Debra Ruh is a visionary advocate, thought leader, and technologist driving global accessibility and inclusion. With a career spanning decade, she champions the rights of people with disabilities. As CEO of Ruh Global Impact and Executive Chair of Billion Strong, she leads initiatives for accessibility, diversity, and inclusion, particularly in disability advocacy. Her passion for realizing human potential led to the 2013 creation of Ruh Global IMPACT, a think tank driving disability inclusion strategy worldwide. She’s authored three books, including “Inclusion Branding,” and spearheads a popular program, “Human Potential at Work.”
In addition, Debra’s influence extends to the United Nations, International Labor Organization, and Forbes councils, showcasing her impactful global advocacy. Recognized for her digital presence, Debra co-founded #AXSChat and is a LinkedIn Creator. Her contributions have earned her awards, ambassadorships, and accolades as a transformative force in disability inclusion and accessibility.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Debra shared her professional background, the key initiatives and achievements of Ruh Global IMPACT in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, the major takeaways from her book, ‘Inclusion Branding’, future plans, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Debra, please brief us about your professional background and areas of interest.
I’m Debra Ruh, and I am proud to be part of the disability community. I am neurodiverse, having both ADHD and Dyslexia. I’m also the spouse of Ed Ruh, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and later battled Dementia until his passing in 2021. My daughter, Sara Ruh, was born with Down syndrome.
Throughout my life, I’ve dedicated myself to supporting the disability community. My current mission is to unite the 1.3 billion individuals with disabilities worldwide, fostering a sense of pride in our unique identities shaped by our lived experiences with disabilities. We are a global community, and together we are stronger. You can follow my journey using the hashtag #WeAreBillionStrong.
What are the key initiatives and achievements of Ruh Global IMPACT in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities?
Ruh Global IMPACT is a think tank that brings stake holders together to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities through initiatives like disability inclusion consulting, global accessibility standards, awareness campaigns, education, advocacy for disability-inclusive policies, and collaborations with various stakeholders. Our work aims to create a more inclusive and accessible world. For the latest details, visit our official website www.Ruhglobal.com
You are Chairwoman of the Board at Billion Strong. Can you please tell us about this non-profit organization and its mission?
“Billion Strong” is an initiative led by me, aiming to unite the global community of individuals with disabilities. The #WeAreBillionStrong hashtag is used to promote this mission, encouraging pride in the unique identities shaped by lived experiences with disabilities and emphasizing the strength that comes from collective unity. This initiative seeks to empower and amplify the voices of the 1.3 to 1.7 billion people with disabilities worldwide. Our official website is www.Billion-Strong.org. Please join our free movement and use #WeAreBillionStrong.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges that organisations may face while implementing a disability-inclusion hiring strategy?
Implementing a disability-inclusion hiring strategy can pose several challenges for organizations. These include overcoming biases and stereotypes, ensuring accessible recruitment processes, providing reasonable accommodations, fostering an inclusive workplace culture, and addressing concerns about potential productivity or costs associated with hiring individuals with disabilities. These challenges require commitment, education, and resources to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce successfully.
As the Founder & CEO at Ruh Global IMPACT, what are some of the key challenges you face while implementing your projects and how do you overcome them?
Social Impact companies like Ruh Global IMPACT often struggle with cash flow issues and lack of resources. Here are some highlights of the challenges faced by companies during challenging times, including funding and cash flow issues stemming from the lack of emphasis on disability inclusion. Societal challenges in disability inclusion projects encompass awareness and education, resource limitations, complex policy and legal barriers, and the need to overcome biases.
To address these challenges, we advocate for strategies such as collaboration with partners, policy influence, awareness campaigns, inclusive policies within organizations, and the collection of evidence to showcase the advantages of inclusion to the brand and society.
Please share the major takeaways from your book, ‘Inclusion Branding’.
In my book “Inclusion Branding,” written in 2018, I have emphasized the significance of including people with disabilities and ensuring accessibility as crucial steps for societal progress. I consider the exclusion of individuals who are eager to contribute to society due to a lack of accessibility and inclusivity as a missed opportunity. With society’s aging demographic and a diminishing workforce, the importance of enabling everyone who desires to work cannot be overstated. This inclusivity is vital for the continued advancement and growth of society.
What are your suggestions to policymakers towards creating a more conducive work environment for implementation agencies and NGOs?
My suggestions to policymakers for fostering a more conducive work environment for implementation agencies and NGOs include prioritizing disability inclusion in policy decisions, allocating resources and funding for inclusive initiatives, reducing bureaucratic hurdles, promoting collaboration between government and organizations, and ensuring that policies align with the needs of marginalized communities. These measures can help create an environment where NGOs and agencies can effectively carry out their missions and contribute to positive societal change.
How do you unplug and step away from work?
Okay confession time. During my husband’s illness and passing, I watched Big Foot videos on YouTube. They were silly and sometimes scary. But so different from my walk at the time that it helped. I still do that sometimes when work overwhelms me. I like the thought of having Guardians of our Forests. So, it was a nice distraction. I also meditate and do yoga.
What is the one lesson learnt that’s unique to being a woman leader?
As a woman leader, I’ve learned that embracing diversity and inclusion is not just a choice but a necessity. Being a minority in leadership roles has taught me the importance of fostering diverse perspectives, as it leads to more innovative solutions and a stronger team. I’ve also learned that breaking down gender biases and stereotypes is an ongoing effort, and my unique experiences have made me even more committed to promoting equality and inclusivity in the workplace. Last but not the least, I believe that women should support other women. We are stronger together and women are great collaborators.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Great question. My hope for Billion Strong and the #WeAreBillionStrong initiative is to unite the global community of individuals with disabilities, fostering a strong sense of pride in their unique identities shaped by lived experiences with disabilities.
I envision a world where the 1.3 to 1.8 billion people with disabilities worldwide come together, empowered by a shared identity and a common goal of inclusion and equal opportunities. Through this unity, we aim to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create a more inclusive society that values and respects the contributions of all its members, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. My hope is that this movement will drive positive change, advocating for the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities on a global scale.
Would you like to share a few tips on how to work towards creating a sense of belonging by building an inclusive culture with diverse perspectives to better the workplace and society?
To create a sense of belonging and build an inclusive culture with diverse perspectives in the workplace and society, it’s crucial to lead by example, demonstrating inclusive behaviors. Education and awareness-raising initiatives help promote understanding. Prioritizing diverse hiring practices brings varied viewpoints into the organization, while implementing inclusive policies and practices provides a foundation for equality. Encouraging open communication and active listening ensures that diverse voices are heard. Empowering underrepresented groups and celebrating differences fosters a culture of pride in diversity. Seeking feedback, making continuous improvements, and holding individuals and organizations accountable for promoting inclusion contribute to a more inclusive and equitable environment for all.