Physical limitations don’t define a person. No one appreciates being labeled as “disabled.” On a similar note, we need to stop saying, “If this person can do it, you can do it too.” Everyone has different talents and skill sets they can bring to the table, so don’t automatically limit their potential.
As part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Kim. Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Neofect USA, a rehabilitation technology company. Scott was born with spina bifida, so he understands the arduous process of rehabilitation. His prior experience in the gaming software industry — including GREE, Z2Live (now Activision Blizzard), and 505 Games — contributed to his ability to create the games and software for Neofect’s home-based and clinical solutions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Scott! What is your “backstory”?
Iwas born with spina bifida in 1979, which means I spent most of the 80s undergoing grueling rehabilitation. It was boring and isolating, particularly because I couldn’t participate in the activities other kids did. Fast forward to my late teens and I enrolled in the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. As a class assignment, I partnered with another student to design a 21st century rehabilitation company that used games to assist stroke survivors with functional recovery, and make rehabilitation more engaging than what I endured as a child.
My classmate and I built on this idea, eventually founding a company — Neofect — that continues to find innovative ways to measure, track, and report rehabilitation progress while giving patients a better, more engaging experience.
Can you share the story of how you became disabled, and what you did to not let it stop you?
Fortunately the spina bifida I was born with was not very severe, so I was able to see significant improvement through surgery and rehabilitation. Though I experienced physical limitations and was unable to participate in various cultural experiences — most memorably Tae Kwon Do — I’ve otherwise led a normal life.
As a kid who was unable to join many of the activities my peers enjoyed, I strived to join a team sport. My physicians advised against it due to the major surgeries I’d undergone, my age, and the vulnerability of my back nerves. Still, I persisted, and little by little I began honing my skills in soccer. Finally, in 5th grade I tried out for the soccer team.
I never thought I would reach that point. By working hard and striving to reach my goal, I was able to achieve what the doctors saw as highly unlikely — and even risky. That year, 55 students tried out and only four made the team. I was one of those four.
The moral of the story is you can’t let anyone set limitations on what you can do — only you can do that.
Can you tell us about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability?
As someone living with spina bifida, I don’t allow my condition to define or stop me. This mentality has allowed me to live a fairly normal life, and has taught me to take a few risks and pursue my dreams. It always takes great effort and sacrifice to succeed at something.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?
Most people think they have setbacks, and almost everyone can name at least one limitation and/or insecurity in their own lives. But ultimately this boils down to having the confidence to at least try.
For me, one of the biggest lessons I learned occurred once I set my eyes on joining the soccer team. The more I trained, the better I became, and the more my confidence grew. Once I felt stronger in my game and stopped doubting myself, people treated me differently. I treated myself differently. I got out of my own way and people picked up on my confidence.
My advice to anyone — whether they have a disability or not — is to look at their own perception of themselves and worry less about what other people think. Other people are too busy worrying about themselves, anyway. As you gain a more positive perception of yourself and aren’t stuck in your own head, your confidence will radiate for yourself and others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I have many people to thank for my continued success, including my family, teachers, and business partners. Two stand out, though.
I learned my can-do attitude from my mother. She encouraged me to never stop trying and to be positive. I have her to thank for always reminding me of my potential. I also gained motivation from a healthy dose of sibling rivalry. My athletic and outgoing brother pushed me to put myself out there. He may be my little brother, but he’s always had my back.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The mission of my company, Neofect, is to inspire hope for patients who are rehabilitating. We do this by making it more exciting, engaging, and measurable. After experiencing the tiring repetition of traditional rehabilitation and therapy, my goal is to bring stroke survivors the most innovative, encouraging rehabilitation possible. Repetition is key to recovery, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it fun. Our technology allows patients to experience specially- designed games that involve real-world situations and ways to measure, track, and report rehabilitation progress.
I also serve as an advocate and speaker for children with disabilities. This past year I spoke at the No Barriers event and want to get more involved because it has a huge impact on those children’s lives. It’s just another way I can pay it forward.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood/knew about people with physical limitations” and why.
- Physical limitations don’t define a person. No one appreciates being labeled as “disabled.” On a similar note, we need to stop saying, “If this person can do it, you can do it too.” Everyone has different talents and skill sets they can bring to the table, so don’t automatically limit their potential.
- Physical (dis)abilities are a subset of diversity issues. It’s just like gender or race; why are we still focusing on it? Don’t judge or stereotype people.
- Stop feeling sorry for us. We can’t undo having spina bifida or a stroke, so instead of feeling sorry, think about something productive you can do to help.
- Be patient. Particularly for the stroke community, if someone is having trouble with their speech, try to understand what they’re going through and give them time to express themselves. As an English as a Second Language (ESL) speaker, I can understand how hard it is to express yourself, particularly when you’re talking to someone who’s impatient. The frustration felt by lack of empathy makes it more difficult to get your point across, so give us a minute.
- Treat everyone the same, regardless of a noticeable disability or not.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I’m a huge sports fan, so I have to go with Yogi Berra’s famous line, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” This quote speaks to me because my life is the embodiment of persistence. To me, Yogi is saying you have to put in the effort and give it everything you have, and only once you’ve tried as hard as you possibly can, can you call it a day.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Hands down, Michael Jordan because he’s a role model. He’s the reason I chose to attend the University of North Carolina for undergrad, and his life matches the core values I strive for daily: persistence, trial and error, and competition. What makes him an icon is his effort; he didn’t start out as the greatest player in the world, but he became that through hard work and persistence.
Throughout my life, I’ve strive to meet my goals, no matter how much others doubted me or what obstacles were in my path. As I persisted, there were times when things didn’t go as planned and I learned how to get better. Above all else, competition has kept me going and has become the core of Neofect. The competition with myself to improve during my mobility, the competition on the soccer field to gain more confidence and the respect of others, and the competition our stroke survivors experience as they engage with our rehabilitation games.