"Accessible Technologies and Environments for All” is the motto of the 6th edition of the M-Enabling Summit taking place 13-14 June 2017 in Washington, D.C. This conference has become the yearly meet-and-great of the international accessibility community with ample opportunity for experience exchange, policy updates and practical discussions between end users, disability representatives, senior citizens organisations, industry, accessibility experts, policy makers and increasingly businesses who want to have an inclusive workforce.
For the 2017 event, there will be a full session on "Accessibility for Better Branding”, which will explore why and how major organizations successfully integrate accessibility in their products, services and web site design, and the impact that such strategies have on their business. In preparing for the Summit, we asked Debra Ruh, who will be chairing this session, about her expectations for the Summit in general and her panel in particular.
Debra is the CEO and Founder of Ruh Global Communications, helping clients reduce their compliance and brand risks associated with inclusion and create programs that act as a positive differentiator. Debra is a global leader and has worked with countries, UN agencies, national and multi-national firms all over the world helping then create programs, strategies and processes that fully include persons with disabilities. Her catalyst for starting RGC was her daughter Sara born with Down syndrome and who now contributes to RGC’s success in the role of Inspiration Officer. Debra is also the co-founder of the #AXSChat - a weekly tweet chat around all aspects of accessibility.
Here are Debra’s expectations for the Summit:
Q. In the upcoming M-Enabling Summit 2017, you are chairing a panel on "Enhancing Branding and Market Share with Accessible Communications and Web Sites”. Why do you think this topic is important and what would you like to hear discussed in this panel?
A. I have been blessed to be part of the M-Enabling Summit for the last 5 years. This year Axel and I were talking about sessions and I suggested a track on branding. Why? Lots of work is being done to assure Access for All and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Workforce. However, many brands still do not talk about their accessibility and inclusion efforts because they do not feel they have made enough progress.
That is a problem for many reasons. Many of the consumers with disabilities or people do not know about the services, products and accessibility options available to them. Plus, the rest of society does not know the stories either so how can they support and embrace brands that are having a social impact without knowing the stories.
When I wrote my book: Uncovering Hidden Human Capital: How Leading Corporations Leverage Multiple Abilities in Their Workforce" Published by G3ict tinyurl.com/hnvzswu – I wanted to explore corporations including and retaining persons with disabilities in their workforce. My goal was to explore the topic from a global perspective. I invited companies based in the United States to be featured in the book. Many told me no – because they felt they had too much to do. They were also afraid that if I featured them as a Best Practice – (which they were) – that they might be a target of lawsuits because they had not done enough to assure accessibility and inclusion. That made me sad because if we do not reward and applaud efforts to include our community that is a loss for everyone.
The need for corporations to tell their stories has never been more important. I have written my third book (soon to be published) on this topic. Many corporations are making progress on accessibility and inclusion and we need to applaud the efforts. Of course, there is more to do but let’s celebrate the successes which will encourage the corporation to continue their good work. As we celebrate the companies including persons with disabilities in their workforce, customer base and efforts to assure Access For All – their competitors will notice the celebration and be tempted to join the accessibility and disability inclusion efforts.
Q. You are attending the M-Enabling Summit for the 5th time - what kind of progress in accessibility did you see over time and what was the M-Enabling Summit’s contribution to that?
A: I have seen a lot of progress in the field. I mainly work with corporations and the UN agencies like the ILO. We are seeing progress all over the world. Of course, we still have so much work to do but progress is being made. Also the innovation, productivity and inclusion are changing the world for the better for everyone.
The M-Enabling Summit was one of the first conferences that looked at the role the internet, communications and technology plays in inclusion and accessibility by creating a summit around mobile inclusion. The summit is the place where I learn about innovation, best practices and meet global leaders. I believe the M-Enabling Summit is one of the most important places to have global conversations.
Q. What concrete outcome do you hope for in this year’s Summit?
A. I hope that more corporations join the conversations. Many multi-national firms are making efforts with disability inclusion and accessibility. We want these leaders to join the conversations and share their best practices and lessons learned. We have to understand it is a journey and always a work in progress. We also have to stop along the path and celebrate our achievements both large and small.
Q. How does your personal story tie in with the M-Enabling Summit?
A. I have a daughter and a son. Our daughter Sara is 30 years old and was born with Trisomy 21 (commonly referred to as Down syndrome). Our son, Kevin is also in the field. We believe that our family represents millions of other families impacted by disabilities. Also as my parents retired from AT&T and aged – they both acquired disabilities. Disabilities does not mean a person cannot add value to society. We are all part of the human family and have abilities and disabilities. Let’s celebrate our humanness.
We are looking forward to attending Debra’s panel and also to talk about GARI’s progress in the four end user solutions tracks. Join us in person at the M-Enabling Summit and/or follow the discussions on Twitter #menabling2017.