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Podcast: Interview with Debra Ruh - Part 2

Guy continues his interview with Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications, a strategic communications & digital marketing firm helping corporations strategically include people with disabilities.

In this episode of Guy Clinch's podcast series Conversations between Peers in the Communications Industry on No Jitter, Guy and Debra discuss how Debra uses social media to achieve social good. Debra gives some tips from her book "Find Your Voice Using Social Media" and describes the powerful example of how she used social media to address comments by Richard Dawkins, the internationally known provocateur. Guy and Debra speak about Sara Ruh, Debra's daughter who has Down syndrome explaining how she has become such an inspirational figure and the lessons she can teach us all.

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Hi, Guy here, your host for this episode of Conversations Between Peers in the Communications Industry on No Jitter. This is the second part of our conversation with Debra Ruh, CEO and Founder of Ruh Global Communications, a Strategic Communications & Digital Marketing firm helping corporations strategically include People with Disabilities.

Well you've been so good at not only employing people with disabilities, but then taking what you've done and making sure others know about how. In your book "Find Your Voice Using Social Media," I learned about how you are using social media today to change the world and how you are teaching others to best use those tools. Please tell the audience a bit about your success and how you are showing people to use social media for social good.

Debra
I'm a telecommunications brat. My dad took care of a computer at AT&T that took up like three city blocks. We would go there and spend the nights sometimes and help him work. So technology has always been in my blood. As we go through these really powerful technology phases, it is just amazing how much it is changing in our lifetimes. Social media is just so amazing to me. I jumped into social media all the way.

Many times today when people are talking about social media they are only talking about it from the perspective of young people. Believe it or not, Baby Boomers can also be very successful in social media. Many of my peers used to say, "I don't even know where to start, Debra. How do you do it? Why would you do it?"

I realized that there was such a disconnect with my peers. I thought, I'm going to write a book about the good that social media can do.

I wrote this book to answer questions such as: How do you get on social media? What do the terms mean? Do I start with Twitter or LinkedIn? What about security and privacy issues?

I also wanted to tell my own story, my own walk with my beautiful daughter with Down syndrome and how I used social media to give myself a very powerful platform.

The book is a social media 101. It tells you how to get on Twitter. What does it mean to have a follower? What is the difference between an "at" sign [@] by a name or a pound sign or hashtag [#] by a name? It is for the people who are just starting and for the people who already use social media. I talk about how you use social media to be a thought leader and for social good. What are the tips and tricks?

I wrote the book in 2013. Even now so much has changed. I go back and update the book periodically.

I even hesitate to say that I am an expert on social media. I don't know that anybody is an expert. I know we are not experts at using social media when it comes to business and social media. This is still unfolding. We're still learning to use it.

I know that I am pretty good at it. Klout says that I am in the top 10% of users on social media. Social media can actually be used to do great, great social good.

Guy
I know you recently had an interchange with Richard Dawkins using social media. Tell us a little bit about what happened with that.

Debra
One of the things you do to be active in social media is that I am always tracking hashtags of topics that are important to me. One of those hashtags is Down syndrome [#downsyndrome]. I saw that Richard Dawkins was trending. I about fell out of my chair because he had tweeted that if you have a fetus with Down syndrome, "Abort it and try again."

I was so shocked that anybody would tweet that. It became very emotional for me. He went on to say that if you are a parent that chooses to have a baby with Down syndrome, "It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

I tweeted to him and showed him a picture of my beautiful daughter. I said, "Sara Ruh, she might not ever go to Oxford or become a famous scientist, but she does add value to society." We talk about things trending in social media, this did. It was repeated thousands of times. The BBC picked it up as their tweet of the week.

Guy
Thankfully most people hear a comment like that from someone like Dawkins and see it as appalling. The reaction certainly shows that people's heart is in the right place. Since he [Dawkins] makes a career out of provocation, the fact that he would say such a thing shows that there is an audience for it. I heard a comedian make a joke along the same lines just recently. To me it points to an attitudinal difference that we apply that is unique to persons with disabilities.

What I mean is that when we think about the differences between people, whether it is how one looks or the language one speaks, we act one way about some characteristics and differently about others.

For instance, when we consider the difference between a person who speaks only Spanish who may be trying to communicate with a person who speaks only English, we put that difference in the category of culture. Yet when that cultural difference is that one person speaks American Sign Language (ASL), we attach a negative connotation to the person.

We see their difference in different terms. Even the word itself, "dis-ability," allows us to get away with thinking about a person's differences in a way that would not be accepted in other contexts.

How is it that we get away with viewing those characteristics of a person as a bad instead of, as you write, celebrating and being able to, "Allow people to be seen as whole and not broken?"

Debra
We like to think in America that we have nailed a lot of those problems, well of course we haven't. What's happening in Ferguson is a perfect example. We haven't figured it out as a people. Maybe we've done a better job, some days, at sweeping it under the carpet.

I do lot of work with other countries and at the UN level and helping multinational companies with disability inclusion; policy and how do you create programs. It's fascinating in certain countries what the cultural and religious stigmas are. In Kenya, for a while (they've now removed it from the books) there was a law allowing a husband to divorce a wife who had a child who was an albino. The belief was that the only way to have an albino child was if the wife committed adultery. That's been changed now.

You are having to fight those things: Beliefs such as the reason your family has a person with a disability is because someone in your family did something wrong in a past life.

I'm working on a report right now for UNICEF. I was trying to get them some good statistics about people with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization about 15% of the world's population have a disability. In the Middle East, they are saying they have about 4%. They explain in this report that the statistic is probably not true. It is that the families don't acknowledge. In some places there's a lot of shame associated with disabilities.

As I've tried to figure out, how do I add value to this conversation, one of the things I want to do is change people's opinion of what it means to have a disability. I think that the only way to do that is to continue to tell the stories.

I read in the paper today about a young man [Jacob Barnett] who has autism, who is eleven years old. They said he has a higher IQ than Einstein. His mother was taking him through the traditional special education schools here in the United States. She felt that he wasn't getting the right support for his needs. She pulled him out and home schooled him. He is now in college and he may actually solve some of our biggest scientific problems.

What a shame if we had taken this brilliant young man with autism and had him working in a grocery store bagging groceries.

What we have to do is tell more of the stories that show disability is part of life. Because a person loses their sight, it doesn't mean that they are broken. They just have to navigate the world differently. It doesn't make them less than me, because I can see and that person can't.

It's just the different parts. We are all made up of so many different parts that shift and grow as we age.

I just believe you have to tell the stories. You have got be careful not to make every person a superhero.

We all add value. To start to decide who does and doesn't add value based on some ridiculous definition, is to not allow everyone to be who they can be.

Guy
I've worked with you in the past. I've worked with other folks in the venue of trying to help people with disabilities in the workplace. I thought in my mind I had this all figured out.

When I first thought about the questions I'd ask you during this interview, I was thinking to ask, "What is the business case for hiring from the community of persons with disabilities?" After reading your book I realized how silly a question that is.

Just because a person finds it difficult to access a traditional office setting; just because they may have communicative differences that means they need to deliver their contribution in a way different than how I may be accustomed; just because they might sound odd to my ears or their looks aren't the false archetype sold to me by Madison Avenue; doesn't reduce that person's value.

I've come to think of that mentality as my handicap. It is my perception of that person that has failed to allow me to take in their full worth.

I loved the example you gave in the princess story in your book of Sara at Disney World. You wrote of how she learned to embrace the way that others perceived her. It's clear that she never felt of herself as in any way different; but in that instance, she learned to take the initiative to break down the social walls with the children who had been admiring her. Please give us some insight into Sara's view of the world and how she has channeled that power into becoming such an inspirational figure.

Debra
Great question. I'm writing a book about the great spiritual lessons Sara has taught me. The thing that always fascinates me about Sara has to do with a way that I choose to live my life. I'm going to try to be the very best person that I can be. I'm going to try to stay in the moment. I'm going to try see the good in everybody I meet. I've had to learn to do this. I've had to practice at it.

What is interesting about Sara is that she doesn't have to try at any of this. Sara absolutely sees the good in everybody. Sara is always in the moment. Sara thinks that the world is a safe beautiful place.

All these spiritual lessons that I work hard at managing and expanding, Sara's got them. She's got them.

Sometimes people look at Sara and they think she is less, because she has Down syndrome. What they don't see is that she is actually more.

Sara lives her life in a way that the rest of us can learn a lot from. Sara is always happy. Even when she's feeling bad, she still is in a pretty good mood. If we will let her, she can teach us.

Guy
Debra, how can people learn more about the work you do?

Debra
Listeners can follow me on social media @debraruh on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, tumblr, Google+ and SKYPE at debraruh. Please also visit the home page of Ruh Global Communications.

Guy
Debra, it's been such a pleasure to catch up with you again. It's been too long, and I hope we stay in touch. Thank you for being our guest. As we close out is there anything else you'd like to say to our audience?

Debra
Only that I love this program. It's a great idea, and I will make sure that I help market it.

Guy
Thank you, I will appreciate that.

Dear audience, thank you for your time. We've been speaking today Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications. Debra's told us the story of her mission and given us a lot to think about. I hope you'll buy her book. Please visit NoJitter.com for the transcript to this interview and links to a number of the topics we've discussed.

You've been listening to Conversations Between Peers in the Communications Industry on NoJitter. This is your host Guy Clinch wishing you all the best in your productive day.

Watch for the publications of Debra's latest book entitled, "Uncovering Hidden Human Capital: How Leading Corporations Leverage Multiple Abilities in Their Workforce" publishing soon.

Follow Guy Clinch on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+!
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