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A Positive Voice: Time to Include Persons with Disabilities in All Aspects of Society

Posted on October 08, 2013

Debra Ruh

CEO and Founder, Ruh Global IMPACT and Chair, G3ict Employability and Technology Group

The time has come for persons with disabilities to be vocal, writes Debra Ruh, and social media is the perfect platform to help amplify our voices.

I have spent a long time pondering all the lessons and opportunities that I encountered during the past year. How can I seek inspiration from those lessons and use them to improve the lives of people living with disabilities? As a diehard technologist, I believe that digital communication platforms, particularly social media channels, can help us expand our reach. I also believe that social media can be used to help the global disability community find their place in the world.

Debra Ruh with her daughter Sara Ruh

Debra Ruh with her daughter Sara Ruh.

During a recent speaking engagement a young man asked me if he should disclose his disability to an employer. I have been asked this question a thousand times and it breaks my heart each time. What the young man (and woman) is actually conveying is their fear of being rejected, ridiculed or dismissed, without being given a chance to prove their credentials even before the interview takes place. In many cases, organizational attitude towards employment of persons with disabilities is not inclusive and it is a failure of our society on so many levels.

A few years ago, my daughter was sitting at the table in a restaurant with my husband and I was nearby. She said, “Dad, Mom is doing it again.” My husband said, “What is Mom doing?” Sara quickly responded, “She is telling people that I have Down syndrome.” It brought tears to my eyes, and I jumped up and said, “Sara, you have brown hair, hazel eyes, a great smile, AND Down syndrome. Never be embarrassed about the way God made you.” We talked about it for a long time and she told me she was not embarrassed but sometimes did not understand why I talked about it “All the Time!” I told her that this was our path: to help people we engage with understand why people like Sara add value to the world. Sara has spoken for global audiences many times since that conversation and she firmly believes the world is a better place because she is a part of it.

As I travel all over the world, I have had the fortune to meet parents of children with disabilities in Spain, Singapore, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Ireland, India, England, Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and all over the United States. Without exception, these families wanted their family members with disabilities to have equal opportunities in education, employment, networking, entertainment and leisure, and have access to all the general resources that everyone else in society has, to meet their goals, follow their passions and have their dreams come true.

I have also had the pleasure to meet talented people with disabilities from all over the world. I believe that something amazing is happening. People with disabilities and the people that love them are finding their voices. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Four Square, Tumblr, and BlogSpot are wonderful ways for people with disabilities to express themselves. Other countries are using tools like Renren, and Sina Weibo in China, and Bebo in the UK - opening new opportunities for people with disabilities to have a voice.

I believe there is a trend to move away from the charity-based model of, “let’s help those poor people with disabilities,” and instead we are witnessing a movement toward a model of empowerment. This is a more robust and promising model, since everyone is included; society benefits when everyone participates to the best of our abilities.

Let’s look at the problems that exist globally through an inclusive lens. This is where you come in. Find your voice and help others in the community find their voices as well. Let’s celebrate and embrace our differences and let our voices be heard - blog, write articles, tweet your thoughts, and share positive news and also highlight cases and incidents where improvement is needed. Follow other thought leaders and become a thought leader in your own right. Look for opportunities to mentor people with disabilities around the world. As you hear about success stories involving inclusive practices, share them across your networks. Amplify these positive stories and set the benchmark for an inclusive society.

Please join me in supporting people with disabilities to continue to find a solid and positive voice: