Podcast: Interview with Debra Ruh - Part 1
Guy interviews Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications, a strategic communications & digital marketing firm helping corporations strategically include people with disabilities.
Hi, it's Guy here. Welcome to Conversations between Peers in the Communications Industry. This is part one of a multiple part interview.
I am very pleased to introduce you to our guest, Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications. Debra decided a number of years ago that she was going to change the world for the better. She has been successful beyond what anyone may have expected.
Today Ruh Global Communications is a Strategic Communications & Digital Marketing firm helping corporations strategically include People with Disabilities. Debra recognized early in the life of her daughter Sara, who was born with Down syndrome, that she would be capable of great things.
With Sara as her inspiration and bucking conventional attitudes, Debra founded TecAccess with the mission to acknowledge the contributions of people with disabilities in both the workplace and the marketplace and to provide accessibility consulting solutions to companies around the world. TecAccess became a trusted, world-class provider of accessibility consulting solutions that helped other companies ensure their technology was accessible to all.
Sara Ruh, who today is Ruh Global Communications Chief Inspiration Officer, has also gone on to achieve the greatness her mother first saw in her. Sara is an internationally renowned keynote and inspirational speaker who has appeared in the pages of Fortune Magazine. She is the winner of Style Weekly's "Top 40 Under 40" Award and the North Star Academy Self Advocate Achievement Award.
In 2011 TecAccess merged into SSB BART Group. Debra stayed with that firm for about 18 months and then stepped back on her own and created Ruh Global Communications. Today Debra consults with multi-national firms, universities and non-governmental organizations, U.S. state and federal government agencies and governments globally.
Among her many accomplishments, Debra has become a master of using social media as a tool for advocacy. Among a wide footprint on social media, Ruh Global Communications has over 150,000 thousand followers. Debra has taken much of what she has learned about creating positive change and shared it in her book, "Find Your Voice using Social Media."
Debra, I am so pleased to reconnect with you and to have this opportunity today to join in Conversations between Peers in the Communications Industry. Welcome to the podcast.
Thank you so much Guy, I appreciate you inviting me.
When last we met you were still building TecAccess. You were changing the lives of so many people by helping enterprise organizations and government agencies to overcome their nearsightedness about the potential for people of all capabilities.
I'm so impressed with what you have been able to achieve since then. Tell us more about your mission, how you've arrived at where you are today and what Ruh Global Communications is about.
After I merged TecAccess into SSB BART Group I decided to step back out on my own. TecAccess was focused on insuring that ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] was accessible to all and certainly looking at it from compliance and standards perspective. Over 80% of my team were people with disabilities. Many of the people on my team had very severe disabilities. I had great successes, and I had some great failures along the way as well.
I built the company to a multimillion business. I think we really proved that a for-profit business could hire a workforce like that and we could do a really good job. If you are working with the biggest of the biggest clients, the multinationals, and doing the job, you might get their attention because you have a good story, but you keep them as a client because you do good work. We were really proud of the work that we did.
When we merged TecAccess into SSB, all of the employees, including myself, went there. I stayed there for about 18 months pondering what my next move was going to be. My background before becoming an entrepreneur was in corporate America; I worked in the banking industry at very high levels for many many years. I thought maybe I'd go back into corporate America. I decided to go out of my own.
One thing I've always been very interested in and somewhat successful at is marketing. Of course I'm going to still focus on the things I really care about, which is inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society - especially access to a fully accessible ICT to hopefully reducing the digital divide. A big big part of this is employability, making sure that people with disabilities were meaningfully added into the workforce, but at the same time retained as well.
I've heard you speak about the changing nature of what it means to have a disability. What does that mean?
This particular minority group, disabilities, is one that you can move in and out of. The Baby Boomers, and I'm one of them, we probably haven't taken as good care of ourselves as we should have. My daughter, as a person who was born with Down syndrome, is going to have a disability her whole life. Me, as a person who wasn't born with a disability, I've moved in and out of disabilities as I've lived my life. The instances of people acquiring disabilities is pretty high. I've heard statistics that it's as high over the age of 65 as 46% of the population.
People are living longer, they are working longer, and so this is an increasing issue of concern in the workplace, true?
My parents are from the telecommunications field - both worked for AT&T their whole career. They were never disabled until they got older. My dad got lung cancer; he became severely disabled and has passed. My mom also acquired pretty severe disabilities as she aged as well, which is very very typical especially where we are right now in the world.
I can hear the internal dialogue of business owners hearing the statistics and wondering how will their businesses cope. What from your experiences would inform a human resources officer for instance about the place for people with disabilities in this newly emerging reality?
One thing I used to say when I was first starting out is it's going to be such a success when people start realizing that I'm doing something really important here. I'm hiring these really talented technologists with disabilities. Then, when I started having employees taken from me, from IBM or Microsoft or others who came in courting these really really valuable employees, I was happy but I was sad because I was losing really really good employees.
At the same time I was happy because for IBM or Microsoft come in and want these employees, they saw what I saw. So, it was a win, but I'll be honest, when it actually started happening it wasn't fun. It was a little bit more like, "Oh my gosh, not that employee. They are so good."
So you would say that there are challenges, but there are also tremendous opportunities?
The reality is that disability is part of life. But also, one in seven people have a disability, according to the World Health Organization. One in three families in the United States have someone in their family who has a disability. We must make sure that people with disabilities can use our telecommunications and our products and our services.
This isn't going away. As the Baby Boomers, 78 million of us continue to age, and we control 60% of the wealth, us Baby Boomers. So if you're not marketing to this group and including people with disabilities in your marketing campaigns and making sure you're employing people with disabilities and accommodating them, then you're missing out. You've got to be making sure that your websites work and your services and your call centers are capable of dealing with people disabilities. ...
As you make products and telecommunications solutions accessible to people with disabilities, it improves the usability of the products for the rest of the population. So it is good for business. As you ALT-tag graphics on a website it improves your search engine optimization and more people can find you.
It [technology] is allowing everybody to participate in the workforce and society. These cool new tablets and smart phones are really truly good for business. When it is designed right it makes it so much better for everyone else.
So that's what I do all day long; I try to help corporations and a lot of governments. I work with Egypt, Spain, Kenya, Singapore and different countries creating programs that really do allow people to be included.
If you have a child that is blind, you really need to educate them a little bit more differently. You need to make sure they have the screen readers and the training in the assistive technologies they will need so they can be successful. Technology is allowing us to include people in ways that in the past it was hard to include them.
That is the one thing that I wish that people get. This isn't going away, nor should it go away. We're Americans; we need to really step up and change this so that everybody can be included. It's really important.
This concludes part one of our two-part conversation with our guest, Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications. In part two we'll talk with Debra about how she uses social media to change the world for the positive. We'll talk about how she uses the technologies to spread the word about inclusion, and we'll speak a bit about Debra's daughter Sara. I hope that you've enjoyed today's Conversations Between Peers in the Communication Industry and you'll join us for part two of our conversation with Debra Ruh.
This is your host, Guy Clinch, wishing you all the best in your productive day.
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