How Keith Became a Speaker by Accident

When Keith decided to close up shop with his landscape and construction business, he wasn’t sure what he was going to get into next. As always, he has an idea rolling around in his head, but this next idea wasn’t anything he expected.

In an effort to contribute toward his community, Keith took a job at his local church. It was there he was given an opportunity to attend an event with the organization Joni & Friends.

The event was a workshop designed to help pastors and church staff work with people with disabilities. Keith was curious to find out what they had to say — as a member of the disabled community, but also a church staff member, Keith was in a unique position to see both perspectives.

And here is where the journey really begins. Keith had no idea that so many thoughts would be running through his mind during his first workshop. Jeff, the workshop leader, was likely interrupted a half a dozen times. In fact, when his wife Cathy suggested that Keith meet them in the courtyard after the session, everyone thought he was being sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class!

What really happened was that Jeff and Cathy were taken aback by the insight Keith had added to their workshop. His stories stole their audience, with people laughing and at times, crying. They knew he had a gift to share. Jeff invited Keith to speak at an event he was hosting at Azusa Pacific University the following month. Keith was not prepared for this. He asked, “Why me? Look around — there are so many other people that would love to do this.” But this was meant to be.

Keith is speaking at the podium of the Marconi Automotive Museum.
Keith speaking at an event.

Keith’s friends pushed him to prepare, and the day of the event quickly approached. As someone who was mocked for his speech growing up, he approached the stage with sweaty palms and took in the enormity of the auditorium. It was incredible. Keith opened with a joke, and the laughter warmed him up to his audience of special needs educators. Now he was in his zone. The stories unfolded, the jokes rolled out, and his audience was captivated. The calls for him to speak started coming in, and before he knew it, he was a public speaker.

Introduction to the healthcare professions

Some time later, Keith met nursing instructor Betty Thomas. When she learned about his public speaking, she asked him to speak to her class. Keith spoke to a classroom of soon-to-be nurses about how they could improve their interactions with people with disabilities. 

Betty and her class were astonished by his stories, and his lifetime of accrued insight into unique communication needs. The reaction of Keith’s nursing audience hooked him — and thus his passion for coaching healthcare professionals was born.

Why is this so important?

During the Q&A session that fateful day in the auditorium at Azusa Pacific, Keith was asked, “how do you talk to a deaf person?” He is sure his chin hit the ground. Had special education teachers never learned this in all of their training? His audience of future nurses had never had this topic covered in their courses, either.

The simple fact is that people with disabilities sometimes have unique communication needs that are often overlooked. It has become Keith’s mission to spread awareness of the inequity that exists in the healthcare community.

At Ability Together, our vision is a society where disability is normalized and all people feel like they belong.

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Keith speaking to a nursing class about disability advocacy. He's wearing a blue shirt while holding his hands to his front while nurses at low tables look on.

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3 Responses

  1. Earlier today I read your job post and applied. Now I’m reading your remarkable story! God has a plan; we just need to be wiling to be used by Him to serve others? God bless you!

  2. Excellent service work for all people involved from professionals who I can attest never had a coarse on this subject matter. Clergy, students, care givers, everyone needs this conversation especially from someone who has lived on both sides. Absolutely amazing! I do substitute teaching as needed at Rainbow Abilities Center (adults with severe disabilities day center for 21+), and East Central College (RN 2nd year students), both located in Union, Missouri. This would saved a lot of miscommunication and frustration between each group if they had known some of these facts and techniques to began with. I learn something new each time I hold the class. Equality is so important. Excellent work Thank you!

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