December 30, 2021
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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Welcome to AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, and this is the AccessAbility Works Podcast.
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
Today on AccessAbility Works, we will be speaking with Debra Ruh, longtime friend, confidante and inspiration for all the work that I do at My Blind Spot. I find myself saying that about almost everybody we’ve interviewed so far, John.
And it’s true. I met Debra back in, I want to say 2009 eight-ish. Two, three years into being blind, and she’s really helped shape the direction that I took both personally and professionally as an advocate for people with disabilities. And back when Debra and I first met, she was the Founder of TechAccess.
And has since managed to morph and build into other arenas that improve the lives of people with disabilities.
TechAccess provides software and IT services for people with disability.
And John, she’s now got a company that she founded called Ruh Global Communications, correct?
Mm-hmm, and she started it in 2013, Ruh Global Communications.
And Debra was also a driving force behind the G3ict, and is a voice that reaches out and touches the lives of many people. The inspiration for which was born out of the birth of her daughter, Sara, who I’ve done karaoke with. Hello, Sara. Who also happens to be a woman living with Down syndrome.
Karaoke and her must have been something.
Oh, it really was. And that was one of the most wonderful nights Debra, and I thank you for that. Ed was there, Kevin, Debra’s family. She is also the Co-founder of AccessChat, a social media for people with accessibility needs. And she has started a nonprofit called Billion Strong.
Oh, that’s right.
Yeah, Billion Strong is a great organization. We want to get to a billion strong, to be a collective voice of inclusion for people with disabilities all around the world. Anything that Debra touches seems to really impact positively, the forward progression of our community and helps to reposition the antiquated myths and misperception about disability. And Debra definitely embodies the concept of, do not dis my ability, baby. And I can’t wait to see how well that venture goes for her, and the Billion Strong.
Our thoughts and prayers do go out to the Ruh family as it battles.
And hospice care at the moment. We just want to put some prayers and thoughts out there for Ed and the Ruh family, as they continue the cycle of life and the journey that lies ahead for him. And before we get to the interview, I’d like to remind you to go to AmazonSmile and choose My Blind Spot as your non-profit of choice. And you could help us by making your purchases through AmazonSmile, and a donation goes to My Blind Spot, to allow us to continue to improve the usability and functionality of the digital world.
So people with disabilities can take their rightful place in society. And the beautiful thing about AmazonSmile is, you can use it all year round. It’s not just one of those things that you do at the holiday when you’re purchasing. So if you choose My Blind Spot as your nonprofit of choice, every day will be Christmas at My Blind Spot.
You can also make a direct donation to My Blind Spot there. To do that, go to myblindspot. org/donate.
And one of the things that I want to leave us with too before we go into the interview with Debra is the Build Back Better Act, that’s a lot of B’s. It is including opportunities for people with disabilities. So pay attention to what is going on in politics, to make sure we’re making the right decisions and moving people with disabilities away from being tax independents, reliant on public assistance and social security systems.
And using funds to improve digital access, so people with disabilities can become independent tax payers. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media outlets. And look for AccessAbility Works on Spotify, and Apple or where you get your favorite podcast. Or go to our website again, myblindspot.org/podcast.
And now it’s time for our interview with Debra Ruh.
Hey, Debra. How are you?
I’m doing great. How are you doing, Albert and Jonathan?
There you are.
I miss you. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen you, been in the same room as you. This pandemic has messed with my life desperately.
Yeah, it’s been very intense. And it’s funny to think back about how we met, because you had decided to really step into this industry and lead the way forward.
You were one of the very first people, influences I was introduced to.
And if memory serves, it was Ollie Cantos that introduced us.
Oh, wow. Wow.
Yeah, I’m going back to 2011, girl. I’m going back for now–
Oh, yeah. It was a long time ago.
At least a decade now. You at that time had a company, the name escapes me at the moment.
It was TechAccess. And then that was picked up and acquired, and you started working very closely with Mary Smith over at–
SSB BART, yeah.
Which by the way is a terrible name, but I get it. Level Access, much better name. Yeah, I agree. I couldn’t even remember SSB [INAUDIBLE] SSB Bart, SS Bart. I always felt like I was going to get on a cruise ship, and sail off to the Caribbean.
So yeah, so we’ve known each other for a long while.
You helped influence my direction, and give me a sense of value in what I was called to do and what needed to be done. And I think you will agree, I was like a bull in a China shop, angry about why things weren’t being done. And I don’t think I filtered my thoughts in a lot of ways, but here we are.
Well, but at the same time, I think it gets to the point where you’re sick of always repeating yourself over and over again. I mean, even what’s going on right now with some of the accessibility players in the field. And I’ve been watching you, Albert be really restrained with what you say about this video.
It’s funny that you say that, because our producer Gabe, said every once in a while during the 2020 elections, I was restrained to the 15th power, trying to find consensus with people who had very extreme opinions on left and right. And it was just crazy. And Gabe’s like, how do you do this? And I said, I just take a Judy Garland highball, Valium and a vodka. It’s good.
I know, and you learn that if you’re a flaming advocate, that nobody’s going to listen to you. But at the same time, I don’t know if I’m just getting old and frustrated, but I’m so tired of watching people benefit at others being excluded. And once again, I know we don’t want to make it about this one problem that’s happening in our industry right now, but I do not understand how anyone can say, well, I don’t care if blind people are left out, whatever. And you say that you’re part of the disability community.
Why is it OK for us to leave you out, Albert and me be able to sleep at night about that? And I know there’s a lot of money coming now.
There’s a lot of money being spent on actually buying people with disabilities that’ll say nice things about you, whether or not–
Or the reverse, that we’re buying people who have a disability will say crappy things about you.
Oh, you’re right. You’re right. You’re right. You’re right, right.
You know? I mean, that’s what most of the lawyers do today, is they will do what I call drive by lawsuits. And they’ll hire this unwitting, well-intentioned person with a disability and say, hey, we’re going to sue this company on your behalf and we’re going to give you $1000. And then they wind up complicating our acceptance, and assimilation into mainstream society, because lawyers go about this the wrong way.
And then you’re the angry.
One of my co-workers– I didn’t say this, Lamar Andre, who’s actually the CEO [INAUDIBLE].
I love Lamar Andre. One time somebody called him an angry cripple. And I was like, what? They called you what? So I guess they could have called him an angry Black cripple, but it’s like, wow.
But you see, that’s the funny thing. Growing up and in today’s world, with Black Lives Matter, the MeToo Movement, there has been such a shift in identity of our differences, in a manner that is focusing on the oneness in us all. And as I reflect back on the Civil Rights movement, I really looked at the progressions that have happened for Black people, African-Americans in the 60s and 70s. And then women’s equal rights amendments and movements in the 70s.
And then the LGBTQ throughout the 80s and 90s. And the disability community needs to pick up on that path, and take our rightful place in society. And exercise the Civil Rights Movement in a manner that allows us to be taken seriously, valued as contributors of society.
And as you profess and have trained me, literally trained me to espouse, by correcting those minor glitches. And they are minor. In our digital offerings and our digital platforms, we could move thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of people away from being taxing dependents, reliant on Social Security and public assistance. And instead through the flick of a switch, or a proper coding approach to digital platforms, turn them into independent taxpayers.
Which they want to be.
Abso frickin’ lutely.
They don’t want your handouts. They don’t want your handouts.
Oh, no. Jesse Jackson said once– and I’m paraphrasing, don’t give me a handout, give me a hand up. Help me up.
The only time we should be looking down on somebody, is when we’re helping them up. And too many people for thousands of years, have looked down on the disability community, as opposed to looking up at us. And the number of people in this world, who have influenced and changed the human condition throughout history, who just happen to have a disability is mind boggling.
Look at Richard Branson going to the frickin’ space. I mean, he went into space.
And he’s severely dyslexic, and had been beaten up for ever about it growing up and [INAUDIBLE].
Well, having dyslexia almost killed him, because he jumped out of an airplane, which I don’t know why you jump out of a perfectly good airplane. But he jumped out of an airplane, and he pulled the wrong chord, because he’s dyslexic.
Luckily, an instructor was close to him.
And so the instructor pulled the right chord, so that Sir Richard Branson didn’t die. But he talked about that in an article, about his dyslexia and–
I didn’t realize that. No, I’ve jumped out of a plane. Jon jumped out of a plane, and John also–
Is dyslexic, and what do they call the other one with the numbers?
Why? Because it’s fun.
Yeah, you found it fun, jumping out of–
I’ll tell you right now.
To feel alive.
I didn’t know, Jon.
Debra, I remember when I did this. It was a few years back, and my parents decided to show up at the jump site.
And I’m like, why are you here? They said, we just want to be able to shovel up your body and put it into the grave, if we have to. And my father was like, I can’t believe you’re jumping out of a perfectly good plane. I think there’s a line in a movie there somewhere.
And he says, how can you do this? You just overcame a near-death experience. And I’m like, well, it’ll be fine. I got this. And let me tell you for the first 10 seconds of that free fall, I was praying to God to not let me turn into a pancake. That I will live my life to the fullest, and I’ll never put it at risk again. Bullshit, I’m going to put it at risk any time I get. It’s fun to live and to the fullest, like Jon said.
My daughter’s always wanted to do it. She has always wanted to do it.
I will tell you, it is like no other experience I’ve ever had.
And I liken it to, I also did a blindfold taxi derby, where I drove in a blindfold taxi race against 10 other people. And I was doing 55 miles an hour, around a track. 10 laps, typical run.
Oh, it was. I didn’t hit anything. Every time [INAUDIBLE] sounds like–
Shut up, just keep going. Yeah. No, thank God my co-pilot– his name was Kevin too, we took second place for one reason. And I think you can understand why, he said, stop. So I stopped on a dime. When you’re blind, you don’t slow, you stop. Jon’s taught me this before. Albert, stop. So I just stop, I don’t move. And I stopped about– I don’t know, maybe 75 yards before the end of the race. And the other car behind us just rolled over and took first place, but what a rush it was.
So you should have been first, OK.
Yeah, and we were leading the entire way. So again, I was challenged by one of my students at the time who had special needs. Mr. Rizzi, you’ve driven before. You’re just really blind, the other ones fake it. I think you could do this. Thank you, Jon I did. Oh my God, so yeah.
So our history goes back such a long way, but could you tell us how you got here. What the motivation was. I think I know this for sure. Give us a little bit of background of who you are, how you got here and what influenced you to rise to the heights of being a major influencer, and a change maker in the world of accessibility and authentic inclusion.
Right, as we like to start our interviews, who is Debra Ruh.
Well, thank you. Thank you. I was in the banking industry, at an executive level for many years. Then when– well, my daughter was born when I was 28 years old, and she was born with Down syndrome. And when she reached middle school, once again I started hearing how she would add no value to the workforce. She couldn’t do anything. Society would have to take care of her. And I just–
I was– I know, I agree.
And if you met Sara, you’d understand. And Debra, If I may, I’m sorry. But so many times, specifically friends of mine with Down syndrome, back in the day, Debra kids who were born with Down syndrome weren’t expected to live to see like 12, let alone the entire life.
Right, and you institutionalize them.
By the way, any time you put a baby in an institution, that baby is not going to thrive. We know that for sure. We know that as society.
Oh, do you remember the orphans in Romania and Russia, all those kids who came back intensely physically deprived from touch? They didn’t– yes, go sorry.
No, but you’re right. It’s a huge issue.
And so yes, people with Down syndrome weren’t leading normal healthy lives, because we were throwing them away, like they’re just yesterday’s garbage. So I remember Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s most famous atheists, talking Head of BBC and a Professor at Oxford once tweeted, if you have a fetus with Down syndrome, abort it and try again. And my husband was trying to keep me away from my phone, because I was going to– I was just [INAUDIBLE].
I just want to cry right now about that. That’s horrible.
I know. I know, it’s such a sad– my daughter didn’t even deserve to be born? I mean, it’s so ridiculous what we do. And so I sent a picture of her on Twitter and I said, my daughter might not be a famous scientist or a talking head on BBC, but her life matters. And BBC actually picked it up as the tweet of the week.
But the other day I was talking to a friend of mine, this is a couple of months ago, who’s blind. And his coworker said, “Man, I’d rather be dead than be blind.” And it’s like, how are you even supposed to respond to that, Albert? How are you even supposed to respond to that [INAUDIBLE]?
Well, that’s someone’s personal opinion. So like, they’re allowed to have an opinion.
I think I want to condemn them.
But my mother– it’s one thing. And I think what happens here, Debra, it’s the art of communication which is lacking in society. I think people don’t know how to articulate their feelings. I’m sure what that man or woman meant to say to your friend and colleague was, being blind scares the hell out of me. How do you do it? My mother, when I first started living my life as a person who happen to be blind was, how are you doing this? I would be in a fetal position just waiting for death.
And unfortunately, that’s how some people deal with adversity. Thank God we’ve got Saras in the world who say, screw you. I’m here, I’m loud. I’m proud, and I’m Sara. I just happen to have finished the sentence. And she’s living and impacting lives. I mean, the times I’ve been with Sara– I mean, I remember who’s birthday– was it her birthday when we did the karaoke?
It was her birthday.
But she was just out there, and there was no– I didn’t see Down syndrome, I just saw Sara.
And everything else is Sara–
That embody Sara was just like an accessory to make her perfect.
Yes, we have to stop deciding that members of our society don’t add value. It’s ridiculous. And I know that society’s tired of it too. I remember, Albert once again, knowing you a long time, the time– and I don’t remember all the details. But when you were having problems with the airline letting your service animal on.
The plane, but one thing that I loved about that story, Albert– and I want you to tell everybody about it, that might not know. But one thing that I loved about it was that, the passengers were with you.
Oh my God, that’s [INAUDIBLE].
That warmed my heart.
One of the things, I’ve learned how to articulate this properly. I was on the front page of Reddit, is that what I say Jon?
OK, and [INAUDIBLE]. And I had unbeknownst to me– and it’s still quite a topic of interest, but yeah, Debra was referring to a time back on November 13, 2013. And I said it on all the interviews I gave, and it was not about how I was made to feel by that flight attendant. It was how I was lifted up, and made to feel by those 40 some odd people who got off in protest and refused to–
Oh, I loved it.
Fly without me, and we all took a bus. A bus, 4 and 1/2 hours back to Long Island from Philly.
And that’s what I think– I think that no, it is beautiful and that’s– but that’s what I think people like me, Sara, Jim [INAUDIBLE], I mean, I can go on about the list of people who happen to have a disability, who inspire and lift up others in a way that we don’t even imagine. And I was so privileged, and so honored to have been in that place at that moment with those people.
Yes, those souls that knew that you should be included. Jonathan told me to introduce myself and I did, but so I’m the CEO and Founder of Ruh Global IMPACT. And when I was naming it Ruh Global IMPACT, it was just a placeholder.
OK, but it stuck.
Whoops, but [INAUDIBLE] a pick, I know. I know, because it’s like, what does that mean? But we work with large multinational corporations, helping them understand what they need to do to fully include people with disabilities in their entire Geo footprint. So it’s supporting them with employment, with making sure your customers are included. And we do accessibility too, only because well, in the first place we need to. But we do it, because we will not work with customers if they’re not accessible. We won’t do it.
And if you won’t caption your videos, we won’t work with you. If you– I was an ambassador for a global company that is working with all of these small nonprofits, that are focused on the sustainable development goals. Loved what they were doing, so cool. And they showed me and the other leaders, their new website and portal.
And so of course, as soon as there was time for questions, I asked them if it was accessible and I got, too much trouble, too expensive. I don’t really think anybody really needs it. And I resigned as ambassador that afternoon–
Only because I’m not going to be part of something where everybody else isn’t included. I’m just not going to be.
I like Jonathan and neurodiverse, so I consider myself part of this community, ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, but I’m not going to stay with something when, Albert, you’re not included.
I refuse like those 40 passengers. I refuse to be part of it.
And I love you for that. And personally, I have picked up that sentiment. Definitely, from you over the years that we’ve talked. And have actually canceled contracts with clients who said, this is not a priority for us right now, goodbye. I’m not going to have you influence, or mar our reputation in the industry.
And I do remember sitting across from a major financial institution, where in for years, I was talking to them about inclusion as a client of theirs. And sitting down with the CIO, who then resigned and I was speaking to the stand in for the time being. And she had the audacity. Came from E-Trade, and was now at this financial investment firm. And said, well, is digital equity even reasonable for us? I mean, how many people with disabilities actually have monies to invest?
And my entire team that was with me, almost crawled across the table and grabbed her by her throat, to shake sense into her saying, Albert has his money here. You’ve got at least one, ridiculous. Most people in society don’t believe that people with disabilities have any value to contribute at all, and that goes into the systemic, generational and traditional viewpoints on disability.
You take a look at the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, people with disabilities weren’t worthy of God’s love. I mean, the story of the Good Samaritan speaks for itself. Everybody ran by, the prophet in the gutter, never once thinking it was the prophet Jesus. And then when somebody stopped, whose life was basically a level above cow dung, people are like, oh wow, that was the prophet. We should have done something, huh? Yeah, it just crazy.
And I just find that disappointing. And you take a look at– I like movie analogies, Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump, if we look at 62 million– I was just talking to some people yesterday, they didn’t realize that the census now has upped the number of people in our country identifying as having a disability, at 62 million people and–
Right, one in four. One in four [INAUDIBLE].
Yeah, it used to be– remember when it was one in five? Now it’s like–
Yeah, it’s one in four now according to the CDC. And in the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, it’s one in five.
Well, that’s what we talk about. We talk about 1.4 billion people in the world with a disability, that’s larger than the population of China. Then we have 2.3 billion friends and family, $8 trillion of discretionary income, where 4.9 trillion resides in the North American continent. And over $300 billion of disposable income.
But they don’t believe it though.
And I think part of the reason why they don’t believe it, is because well, Albert, you had to be banking with that financial institution, because you had to bank with some financial.
Even though that financial institution doesn’t care about you. Don’t care about making your services accessible for you, one of the customers. And that’s part of the problem, is that our community still does have to bank. And they still do have to buy houses and transportation, and technology.
And pay rent and pay the electric bills, I mean.
Right, and another point you made is, the thing about the community of people with disabilities, is we run across all of the other D&Is. We are members of the LGBT community. And by the way, and I know that you are a member, Albert and so is Jonathan.
But the reality is this. Unfortunately, because we have mistreated the community of LGBTQI so much, you tell your parents that you are gay and they react a couple of ways. They’re sobbing, because they’re scared for you. Or you’re going to do what somebody in my family did, when her son came out and then Lord forbid, he also changed gender, where he’s– and so they disowned him. Oh good, OK.
Yeah, that’s one of the things too. When I came out in the 80s, 81, 80, high school, that was still a mental illness, and you could have been institutionalized.
Just like being blind, or Down syndrome and it’s–
And would still kill, we kill [INAUDIBLE].
Oh,yeah. Oh, please.
In other countries.
Do you remember throughout the 80s, that was, the Ryan White had drawn attention to HIV and how there were young boys, usually boys that were getting murdered?
And I remember this one kid, I forget his name. Just tied to a fence and just left to die, after he got the shit kicked out of him. It’s unfair. And we’ve done that with people with disabilities. And that’s where I draw a correlation. As you were talking about with D&I, I see people with disabilities at the intersectionality of every other minority group. The disability community is the only–
Correct, you’re right.
You will join through no choice of your own, as you age into this or are born into it, or have an accident or an illness like myself that was not on your radar. And boom, here you are.
And that means you’re human, and you’re going to– or you’re going to love somebody. Do you know we are these fragile human biological beings? Sometimes we can’t see, sometimes we can’t hear. Sometimes we can’t walk as well, sometimes we can’t think as well.
And sadly, because we have told– society has told people that are part of the LGBTQI, A, that they’re broken or an abomination, or the other garbage. You have a much higher incidence of people dealing with very serious mental health issues, because society is rejecting them. They’re part of our community. That is part of our community.
I know. I would–
So we’ve got to look at all the intersections, including women. Women are the largest minority group in the world. No, they’re not.
There are more women in the world than men, we’re the majority.
But we’re treated like minorities.
Well, that’s because we need to change the narrative. Same thing with disability, I like to say don’t dis my ability.
I don’t like being dis-labeled.
I’m able to do just about anything. The mantra at My Blind Spot–
If thing, if society doesn’t disable you.
Society disables you.
And that’s one of the things, Debra. That when I first lost my eyesight, I found that everything in the world was disabled to me, but yet I was the one being called disabled.
I know, not you.
It’s society that has chosen to do it, and continues to do it.
The mantra at My Blind Spot, and something I live by as a personal affirmation in life, is access to the right tools promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities. And getting back to the Forrest Gump reference, if 31 million people, half of the 62 in this country are dependent on the kindness of strangers or are reliant on day to day personal care, there’s 31 million people who aren’t.
And we lump everybody into this generalized– everybody who is disabled, must be wearing depends undergarments. Must be in a wheelchair, must be a babbling idiot. Must be a cripple. Any number of words that we use to segregate and subjugate others who are different.
We’ve got 31 million people who are Forrest Gump or better. Forrest Gump overcame physical adversity, mental adversity, socioeconomic adversity, because his mother and he made sure he had access to the tools that allowed him to promote his own innate ability, and create possibilities that were endless.
And that’s what I want to point out to people. There are people in the disability community, who just happen to be deaf. Happen to be blind, happen to have a limb or two missing. Happen to have cognitive delays, because of a traumatic brain injury. Happen to be aging people, all you baby boomers are going to be here.
Do you really want to get to a place in your life where you are barred and/or marginalized from participating, and everything is disabled to you and you’re labeled as useless? Is that what we want our society to be? As we’re expected to work longer and harder into our golden years, as we’re supposed to be retiring at 60. Nobody can retire at 60 anymore.
It just makes me sick. And at the same time, that’s where my anger comes from within our community. A lot of the advocacy groups tend to just push envelopes in my opinion. Or they pick up a thorn in somebody’s side just to say, hey, your website’s not usable.
But then I don’t know if you just saw recently, which is huge, though I think 20 years too late, that the federal government has now required that all third-party contractors engaging with any federally funded websites, must adhere to the 508 Standards and the WCAG standards.
And that’s something that they had talked about before, but every single procurement that goes out by the United States government– and by the way, I mean, all of our state governments as well.
They do have language in the procurement, that expects it to be Section 508 compliant or WCAG [INAUDIBLE].
But nobody exercises that, they don’t.
I know that. I know they don’t. And so if you won’t do that, that says to me that you don’t care. And the thing that’s ridiculous about it, is if you do it and then your vendor doesn’t do their job, you have recourse. But if you didn’t even put the language in your procurement, oh, well.
Yeah, and I remember having conversations. We were courting a relationship with some banking institution in Canada. And in Canada, they have this consortium where they all sit down together. And each of the different banking institutions part of this consortium, were having issues getting vendors to understand the importance of digital equity. And each of them were told individually, oh, we’ve never had this problem before, and nobody’s ever complained about this before.
And then they invited in these companies, and sat down in front of each of the individuals as a consortium and said, we’re not sure how anybody told you that. Of course, it’s important. When we join forces and use our collective muscle– and I think that’s important for major industries. To sit down and say to the vendors and the contractors we procure with, you have no choice. You must do this, like Blackboard.
The list goes on. There’s an educational loan.
Oh, like security and privacy, is that a nice to have? To make sure your website’s secure, and your data’s secure and privacy. Is that a nice to have? Accessibility is not a nice to have. It is essential and critical as is security and privacy. Security, privacy and accessibility should be built into every single digital project we do, period, period.
Now I was just talking yesterday to a friend and colleague, at an organization called I Can Do That. Bob Camp is putting together a proposal.
And he does our websites. He’s a fantastic artists I have known about for years.
Yeah, I’ve hears about them I think.
Yeah, and he says, look, I want to put a quote together and I want to include accessibility as a line item. I said, you lost me at line item. Just throw X number of dollars into your final price, and tell this law firm you’re going to protect them against the risk to exposure. Because the minute you put accessibility or digital equity as a line item, it gets a red line right through it. You’ve got to base everything into the pricing, everything into the process.
Too much trouble, yeah.
And not enough baseball bats to smash in through things.
And we’re just a bunch of whiny people that are always complaining, and you can’t make the community happy anyway, so why bother? So, but I will say, that is one reason why I am now creating my first nonprofit, because Ruh Global Impact is a social enterprise as with TechAccess. And so now we started creating in April, Billion Strong, so www.billion-strong.org.
And the reason to create it was really taking a chapter from the LGBT community, because they have come together with Pride, despite being very different. Those are very different communities, and they come together. They have different ideas about the world, different opinions. They’re very different, and yet they’ve come together. And because of the efforts that your community has done, we now have marriage equality in some countries.
There’s still so much work to do, to really truly be included for that community. Just using that community, but so we want to create that kind of movement for the disability community. But we don’t want to do it just in the States, or just outside the States. And I had a lot of people recommending, don’t do it in the States, just do it everywhere else. Or start it in the States and say you’re global, because that’s what we always do, but we’re not really global.
So I said, no, because I’ve been working global for so long, I’m not leaving my friends out. And the other day I was talking to a woman that had a disability, working for a large corporation in the States. And she said, well, is Billion Strong going to “protect us?” Well, I know as an American what protect means, but [INAUDIBLE]. Well, Billion Strong is not being created so we’ll start suing everybody that is disenfranchising us.
And people with– and I’m not saying that lawsuits aren’t warranted by– but that’s [INAUDIBLE].
No, but that’s not true [INAUDIBLE]. That’s not your avenue.
No, we’re about identity.
You want to create a consensus, identity and you want bi. And when you start talking about litigation–
Hair’s on the back of your neck go right up.
I know. I know, and so we did not want to do it. We’ve got 81 country partners involved now. Some of the biggest disability persons organization in the world have joined us, most of the big ones. We are still in the funding game. Because what we didn’t want to do, we didn’t want to start out by taking donations from corporations.
Now let me ground that. I work with a lot of corporations I love, a lot of these corporations are trying to help. But I don’t want this just to be about corporations, I want this to be about our community, our identity. What we don’t want to do with this organization that is being built for all of us, is bucks Billion Strong in– and because I also see corporations, because I work with them so much.
Excluding other corporations, because they’re their competitors. And we don’t want that to happen. We want everybody included. We want people with disabilities. We want all the different intersections. We want to focus on representation matters through our speakers bureau. We want everyone to join the movement, whether they have a disability or not. If you care about society, if you care about the sustainable development goals, you should join our free movement. It’s free to join Billion-Strong, but it’s got to be us telling the stories of what is happening, yeah.
Oh, what is happening? What is not happening, you know?
Correct, and on the ground in those countries. Because when we here in the States, a lot of people don’t realize it. Yes, we’re the United States, but the way we do things in New Jersey or New York, or Virginia or Texas, or Florida–
Each individual state is very different.
We’re United States, just like the EU, yeah.
They’re like– yeah.
Well, see, that’s the thing too with the announcements of procurement and vendors having to adhere to the laws. I was surprised to find– and this is part of our individuality as States that are United, states have to adopt the federal laws governing certain things in order for it to be federally enforceable.
And you push so many buttons for me right now. I’m going to ping them off one at a time. I take a look at our community, and you start to say, what is My Blind Spot? My Blind Spot is more about the blind spots in our lives, as we navigate and journey through life, than it is about my physical blindness. When I was introduced to you, and I learned who Sara was and what Sarah was all about, I thought, huh? I can’t just worry about being blind. I got to worry about the full spectrum of ability.
And that’s where you helped me forge a commitment, a non-negotiable commitment to ensuring usability and functionality for people who use assistive devices, and/or are on the ability spectrum, not just blind people.
And I think we get too myopic, if I say that, about our community. And I saw that in the Civil Rights Movements. I saw it with African-Americans, you were either high yellow, or an Uncle Tom, you weren’t Black enough or you were too White. And then in the 70s, you had women who were either lesbians, because they didn’t want to be barefoot and pregnant at home, and baking cookies.
They wanted to go out into the workforce. And then the LGBT, the only way you could be gay back in the day, is if you were wearing flannel and a tool belt as a lesbian, or a BOA and heels and a dress as a gay man.
And now we’ve allowed the diversity of these individuals to come together as a unified group. If we put one more letter into the LGBTQIST group, I’m going to scream.
Can we just call it queer?
Queer, I don’t know. I just, I don’t even know. Queer is– I just, I don’t know. I don’t know, but you know. And then I look at the disability community, you have, the blind community swears the deaf community doesn’t understand them. The deaf community swears nobody understands them. Then you’ve got people in wheelchairs or people with mobility issues, who are basically normal for most instances when it comes to how to digest communications, because they can hear and see usually.
And we have these splinterednesses that really detract from everything we need to do in a universal manner, and that was something you always ingrained in me. And during empowerment from the LGBT community, I’m stopping at the T, I’m not doing [INAUDIBLE]. I noticed back in the 80s, when the AIDS epidemic was raging, there were activists. People who were going out– and I think that’s what’s happening today with the Black Lives Movement, is being an activist versus an advocate.
Activists tend to have no bars held, will say what they want to do, do what they have to do. Break this, break that. Burn this, burn that, and that did happen during the AIDS epidemic. But very few are successful at winning over hearts and minds, to understand how ostracized we felt. But when you advocate for inclusion and you talk about the oneness in us all, that makes for a different narrative and a different opportunity to come to an understanding and a consensus, would you agree?
Yeah, well said. Yeah, very well said.
I remember during the AIDS thing, I was so horrified with the way we were treating people. And my uncle actually died from HIV and during that crisis, but he lied to the family about what was wrong with him. He told us he had cancer, because he was afraid that, besides dying from this horrible disease, that he would be judged. And I remember as a kid, just thinking that was so sad that society was doing that to him. And treating all these beautiful souls, and mainly men–
That I’d think, this did not matter, that they were just– it was horrifying.
Well, it was an abomination. It was–
Yes, abomination was that word, right.
You going to hell anyway, and the same thing with people– yeah, people with disabilities were an abomination. How many people today in third world nations have to endure having their children thrown out of a village or a town, because they’ve been cursed?
You’re right. Well, you’re right.
Because of a disability.
Yeah, and if you are an albino, there are voodoo doctors that have black magic, the black–
It’s voodoo, you can say voodoo.
Yeah, I guess it’s called black magic.
Voodoo, voodoo, voodoo, voodoo or hoodoo? Hoodoo.
There’s voodoo, there’s hoodoo, there’s a few different ones, but we’ll go with there’s voodoo for now.
It’s like, where there are really bad, the really strong spells. Survival–
Yeah, but it’s just horrible. I don’t understand–
But that’s human condition. And I just don’t– it’s nothing new.
I know, it’s not.
Human history is such that we’ve done this. I mean, how many people are killed in the name of God? And God is supposed to say, thou shalt not kill. All of these things, but we could go on.
Except that guy.
Except that guy. I want to kill him, yeah. There’s always an exception to the rule, ridiculous. But it’s interesting to see now– and I think we’re at a very interesting point in human history, where– and I am thankful for the pandemic in an odd way. And I know I heard this from you, when we were advocating for employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The concept of remote work from home opportunities were non-existent, because they couldn’t manage the individual.
And now here we are, 50% of the jobs in America could have been done– and probably going forward, will be done from home. And that’s going to create a wealth of opportunity for employment, for our community of people. So we got to look at the silver linings in every circumstance, and rise to the challenge of taking it forward in a positive way.
I agree, and it’s also very interesting, I’m fascinated. I am with you in that, I believe that we needed to walk this pandemic. And apparently we still need to walk it.
And we’re having the great resignation right now, and that’s freaking out not only the small businesses, but the big corporations. Because the younger generations are saying, I’m not working for you, if you are a bad player. So if you’re a big bad corporation, I’m not going to work for you. So we’re seeing people jump, and it’s freaking everybody out, but I believe finally society is waking up enough to say, I don’t want to be part of that. I want to make a difference.
I don’t want you to be left out, Albert at the expense you know.
Of anything, now and it’s funny. I’m going to get one step further. I do feel you acknowledged, and I agree 100%, that the next generation of leaders and movers and shakers, are absolutely committed to inclusion and diversity in their friends, in their workplaces, in their schools. They don’t want people left by the wayside. But another interesting piece of that equation, are people like you and I and older, who are aging into the disability community, don’t want to have things disabled to them like I did.
They don’t want to be put out to pasture.
Right. Well, they don’t want to be excluded.
It’s bad that you had to walk, becoming blind, but you still mattered, Albert. You still wanted to have relationships in your life. You wanted to give back to society, nothing changed except that you lost that ability to see.
No, nothing has changed. To see. I have lost my ability to see physically, but I’ve not lost my sense of vision for all things possible.
Right, and if anything, you’ve actually become a better employee, because you’ve had to work around all these problems that society has put in front of you. [INAUDIBLE]–
See, now isn’t that the kicker though, Debra.
–innovative and a problem solver, I know.
Innovative and a problem solver.
And those are characteristics that corporate America wants for its top executives. We want problem solvers. We want people who can deal with overcoming hurdles that are unexpected. Every day I wake up, I don’t know if Jonathan’s removed the damn shoes on the floor, so I better tread lightly, so to speak.
So every day is a challenge, just walking through the house. But it’s interesting how we give little attention to the people, and the fortitude and determination, and strength that people with disabilities have. I mean, Jeff Weldon is on our team. Jeff had a frickin’ accident and broke his neck, and is paralyzed from the neck down. And is one of the best testers in our team, and has just given me reasons to not whine and moan about my circumstances, but try harder all the time.
We just have to, in society, stop discounting people. We just have to. And the numbers, when you talk about aging and stuff, the numbers, if you look at them just from the lens of the US, there are 73 million baby boomers. The youngest baby boomer is 57, the oldest is 75. And in 2030, which by the way, it’s not that far away.
All baby boomers will be over the age of 65. Think of the burden that places on society as well. So [INAUDIBLE].
Yeah, this is why that whole infrastructure conversation and the bills that are in Congress right now, are critically important, because most aging people don’t really understand what’s not in place for the day that we do get–
They just have no idea.
No, they don’t.
And these are people with money too. I’m being a little cheeky here, but I’m not going to say who, but there’s a very big bank that I was speaking to in New York and they were freaked, because they had doubled with the ADA and Section 508, making some of their services accessible. But what was happening to them now, was their high net worth individuals were having accessibility problems and they were mad.
Oh, this is–
So these were the really wealthy people that were saying, why can’t I do this myself?
Yeah, right. And now this is something that is the bane of my existence, and you just touched on something that I think is innate in us from the time we’re able to speak and articulate anything too, I’m going to talk to our– say to our parents and our teachers. I do it, I’m a big boy.
Well, I can do it myself. I might be five, but I can color that way. And 55, 65, there’s that inner child that says, I don’t want Jon to do it for me. I want to do it by my big boy self, and we don’t really ever lose that. And that’s how I present it to the major corporations we work with, like American Express, American Airlines.
If you don’t do this now, you run the risk of losing a contingent of loyal consumers who are not able to do things on their own, because you didn’t put a value on digital equity.
I agree, and these corporations need to work with organizations like My Blind Spot. They really do.
I want these corporations working with the community. That’s another reason why we wanted to create Billion Strong. We want to highlight who is doing it, and who is actually doing it from the lens of truly our community. Because there are people that are in our field– and I’m not going to be mean. But there are people in our field, they have nothing to do with disabilities, but they see it as an opportunity to make a living.
I’m going to be mean, and I’m going to call them out. And I’m not going to call them by name, but we’re going to call them in a general term of people who sell overlays. They are selling a widget. They are making money off of the back of people with disabilities. And they’re not delivering anything, because as you mentioned, working with the community, stakeholders in the outcomes. My Blind Spot hires somewhat exclusively people with a disability, because you have to be in it to win it.
You have to understand what that denial to access means to you personally, whether it’s your loved one or you yourself. If you’re going to use automated testing platforms and think– or overlays and think that’s going to solve the problem, you are wasting your money and your time, and you deserve to be sued to the 15 power.
I agree. I agree, and another thing that bothers me is disability organizations that create indexes and things like that. And they tell the corporation, no, well, check all these boxes and then you’re done. And [INAUDIBLE].
Yes, and I think we know which organization you are talking about, because I get annoyed with them too, about having this day index where 100% you’re great, but no, what about that digital equity? As long as– and again, this gets back to a lot of our colleagues. And I call them out on it and I probably shouldn’t, but you know me.
I’m outspoken, and I don’t [INAUDIBLE].
Well, I think we should start calling people.
I’ve really been real nice, but I’m just–
I’m done. I am done.
And I’ve had corporations come to me and say, well, we did this and we got 100%. And this is our first time, and then our budgets were cut. The CEOs are saying, oh, well, if you got it all done with disability community, OK, let’s focus on the Black and Brown. Let’s focus on LGBTQIA. Let’s focus on the women’s issues.
They haven’t even scratched the surface [INAUDIBLE]. No.
They haven’t hired one person with a disability in their website. It’s not accessible.
Their HR processes aren’t accessible, but you did really good at writing up your–
Little note, and you get a great job for putting sponsorship dollars behind a conference [INAUDIBLE].
And you’ve done nothing internally.
You’ve done nothing to infuse authentic inclusion into the DNA of your corporate culture–
From the boardroom to the mailroom.
yeah, so that–
No, I’m ready for a baseball bat and a vodka, let’s go kill.
Yeah, so it’s so important in that it really is buyer beware.
And I always say that, it’s buyer beware. You have to take the time to investigate who you’re working with. Are they actually part of our community? Do they represent our community? It’s not even that hard to do your due diligence.
But if you’re just focused on, you want to pay $50 a month and you’re done.
And check your box.
OK, well, OK.
But if somebody’s blind, trying to use your website, they can’t do it, but oh, well, too bad for them.
No, and that’s the thing too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to any number of the conferences you and I attend regularly. And I’m speaking to newbies, who happen upon a conference to enlighten themselves about inclusion, true inclusion, only to be told, I was working with this company and that company, and they never did anything.
I’m like, well, I don’t even know who those people are, but I’m sorry you were sold some snake oil. There are people out there misrepresenting solutions, that can only be achieved through manual and automated testing combined together. In my preference, done by people who have a stake in the outcomes.
Well, it seems like. Yeah, I remember one time at one of those conferences, I walked out after speaking and a vendor stopped me, and right in front of their booth. And I can see, and so I was looking at their advertisement as they were pitching me about this overlay tool.
And so they said, oh, all you have to do is, you put this on there, a few lines of code and you’re done. I said, oh my God, that’s wonderful. So how did those three lines of code– yeah, you know this was funny. How will these three lines of code make your videos captioned?
I love you. You taught me that, I always do that. I’m like, go, go, go.
I just ask, and I agree with them. And then I’m like, well, how does it make PDF successful?
What does it– Oh, no. It doesn’t do all that. And I said, well then, that wouldn’t actually be following our laws.
Because our laws say, you have to do this. And they’re like, oh, no. No, we’re only doing this. We’re not trying to do– and I said, but I’m looking at your sign. You’re saying–
100% [INAUDIBLE] compliance, 100% accessible. So I’m sort of confused, because that’s what it says.
Right, and then they go [INAUDIBLE].
No, I know. Please, please, please, it gets crazier. But now Billion Strong, one of the things I really appreciate about what you mentioned there before, is the global reach you plan to have. And I’m sure you know Caroline Casey.
Yes, she’s going to be on the board. As a matter of fact, I’m so delighted.
I hate you for not asking me now. I’m totally straight up.
Well, I know. I–
I’m not a mover and shaker. I’m just one of your mentors. Mentees, I mean.
You’re definitely my mentor. I have asked you to be on.
No, I know. I’ll do anything.
May I ask, does Billion Strong have a mission statement or a mission or something?
Billion Strong is all about the identity of people with disabilities. So we’re about lived experience with disabilities, from the very big sense of the word. The definition, which means mental health that does mean near diversity. It does mean physical– whether visible and invisible disabilities. So it is about bringing together our entire community with Pride, and power each other to buy from each other. To support our entrepreneurs with disabilities.
To talk about identity language. Because right now, it’s only the people that have the bigger voices on social media– like some people don’t like to be called autistic, they prefer actually autistic. Or people that are deaf or hard of hearing, don’t like you saying they’re hearing impaired.
And should we use people first language? So it’s all about truly digging into the identity.
But it’s also about sharing what is happening? What is My Blind Spot? What do they do? What do they offer?
What is the Valuable 500? What is Business Disability Forum? What is Enable India? What’s Access Israel?
What’s happening in Australia? So [INAUDIBLE].
So you want to [INAUDIBLE].
About a portal where we’re going to showcase what’s being done, and then we’re going to all discuss the gaps. We also hope in the future to have an IMPACT investing fund, where we could invest in entrepreneurs with disabilities.
Yeah, other non-profits that are [INAUDIBLE].
And other entrepreneurs that are doing it. Right, so we’re going to tell everybody else’s stories, which is what I’ve been doing all along in my career.
I’ve done hundreds of episodes of shows on AccessChat, and [INAUDIBLE]. So it’s about identity, once again, trying to do what the LGBT community has done. Coming together with pride. Once again, I know it’s never smooth. It’s never easy, but you got to try to come together.
Yeah, and so I was going to say, like you said, it’s a hub for people with disabilities to find other businesses that are disability-centric or disability powered.
[INAUDIBLE] Well, it’s more–
Or focus on people with disabilities.
It’s about changing society’s opinion about who we are, and who we believe we are.
What I am hearing and my takeaway from the Billion Strong is, we’re trying to redefine the poster child for disabilities. Back in the day– and you know John Kempf, right?
I didn’t know it, and I said this to him, he was the poster child [INAUDIBLE].
Yes, he was.
I did not know that, right?
And he would come out with this charming little self–
Oh my God.
And make people feel sympathetic, and they would throw money at the man.
And the organization, and my goal is to not– I guess, I don’t want to eradicate that memory at all anymore.
But I want to give a different look in a different light, on ability not just disability. And that’s where I hear the Billion Strong coming together, about the identity of who we are.
And how we just happen to have a disability, and the influences we’ve made throughout human history on the human condition.
And the improvement of lives for others.
But we’re doing it from two ways, so that was very eloquently said, Albert [INAUDIBLE].
Thank you. I learnt from you.
Yeah, very eloquent. Very eloquent, but we also want to convince people with disabilities are not broken. So we want to convince you that you’re not– and we don’t need to, get that. But a lot of people with disabilities have bought into it. That they’re broken, and they’re not. And so we want to do it from identity of the individual, and we want to do it as identity for society. Stop assuming because somebody is blind, that they can’t add value. It’s ridiculous. Stop assuming–
But now you just touched on a very important part, of why– synthesis, I feel like I’m pushing a boulder up the hill every damn day. Because what most of my fellow advocates miss sometimes and what you’ve just espoused, there needs to be a deconstruction of knowledge and lived experience, that was forced down the throats of people with disabilities for a millennia.
And we need to reconstruct in the disability community, a mindset of all things are possible. In the blind community, I have been I want to say ridiculed, questioned, beat up for the approaches I’ve taken. And I just think that we need to– oh, you haven’t been blind long enough, or you don’t know what it is like to be blind.
Like well, I’m so sorry, but I can’t get any more blind than I am. And I refused to– life is a smorgasbord and most bastards are starving to death, maim. And I think that’s true, and I think we’ve forced people with disabilities– and I know the blind community, because at least 75% to 80% of those people still can’t find gainful employment, because of oversights and ignoring digital equity.
And they accept that.
Or they’ve been so beaten down, Debra, they don’t know how to give themselves permission to hope and aspire for anything different, because nothing’s changed–
–in their minds.
And let me say to you, Albert, don’t be mean. Don’t say that, mean. I’m really thinking, well, I think we should all be pretty mad about all this. How dare we do this to people? This is not OK. And so that’s why an identity organization that talks about what is being done in the industry and celebrates it– what are artists with disabilities doing?
What about scientists with disabilities? I just met an amazing woman that is a day trader. Oh, and she’s also quadriplegic, because she broke her neck. But so we want to do master classes that show that there are people that are blind, that are successful entrepreneurs.
Or people that are paralyzed, or people that are– yeah.
They’re diverse. [INAUDIBLE].
And that’s the thing where– that’s where I too– and you’ve said it a number of times, how you’ve drawn inspiration or taken your lead from the LGBT community. When it comes to advocating for inclusion, and being comfortable with who we are, that had been a struggle.
A lot of people weren’t out, and I still think today that I drew appreciation from my lived experience as a member of the LGBT community. Watching and living through the changes, and the ways we are accepted today. And that took time for the community itself to again, deconstruct what we were comfortable with, in a sense of what we were told was our truth, yeah.
How much you bought into it.
Because you have. You buy into it. I was told by a college professor, that I was a horrible writer. I should change my profession. And for years, that comment haunted me, for years. So we buy into this crap, that we’re not good enough and that we’re broken. And that you love the wrong person.
How can love ever be bad? I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous. So Jonathan, you’re asking great questions. What is it? And how is it different, ain’t the other people doing that? Well, the reality is, no. One has ever tried to pull our community together globally.
To celebrate our lived experiences, to celebrate our entrepreneurs, to celebrate our artists, no. Now recently, the International Paralympics did something called We The 15, hashtag WeThe15. Yeah, where they want to celebrate, and let’s celebrate. And there’s been celebrations, but I believe that what we’re trying to do here is different, because we’re actually bringing everyone together.
We’re almost like the grassroots of it. What is happening in Bangladesh? What’s happening in Guyana? What’s happening in Nigeria? What’s happening– I remember I went over there to speak, in Kenya and I took Sara with me. I made some comment. I don’t even remember what I said, and I think I said Black and my daughter said, mom, you’re supposed to say African-Americans.
I love her.
And I said, oh, honey.
Actually, we’re in Africa.
They’re Africans. They’re not Americans.
So, but I love that she understood that I didn’t comment.
But see, but that’s where it all starts at the home too, Debra. You’ve reinforced inclusion and acceptance, and that’s where– when we’re in these segregated– for lack of a better term, neighborhoods that we grew up in where there isn’t diversity in some of the suburbs, it’s a natural– unfortunately, it’s a natural tendency to be concerned about, confused by or scared of what’s different. So Billion Strong sounds like a great opportunity here, and I’m 100% behind it. Anything that we can do, anything that I can do to support that.
Yeah, you’re very pointed.
Once again, we want to highlight what you’re doing, because the way I look at it once again, my company Ruh Global IMPACT, it will still be there. Ruh Global is founding Billion Strong, but Billion Strong is a legacy to the community. I’m proud to be part of this community. But often this community, when we’re talking about these issues, I’m sure you’re not going to argue with me on this, Albert.
It’s often people that don’t look like they have a disability. It’s often White people, and it’s often Americans or people from the UK. And so I think that this is a time when representation matters more. So I think it’s very important that we highlight what My Blind Spot’s doing. We highlight, what are they doing in Access Israel? I love Access Israel.
Oh, yes. So do I.
I love them, and they’re doing some of this as well. So, but what is My PurpleSpace doing with all the employee resource groups? And they’ve got 500,000 community members, that are all employed in employee resource groups that are focused on disability inclusion so–
Well, we’ll start looking at some of our colleagues. And you and I happen to have been working with the Able Channel, and then you’ve got Mike Paciello and Dave Gardy at WebABLE TV. It’s just the right time in the next progression in civil rights expansion.
It really is.
Yeah, to take our rightful place. And then to highlight these successful people, who happen to have a disability. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Jim [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, there are so many people out there.
So many talented people, but we also want to hear from the other countries. Because when I was talking to this woman that was autistic in the United States, and she was using the word protection, I said, well, we’re not doing protection from litigation.
That’s not who we are, but do understand that you grew up in a developed country. And so you also have the privilege. I have White privilege, I accept that. But I also have the privilege of growing up in a developed country that had more resources. So it was easier for me as an individual with disabilities, as a parent, as a wife, than it is for my peers in other countries.
What if you live in Syria? What if you live in Afghanistan?
Yes, right. Go on and on, and so we as Americans–
We have to care enough about our brothers and sisters, and other– we have to care. And one thing about as Americans, we do care. We do have our she, her, hers, the–
They, them, and I know that sometimes the rest of the world look at us and just crack up at as Americans, but maybe we really should be doing this. What does it mean to have lived experiences, and embrace your entire self? And I’ll say, Albert, one time I said to Lamar Andre, I said, Lamar Andre, I don’t even see your disability.
And he paused and he said, Debra, I would like you to see all of me. I want you to see I’m an African-American man. Being a man with disabilities is a very important part of who I am. And if you don’t see that really important in part– now I meant it [INAUDIBLE].
No, right? But that people with White privilege–
Was, I didn’t realize I was saying this, but I’m almost saying, your disability is a negative, so I’m not going to see it, right?
Well, yeah, and–
And I’m an expert in the field.
Yeah, and that’s the thing too. That when I’ve grown up with Black people in my life, African-Americans, I’ve lived in the city. I’ve worked in the neighborhoods. I’ve got friends. I’ve got family, the list goes on. But when we say– I’ve heard people, oh, I don’t see color, yeah.
You got to see it.
You can’t judge people because of it, is a different thing. I think it’s again–
You can’t something that is there isn’t there.
I think It’s a communication of the thought. I think people aren’t choosing their words wisely. I am not going to look at you any differently, because of your color.
I am not going to look at you any differently, because you have a disability. I am going to look at the person, Lamar–
The person who you are.
Who you are, Lamar Andre in total.
And I like to say, if you don’t like the package, don’t mess with the wrapper.
I like to say, actions speak louder than anything. It’s not about your skin color. It’s not about your disability, it’s not about how you appear. It is about how you act. It is about the actions you take. It’s about who you are and what you do.
That’s exactly what the–
Billion Strong is about. It’s about who you are as you present yourself in your lived experience, on a day to day basis. I always say, I’m a person who happens to be blind. The only label I wear with pride, 99.9% of the time is, I’m an American. Past that, your label for me is something you choose. I don’t call myself a gay person. I don’t call myself– and I do say, I’m Italian and Irish, but I also claim to be Jewish, because I dated Jewish women.
It’s enough to date them to be Jewish. I don’t wear labels, I don’t like that. And that’s where I think the mantra is, I want you to see all of me. And I think that’s where we lose sight of trying to be through White privilege, sensitive to our brothers and sisters from other communities and other races, and other nationalities in saying, we don’t see that about them.
I can see why that would be a slap in the face, as opposed to, I don’t define you by that. And that’s what I think the Billion Strong is going to be. That we’re not going to be defined by our disabilities. We’re going to celebrate the abilities of the Billion Strong.
Each of the individuals who are there, tell their stories. So it normalizes our community to the point that–
Yeah, well said.
They’re seen and accepted, right?
Yes, and we’re going to look at it from a global lens, because we’re all in this together. And we all need to protect this beautiful planet we’re living on.
And we all need to care about tech for all, and digital inclusion. And we need to care that the digital divide is actually widening. We need to care about this stuff, but we can’t do it at the expense of large amounts of people being left out because [INAUDIBLE].
Yeah, that’s the thing that I think too. Now that our– I never got into video games. Could not stand them, because my brother was really good at them and I always felt like he was cheating. And Jon and his friends, now people they play video games all the time. And they play with people all over the country, and sometimes all over the world.
The one guy I play the most with lives in Washington State, I live in New York.
Yeah, and the global society is no longer something that was a distant thought or a futuristic concept, like it was in the 70s and 80s for us. It is happening today. So your point of being global is sort of redundant, because we’re just so interconnected now with the world. We have to be global in our message, so I applaud you 100%.
I agree. I agree, and I’ll make one more comment. We started working with a company called Huawei, which you might have heard of. I had one of my friends reach out to me and say, don’t do business with Huawei. The Chinese government is blah, blah, blah. And I said, well, I care about Chinese people with disabilities too, I do. And not to mention there’s a 1 billion, almost 500 million people there. And so I actually want people with disabilities in China to be included.
Yep. I can get behind that.
So I don’t have time for these governments stomping all over each other, and their little pissing matches [INAUDIBLE]. I’m about the people.
That’s a little, but yeah.
Yeah, I’m about the people. And I just think it’s wrong the way we treat each other. So I think if you don’t like the way the world looks today, what are you doing to step up and making it a better place? Not just for you and your family, but for others.
And I think that’s what our conversation’s about, yeah.
Well, and that’s one of the things too. I love this quote. Now it’s like I’m going to paraphrase, but Ralph Waldo Emerson and his poem about success. And it ends with, if I could leave the place better than I found it. Whether it’s through the smile and laughter of a child or a garden, I’ve lived a successful life. I want to make sure that this world is better than when I left it.
I want to make sure to the best of my ability, that people who age into this community or accidentally get here through illness, or an accident like me, never have to endure the marginalization. The concept of not being valued or worthy, and always having to struggle to climb to the top of where you were before. To avoid having banks say, we’re going to foreclose on your home, because we don’t have to send you a statement in Braille or electronic communications.
It just never– and the fact that we have again, this perfect storm of people aging into the disability community and our future leaders in whatever generation this is now, X, Y, Z, P, Q, but they don’t want to have anything, but an inclusive, accepting, diverse mosaic that is America in everything they do.
I agree, we have to make sure that when we hear things sort of leaving people out or anybody else, we can vote with our wallet.
There is that one poem, and I forget how it goes. It was like, when they came for the Blacks, I said nothing. When they came for the Jews, I said nothing.
And eventually when they came for me, there was no one there to say anything.
Well, that’s right. That’s right.
I never want to have a world like that.
So Billion Strong, that’s what you’re doing now. You’re doing some fantastic work as always.
But the way we end the podcast is, tell us what’s in the future for you, Debra Ruh.
All right, cool. I definitely want Billion Strong to thrive all over the world, and Ruh Global IMPACT will continue to do the good work that we’re doing there. And sadly, hospice has stepped in now with my husband, so we’ll see how that goes. And I just always want to be giving back, until I transition and pass over to. And I don’t have to have it– to have things be all about me, I don’t care.
Because I’m more interested in, is the footprints that I have on this Earth, is it making a difference for other people? You’d mentioned, Albert, gardens. You don’t know what delight people are going to get, that you have a pretty garden out there and they’re walking by, and it just gives them a little pleasure. Maybe they can’t even see the garden, but they can smell the garden. So we all need to try a little bit harder to make the world a better place for everyone, including our other inhabitants on the world.
And to understand this Earth is a living planet. It’s amazing, but we should care about taking care of this planet.
It’s our sense of responsibility and stewardship. I mean, you don’t have to have a religious doctrine, or a belief that is handed to you to digest like dogma from some religion.
You need to be the person who is responsible every day, for taking care of that little part of this planet, that little garden, that little corner of your world, so it doesn’t dissolve and disintegrate, and becomes some lab, a mess of crap one day.
Yeah, be the change.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Be the change you want to see in the world, yes.
Yes, exactly. Exactly, so Debra, if people wanted to reach out to you and the Billion Strong, how would they go about getting in touch with you?
Well, thank you so much. You can go to www.ruhglobal.com, or you can go to billion-strong.org. And I’m also on all over the social media at Debra Ruh and Ruh Global, but yeah. I’m very active, because I knew that a social media was a place that if we could find our voices there, we could start changing things. So I was an early adopter of social media.
No, that is one thing I’ve learned too, that you really do have that hook line and sinker wrapped up. I see you all the time on the Twitter handles, and the LinkedIn and things like that. Just one more thing too, because you really took social media by storm. I am still stumbling through that whole concept, but you also had a hand in working with colleague and friend, and respected industry leader, Axel Leblois with the G3ict.
Oh, Axel. Yes, and G3ict has totally gotten behind Billion Strong too, yeah.
Well, I think that’s one of the things too. That– and I just want to say this about that. The ability to fund and resource, and underwrite up organizations that are doing the right thing, but don’t– we still struggle trying to get grantors to give us money. I can’t believe it. All of the resources and all the funds that we generate at My Blind Spot are realized through deliverables and services we provide to corporations to bring them into compliance with laws and regulations, and making them disability friendly and/or ready for consumers and employees alike.
And the concept of funding projects and organizations is critically important. And if there’s anything we can do to help promote that and build awareness around it with any of our clients, please let us know, because we’d be happy to do that.
Yeah, we appreciate your work.
Thank you, Debra. I appreciate you so much, and thank you for being an inspiration and a driving force in all that I do and continue to do to this day.
That interview with Deb was just– it reminds me about all the anxiety, and all of the excitement I had when I first lost my eyesight, about the industry that we find ourselves working in, Jon. And it really is important for all of us to keep the family in our prayers, and send positive thoughts and healing thoughts for Ed, as he continues the cycle of life and his journey into the next realm.
And just keep Debra, and Kevin and Sara in mind, as they deal with the void left with his passing when it inevitably comes. And as we’re recording this, Hanukkah has already started. The Christmas season is upon us. Thanksgiving has happened. Keep those you love near and dear, and be thankful for them.
And in that same vein of keeping family close and taking care of them, remember to wash your hands. The pandemic is still amongst us. We have Omegatron happening. I don’t know, it just to me it sounds like Star Wars meets–
It’s a sci fi name.
I know, it sounds like it’s Star Wars meets–
It’s super like–
Transformers meets Anime. I have no clue.
Meets dystopian future, yeah.
It’s just, I don’t know. We’re all done with this ongoing, never ending pandemic, but it is real. I don’t mean to make light of it. So please–
Wash your hands, wear masks in crowded places.
Like just simple things.
And do your research. The vaccination is not a bad thing. I am most likely getting my third booster shot shortly, and I know my parents have gotten theirs. I have friends of mine who have gotten theirs, nobody has had adverse side effects. Nobody has gotten sicker, nobody has died. And one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is, the vaccine protects you from getting very, very sick or sick to the point that you could possibly die. There is research that still needs to be done, that we can do as individuals.
Science is always changing. When we answer one question, another one naturally pops up, wouldn’t you agree, Jon?
Well, with science, yes.
Yeah. No, it’s the same with science. So the confusion that abounds because of the way we are as a world and as a nation, communicating about this pandemic can be very dizzying, but do your personal research. Try not to get it from memes. Try not to get it from the news. Try to get it from John Hopkins. Try to get it from [INAUDIBLE].
Multiple different sources.
Yeah, multiple sources and understand, the vaccination is a protection against the advancement of potential death. And the rise in cases, is happening amongst the unvaccinated. So again, wash your hands, wear your mask, get vaccinated please. We want you here to listen for a long, long time. And be on the look out for a blog that we’re doing on kindness, something I think that is seriously lacking in our society today.
I was talking with Mike Paciello about love and trust, and how that really is something we all need to have more of in our life and it will be touching on all of that. And our next podcast is going to be with Janet Parmenter and Robert Hendrix, Jehovah Witnesses who talk about knock, knock, knock. What’s going on in their faithful community? And access to the word and to scripture. We really had a good time with that interview.
Yeah, they were great people. And they respectfully answered our questions, and they really got angry if we joked or anything. And–
I have to pull out another joke now. That they really need to put out a book of knock, knock jokes.
Oh, knock, knock, who’s there? Jehovah Witness. But no, all jokes aside.
And I remember Jon was so motivated by the information and the conversation we had with both Janet and Robert, that we will every Blue Moon, ask she who shall not be named at the moment, because she will say what do you want us to do but Alexa? About the Word, and about the day’s Scripture.
We did it the day we kicked off the interview.
I know, we did it–
We did it for a few days after the two. So it is uplifting. It is wonderful, and I want you to tune in and listen to that one for sure.
As we close for today, feel free to reach out to us at our website, myblindspot.org/ accessabilityworks. There you can find your link to our email, email@example.com. And then you can also download the podcast there as well, and subscribe to our mailing list and get up to date information about My Blind Spot. Remember to look for our podcast on Spotify and Apple as well. This has been AccessAbility Works Podcasts, about the possibilities, accessibility for people with disabilities.
I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, thanks for listening.
Take it easy. Don’t know why I said take it easy.
Take it easy. Take it easy, don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. Come on, baby.
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