits. And I think that’s where the definition of disability comes from, is pretty much looking at agency work and that somebody has to qualify for disability benefits.

And yeah, I do not qualify for disability benefits. But if we just think of the world and universal design and look at that, the world just works for everybody. I think it’s just more of a functional assessment and more of a particular characteristic we have when we say people have disabilities in the way we think of that now, we’re one in four people is answering that question, too. Yes, I have a disability and I’m on the three or four side.

They yeah, I don’t have a disability. And yet and to your point, yes, I am doing all this. Being a person without a disability, I have to be honest.

I am immediately fascinated, intrigued by that. And I only say because not that it’s totally uncommon for someone I want to go out of the way to help another population of which they are not necessarily a direct member of or directly impacted by.

But I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anybody on the show where the person who I am chatting with is not of that particular persuasion. And so I’m deeply fascinated by the fact that you were inspired to do this and that you continue to do this work on behalf of of so many others. Does that ever come up in conversation or does that ever come up with other folks who are who would characterize themselves or who would get that label that they wonder, why are you holding the baton for us when we could be doing it ourselves?

Yeah, I would say equally, the interesting thing that I find in numbers is it seems to be to me to be coincidentally a one in four situation where one in four people in the disability community, one in four people outside of the disability community, are not are actually not as shocked. You know, and it’s not as much a factor, but you would be part of three out of four people on both sides of the aisle, that it’s a little bit of eyebrow raiser that I’m in this position and being this this much all in, you know, so just like Texas Hold’em or whatever, like I’m putting all my chips in because I think that this has come to me to be something that has never been addressed since.

Even going back to all of history of humankind, even back to Adam and Eve, we’ve never addressed why it’s those people take care of these things with those people. We’re creating this false binary that like you’re talking about, that there’s people who are passionate about it in the community. And then that passion just drops off like like a cliff. Out to the other people outside of the community. I think this is an all hands on deck thing. And I think there are a lot of people like myself out there.

Not everybody is maybe as much of a blabbermouth or a loudmouth as me. So I guess that’s a unique position.

So you said you got part of the Transforming Media Network. Tell me, what’s that all about? How do they get involved?

What do they help you with? Well, what’s happened there is a shirttail relative of mine, Jurisprudent Skewes, founder of Hope, and still he was interviewed on what is the Transform You Live show, which is the original show that the founder of Transform You Media Network built his enterprise off of from four years ago. And about the same time I was starting the ability MKC Now radio show at River West, Radio River, West Radio, Dotcom and my shirttail relative Joy Projects, founder of Hope and Still Hope and still dot org partnered with me and Ability EMK now.

And so this all kind of came together. I was on radio. Marcus Hart, founder of Transform You Live Show. Also did the transform your live show Reboost Radio. Jerry Sandusky was on there and then Jerry got interviewed with Marcus. And then then what happens is along the way I was running still run what is now ability Fest USA and Marcus was getting involved with Ability Fest USA and what happened with the ability EMK Now Radio Show is I’m a water skier, put on shows, water ski shows and with the pandemic, we ended up getting our show rescheduled at the same time as our water ski show.

But that was at the point of March. And then when we’re in the summer here in Wisconsin, putting on water skis shows I ended up in a pickle because we ended up getting back into putting on water ski shows that were at the same time as the radio show. And I ended up having an opportunity with Dave Stevens, seven time Emmy Award winning announcer, and he does work with the disability channel. So I basically offloaded my radio show to him.

And then everything I’m doing with Marcus, I told Marcus some other possibilities we had and what I told you about the world of ability. And Marcus partnered with me to do that as a Saturday podcast, two p.m. Central every Saturday.

That’s incredible. You were saying, right. Like we have all of these folks, whether it’s a physical ability, chronic pain, mental health blindness, deafness or something else that’s going on. And they are constantly, I guess, left behind are not thought of. Why do you think that is so common? Right. Like not the regulations are missing, but like, why do you think it is that as a society we are don’t show enough empathy to our fellow citizens?

Well, I think we live in an instant gratification circumstance here, especially in the US. And I think the United States of America proliferated that to other parts of the world. And, you know, to sum it up, it’s a little bit of a short sightedness that I think I relate to because I sit here like I’m on my high horse and like I’m some big example. But the thing to understand is when I say six years ago, that is the marker for a transformation in my life.

So if you go back 15 years ago in my life, you know, I was right in there with where that question needs to be asked, like, why was I 15 years ago? Not as much looking at the three hundred and sixty five days on the calendar and keeping people with disabilities in mind and gravitating myself to the disability community more than I was 15 years ago and prior. So this is a success story of the disability advocacy community because it’s like cooking the crap.

They say if you’re going to cook a live crab and you put it in boiling water, you throw that live crab in there, it’s going to scurry out of your pot and you’re not getting anywhere. But if you put that crab in comfortable water and then you slowly turn up the heat, you’ll eventually cook the crab. So I would say the disability community slowly cooked me that. I really succumbed to my own faults, my own fallacies, my own what I learned to be micro aggressions, you know, like how I’d be with somebody with a disability in a group.

And then I would more have my interactions with other people in the group. And even if it was about the person in the group that has a disability, I would more talk to the other people to learn about the person that has a disability, like they can’t speak for themselves. And so it was an interesting admission to profess and to confess that I had symptoms of Ebola like racism or something like that. That’s not a real good practice. I resembled some of those things and so was a transformational process that I could.

More and more recognize it, have a heightened awareness, and then make those concerted decisions to be more intentional and to let people with disabilities more be in the lead instead of thinking like I’m charitable to somebody with a disability, that they’re offering so much in my life that they’re really a leader in my life because there’s so much of their life that since the first decades of my life, I didn’t as much pay attention to them. I had to start from scratch and start learning a lot.

I had to sharpen my pencil and take notes. So I knew about disability etiquette, preferred language, people, first language, universal design, global public, inclusive infrastructure, ADA compliance, all these things that I ignored for 40 years in my life.

It’s a big ask. There are plenty of good people out there who recognize what you’re saying, right? Who recognize that we have problems, who recognize that there are people who are left behind who are being ignored or are being marginalized, who are having micro aggressions against them on a daily basis, even unintentionally. So it’s hard enough to be somebody who says, OK, I need to correct my behavior. But now it even sounds like you’re saying even if you want to correct behavior, it’s hard to do that.

How do we convince people to take that step? How do we encourage them, convince them that it is worth all of that work?

Well, I guess it’s the old cliche of the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. And give an example of I’m very involved in the Happy Neighborhood Project. And the founder, Edwin Adebari, looks to spread happiness around the world. And he did a thousand interviews where he was able to leave the interview with pretty good success and people committing to twenty four hours of happiness. So he started with he didn’t try this whole thing of like day in and day out, having somebody transition and a happiness he just concentrated on twenty four hours.

And I guess that’s the way I look at this, that like I said for me, I felt like that live crab that got cooked and it was by a little bit at a time and not because they weren’t offering a ton all along the way. I was only receiving a little bit at a time. So I guess that’s how I answer it one step at a time, a little bit at a time. Just think of something, that random act of kindness, whatever, and not like you.

You’re oozing over them to be ready to receive and just create that space for somebody with a disability and not, you know, not identify them and then go after them for it just to allow it to happen. If it seems like somebody is coming forward with a disability and they’re just being themselves, just let them continue being themselves. But then you being yourself, just sense yourself being more open to appreciate them for their abilities. And then you get to where you’re not even thinking about their disability, and that’s the key, when you can flex that muscle and train that muscle and get that to happen, now you’re powering yourself to just do that as much as you want.

So you said you were doing these events, you have the radio thing. What made you think this belongs as a podcast?

Specifically, what was it that made you think I have to put this out onto Apple, Google, Spotify, like all different places where people consume actual podcast content?

And I think it’s it’s something that’s up for debate, but Intel people join me in an all hands on deck fashion and come up with the myriad of ways this could be solved. But like you say, I chose one way podcasting, and this is why Mathew I would get involved in disability ministry, transforming into what I call ability ministry. I would get involved in inclusive recruiting with not nonprofit groups, volunteer organizations like Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, Optimist Club.

And I think about the effort I had to put in and the attention that all these people needed to keep it going. And the aspect of lifelong learning, which obviously podcasting serves really well and thinking of politics to just think of the messages out there and think of this topic the last four years and how in politics, the realm of Americans with disabilities or other people around with disabilities in the world and how that’s handled or not in politics and then in the professional realm in terms of inclusive hiring and to look at how does one person make as much of a ripple effect and to set this into motion that it can get to a broad scale, I think, of scaling up numbers.

So if I think of reach and look at present day, how can I sit at my house or wherever I am in the world and to really give people the best chance to join this conversation.

Podcasting is it it sounds like you have experience with media production. So I imagine your you didn’t have a huge hurdle to climb when it came to launching a podcast. But what were some of the early. Struggles, hurdles, right? What were some of the things you had to learn about the space that somebody else listening to this was thinking about, you know, marching and helping out folks in their favorite cause can learn from you? Well, I would say that I really would frame this, that we’re learning together, because let’s look at right now, right now we are on podcast.

I’m verbally speaking and I’m speaking the disability community. And then people who know someone from the deaf community and there’s a thing called deaf radio out there. You know, the visuals and the other tools that you have, aside from my voice, is what’s going to be key for the deaf community. So that right there is something that is not happening just on going on transforming media network. We do when we have our videos, we do have the YouTube closed captioning to at least have that added piece on there.

But I think with what the disability community told me nothing about us without us to really answer that question, we really need to get interviewing the people who do have a disability. But in terms of the space, it’s more about, you know, like with the radio show, I really ended up cultivating a team so that for me it just remained a platform. And I produced the show and I cultivated Adam Jaurès, Mickey and Don, the four people who became my team.

And even with the world of ability, if you get into that content, I’m always welcoming groups. And so with the space, I’m just saying that for me, with the other things I need to be doing in my life, because podcasting is not a full time gig by any means, I’m just using this as a tool. So podcasting is not that friendly to just be able to plug and play that. I can just insert my message and it gets everywhere it needs to be.

There’s a lot of tips, tricks, techniques. You know, you folks are having conferences, you know, there zoom sessions alone on podcasting. And, you know, and what you’re doing is the podcast consultant. There’s a lot of intricate details. So my public speaking capacity really got cultivated through the waterski shows that, you know, seasonally I tend to do one, two or three shows as an announcer. So I’m just a guy who can kind of say I can captivate an audience by a lakeside.

And then now I’m just speaking into a computer instead of in front of an audience of twenty to one hundred twenty people in front of me at a water ski show, that type of thing.

What has been the most or the best takeaway from having done all this right?

You are for so many people. They do this podcast, they do a CausePods podcast because it helps them right there. They are very selfish in their reasoning and I don’t say that in a bad way. I think it’s great when people advocate for themselves, use their platform, find their community, find their tribe, are able to get their messaging out there through this platform. But again, because you’re doing this on behalf of what is you know, how how we would define it, we talked about earlier, it’s not your community.

I’m curious, what have been some of those, like, memorable moments? Right. What have been the times where people have come up to you and said something or, you know, what have been the results of doing this podcast that are just the big takeaways that’ll be unforgettable for you. And I just think of today I did actually a different podcast called the Compassionate Citizens Podcast, and I had a the name of on there. And she’s got a store that she has and she’s doing this with her mom.

Gabbie’s growns Gav’s grounds, that com, I believe, and she’s doing a fundraiser. But I had a couple of my regular contributors to the podcast on there, and then Gabby and her mom were on.

And it is just so neat to see how in this time of covid, you know, if we do this group format of podcasting, just how neat the group dynamic can get because people are yearning that human connection. And when you get people speaking from the heart, it’s amazing through this cyberspace, through the information superhighway and just hearing people’s voices. And if you’re on a zoom session or webcam like you are now, you know, it just creates that human connection that we need.

It’s a little artificial because we got this screen in front of us, but it’s still getting people in the direction of what they need for filling the void of connecting another human being. You know, it’s part of the reaction to the pandemic and the human crisis going on. And, you know, in terms of strife of the. They say politics and so forth, that I’m experiencing therapy and action without even trying to do that, we’re just trying to have a nice conversation.

But to just see human beings just being so nice and compassionate to each other and forming new friendships, you know, strangers in like 15 minutes, all of a sudden they’re chit chat along like they’ve known each other forever. That’s just really cool.

So as part of your appearance here today, you’re promoting onward and upward. Tell us about this organization. What do they do and why they are the group that we want to give support to. And by the way, before you get into that, just let everybody know we will have a link to onward and upward here in the show, notes the CausePods.org. But if you want to check it on your own. Onward and Upward Foundation dot org. So tell us a little bit about what they do and why you want to give them some extra support tonight.

You bet.

And I also want to add in with the link reference onward upward in that order. But in any case, Annamarie Oblivion, the founder of Onward and Upward. And I mentioned the disability channel. And so that came in when I came into this year for Ability Fest USA and I linked and I just happened to see the disability channel, the disability channel that SEIA and I become their their ambassador for the US. And basically we were in need of a fiscal sponsor because what happens is they offer a training Digital Ventures USA by the disability channel.

And so it’s job ready, training and onward and upward came up with the whole system to bring this out to the marketplace and to help access to the classrooms, the Zoome classrooms, where we meet twice a week for eight or 14 weeks, depending on what the student wants. So we needed funding to be able to deal with the financial barrier, because if you’re dealing with somebody on Social Security, disability income or whatever, they don’t have the resources to pay the tuition for the classes.

And so we’re getting involved with a government agency like the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and otherwise to try to financially support this so we can fill our classrooms so that people with disabilities are getting job ready, training by the disability channel through the Digital Ventures USA program. And that’s the significance it is for the conversation we started from to explain more about onward and upward. When you go to it, it is all about the homeless community. And so what I’ve learned about the homeless community are people who experience homelessness is there is a profound, disproportionate existence of disability in the community of people with homelessness, which is kind of counterintuitive because with disability benefits and so forth, you would think we would be protecting people with disabilities pretty uniformly to not be homeless.

You know, my stereotype, anyway, was that I thought ninety nine percent of people experiencing homelessness probably don’t have a disability. But onward and upward has gotten to the point to create a very unique program, state of the art type thing called guaranteed employment. I mean, people are just wow, like really guaranteed employment. So, yeah, they’re doing the function of somebody experiencing homelessness. They come in and they get leadership and they get guidance by onward and upward, looking at getting gainfully employed, you know, with the job ready, training and so forth.

So just remarkable social work being done by onward and upward. And Anne-Marie Oblivion, I mean, Guler looking into her, she’s just got a remarkable story with the four years she has been really cranking away this enterprise. And she’s got a for profit prosperity pathways with offers that for profit resource to also be a part in the business community to help steer people financially to support onward and upward.

So, again, if somebody is hearing this right, somebody who is thinking about launching a podcast, thinking about supporting their favorite cause, whether it is one that they are in fact part of or on behalf of somebody else, what would be your advice to them?

Well, my advice would be to me, it’s about being personal, coming from within, being ready to figure something out that to me goes to the realm of being vulnerable. And for a lot of people, they may not be a big deal. But for me, it happened to be part of my transformation is I didn’t realize that that was an area in improvement that would really serve me well for me to be more vulnerable. So that’s just kind of a personally biased reaction, you know.

But I’ve been known to say, like when I talk about 15 plus years ago, I would talk a lot about in community or networking or meeting new friends or whatever. I tried to become a better listener and I tried to change my paradigm decades ago to not be so self-absorbed and so forth and about my favorite topic myself. And I would try to say, OK, what I’m trying to do now is to hand somebody the pen. And I would talk about people writing down their stories.

And so to me with podcasting, you know, that’s what it’s all about. There’s a cliche, you know, facts tell, stories sell. And to me, that’s what my journey has been, is I’ve been finding and podcasting that not just for my story, other people’s story. Like I say, the stranger thing, I would come to find somebody who would be interested to be on my podcast goodness of fit there on my podcast, and then to learn about them to be from stranger to new friend and that they just open up and tell their story.

I guess that to me is what it’s about, is thinking of your podcast and your cause as a way to let stories move forward like Walt Disney. You know, the idea of Imagineering and this whole wheelhouse is so empowering to not underestimate fiduciary responsibility to, you know, that there’s a lot of trust that I think people put in us that when we start talking and we put this all over the Internet and have all this access and we’re kind of coming up maybe and the impression of being an authority that we check our facts and that we really make sure that what’s coming through, these live experiences or these recorded experiences, that there’s a goodness of fit and it’s relevant to what’s going on out there in people’s lives.

And like anything when you’re presenting, know your audience and just be ready for a great ride and have tons of fun with it because I say what’s fun gets done. So don’t be afraid to laugh a little bit. Right.

I love what’s fun gets done. I think that’s a great mantra for all of us can learn from and live by and especially in the space.

If you can’t if you’re not smiling right. While you are hosting your podcast, there is no reason anybody is going to smile while listening to your podcast. I think that’s a great way to think about it. Chatting with Kurt Rothkopf, he’s the host of The World of Ability podcast. You can find out more about it and listen to that transform you podcasts dot com. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes as well as a CausePods.org. And again, also encourage you to check out and look at onward and upward.

We will have a link to them in the show notes as well. It has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you. Kurt, thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods tonight. Absolutely fine. Mathew, thank you. Great show you do here. And looking forward to hearing more of your segments.

Thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org.

There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here in this episode. You will also find a CausePods.org way to subscribe to this show on your favourite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.

And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends, a pod page. But you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast Consultive Dotcom.

Once again, if you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.

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