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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, July 27, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Amy Roloff with her husband, Matt, and four children: Zach, Jeremy, Molly and Jake.

Reality TV star to guest speak at power lunch


Just over 4 feet tall, Amy Roloff, the star of the TLC reality television series "Little People, Big World," is a little person with a big message. Consequently, Roloff will be the keynote speaker at Independence First's eighth annual power lunch, scheduled for 11 a.m. June 16 at the Midwest Airlines Center. Tickets are $50.

Independence First, 540 S. 1st St., works to empower people with disabilities and promotes community integration through education, advocacy, independent living services and coalition building. The organization started in 1979.

Roloff, who was born with a form of dwarfism called acondroplasia, is married to Matt, who is also a dwarf. The couple has four children, one of whom, Zach, is also a little person. Their other three children are average size. The family lives in a suburb of Portland, Ore., on a 33-acre pumpkin farm.

Juggling a family, farm and a popular televisions series is definitely challenging, but Roloff's can-do attitude and refusal to make excuses for herself or her family make life a little bit easier.

OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with Roloff about her family, the show, how she overcame obstacles and the importance of communicating needs to achieve goals.

OnMilwaukee.com: What will be the core of your message at the Independence First event?

Amy Roloff: Of course my main message is to support Independence First, and all of the great things they are doing for people with disabilities. After that, I believe a person with disabilities must come to terms with their disability so they can help others to see them as a person who can accomplish the task at hand.

A lot of times, the door of opportunity shuts because of other peoples' perceptions of a disabled person's potential. So we need to be able to communicate our abilities to others.

OMC: What have been your biggest challenges as a little person?

AR: Attitude and self-perception. For a long time, I accepted that I was a person with physical challenges, but I just wanted to blend in with average-sized people. I wanted people to forget that I was a little person.

By the time I was in college, I was so focused on wanting people to get past my physical stuff that I couldn't let them in. I realized I was making a bigger issue out of my physical appearance and it was affecting my relationships with the girls in my dorm.

It was a gradual process, but I started to look more at myself and finally stop worrying about what others were thinking. I knew that my fears and "what ifs" were affecting my life and my relationships.

OMC: You could easily feel or act victimized, but you don't. You seem like a very empowered person. Would you agree?

AR: Luckily, I come from a family that's big on ownership. In college, when I was struggling with my self image, I started to think of ways that I could improve the situation and specifically, how I could better communicate with people so they could get past my disability. I'm very big on not expecting people to change their environments for me.

OMC: Do you ever wish you were an average-sized person?

AR: I did at one time, but not now. Being a little person has been the best thing for me because it has made it possible for me to really appreciate life, the differences between people and the ability not to judge others.

OMC: How was your family "discovered" for the television show?

AR: We had been in other national media and a producer came to us and asked if we were interested in shooting a pilot episode. We agreed, but the first network declined. However, our producer really believed our family had an important message, so he pitched it to TLC and they were interested.

At first, I was skeptical. You hear the words "reality show" and it's a little scary. Here I was working so hard for my kids to have a "normal" upbringing and I knew how easy it would be to get caught up in the media and the attention. Finally, we decided to do ta few episodes and then thought we'd be done.

We decided to continue the show because of the positive feedback and we really wanted to get the information out there ... about little people.

I have always had the firm stance that TV will follow us, not the other way around.

OMC: How accurately does the show portray your family?

AR: It's pretty accurate ... There's nothing on the show that I regret.

OMC: Do you know any of the other famous reality TV families? Jon and Kate Gosselin? The Duggars?

AR: I have never met the Duggars, and met Jon and Kate only one time. It was a total coincidence: Matt and I went on a trip to Hawaii and Jon and Kate were there renewing their wedding vows.

OMC: What are the negative aspects of being on the show?

AR: The positives outweigh the negatives, but of course, there are negative aspects. The hardest part is what people write in blogs about us and the judgments that are made after a single episode of the show. If only people could remember this is TV, and there are editors putting bits and pieces of a life together to create a half-hour of entertainment. But we put ourself in the limelight, and it comes with the territory. We made this choice.


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