Guest: Rosemary Musachio Guest Tile: Chief Accessibility Officer
Date: November 2, 2016 Guest Company: Ruh Global Communications
Debra: Hello, everyone, this is Debra Ruh. You are listening to Human Potential at Work. I’m really, really excited about interviewing Rosemary Musachio today. For any of my regular listeners, you have probably heard both myself and my coach and producer, Doug Foresta, talk about Rosemary. I kept promising I was going to have Rosemary on the podcast, so I’m really, really excited about letting Rosemary’s voice be heard.
Now, as a reminder to you or to those that maybe don’t know about Rosemary, Rosemary was born with cerebral palsy, and she’s going to talk about that a little in the episode. And so Rosemary does not communicate in a more traditional manner. Rosemary actually uses a tool call Infovox, and it is a communications device that she types the information in and it speaks for her.
So today what we did, to allow Rosemary to have the biggest voice possible for the podcast, was I sent her the questions beforehand and she answered them, I’ll tell you, several times, because she’s a perfectionist. And so today, she’s going to answer those questions. Also, Rosemary can verbalize and she asked me, can I verbalize during the program, and I’m like, yes, please. People want to know who you are. So Rosemary, I hear you verbalizing a little, but why don’t you say hello in your voice.
Debra: So Rosemary is an amazing woman. She’s a very talented technologist. She has traveled the world. She does have what many consider very severe disabilities. She has been often treated as if she couldn’t think, she couldn’t hear, she couldn’t see, which is not true on any of those cases. And she really, really understands this topic, in a really powerful way.
But one thing Rosemary believes, like I do, is that no human being is broken and all human beings can add value to society, especially if society will allow them to add value.
Debra: So the first question I would like to ask you, Rosemary, is tell us your story. Where were you born? Where’d you go to school? And tell us about your career and the things you love most in the world, including travel.
Rosemary: First of all, thanks very much for inviting me on your wonderful podcast. It’s such an honor to be on with my mentor and friend. Okay, so I was born on a military base near Naples, Italy. It’s the same city where Sophia Loren was born, so that’s my fame in life. I developed cerebral palsy because the doctor bumped my head during birth. Back then, lawyers didn’t have ads of suing doctors and hospitals about birth defects.
Anyway, dad retired from the Air Force and we moved to East Cleveland, Ohio. I pursued my entire education in Greater Cleveland, from a special education grade in junior high school, then mainstreamed to a regular high school to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Cleveland State University. I inherited my writing talent from my dad, who wrote for several local newspapers. I wrote a monthly column in some newspapers for 10 years. Then I entered the technology accessibility field when I saw an ad for TechAccess, where I became an accessibility analyst, branding manager, among other positions. Then I went to two other companies, where I also did accessibility testing.
Now I’m at Ruh Global Communications, as the chief accessibility officer. I feel that Ruh Global really cares about helping persons with disabilities; not just making a technology accessible. And no, Debra didn’t pay me extra to say this.
The things I love most are having a very stubborn Italian mom who adores me, my friends who keep my spirit flying oh so high, and my dependence.
Debra: Thank you so much. So just once again, I sent Rosemary the questions. Rosemary answered them herself, and she put it in this communications device, and then she, using a head pointer, it’s like a head crown sitting on her head, she activated the voice to answer the question. So even though an electronic voice is speaking for her, those words are from Rosemary.
So one thing I wanted to do during the interview is I thought maybe we could go back in forth. But that is more difficult for Rosemary since she doesn’t have a lot of mobility in her upper or lower body. It helps in this circumstance, to make sure that Rosemary had time to prepare for these answers.
So let’s move on to the next question. Rosemary, you’ve achieved a lot of success in your life, despite the low expectations set by others in society. Why? Why are you different, Rosemary?
Rosemary: Success means reaching goals that are set with the mind and the heart. My dad always encouraged me to do as much as possible. While I was in school, we fought to make everything fair for me. My friends also have done that for me throughout the rest of my life. They also have provided me with moral support and humor. That’s what continues to motivate me. Another criteria for success is showing your appreciation for what others do for you, even if you don’t receive any financial gain or recognition. Your soul becomes richer.
Other than those things that attribute to success, I just have an inner combative drive to show people I can feel, I can think, I can work, I can love. By the way, the inner combative drive is also known as inherited maternal stubbornness.
Debra: And I’ve met your mother. She loves you so much. Your mother and your father have been great champions for you, but you also have been a champion for yourself. I remember, Rosemary, you were telling me one time, you and your mom, you travel all the time. You just got back from a trip to Amsterdam with your girlfriends. There was a lifeguard convention. That’s not why you went; it just happened to be they were there too.
But I remember you telling me that often, when you’re in a travel situation and somebody is trying to assist you, they won’t talk to you. They will look at your mother. And your mother’s like, she can talk. Look at her. Talk to her. She can think.
So next question, Rosemary. How has technology helped and supported your life and goals, both with education and employment?
Rosemary: Technology wasn’t advanced when I went to school. I had to type on an electric typewriter to do all my school work. No spell check. Imagine that. Without technology today, I wouldn’t be able to work. I mean, that’s what my job is about; making technology accessible for persons with disabilities. Besides having a job, technology has allowed me to shop, to bank, to read books. My parents used to turn pages for me. They thought I read too fast. To communicate with friends. Without technology, I’d feel like a vegetable.
Debra: That’s a pretty powerful statement, Rosemary. As we talk a lot about on this program, we have to allow people to tap into their human potential, and we have to stop deciding that a person maybe isn’t speaking in a traditional way or they don’t use their body in a traditional way or maybe they can’t use their eyes or their ears. What if the Rosemary’s of the world, or the Stephen Hawking’s or others, they have the gifts to unlock cancer or to solve the Zika Virus or anything else. We should allow human beings to be human beings.
Rosemary, you are a chief accessibility officer. Can you tell our listeners what that means, and why are you in the internet communications and technology, or ICT accessibility field?
Rosemary: I ensure that accessibility best practices are followed within the company, and help clients meet their accessibility needs, including website and product accessibility. I also consult on accessibility and inclusion issues that clients face, from the employee to the customer level. For instance, if a client comes to us asking to help them develop accessibility policies for their customers, we would suggest techniques to make their interpersonal communication with employees and customers with disabilities more accessible. Not just their technology.
I’m in this field because I can do it, first of all, and testing sites and software applications allows me to make businesses realize how important making their products accessible to consumers with disabilities. Even more important, is helping them understand that they should treat us just like their other clients and customers. We have over $2 billion in spending power. Companies can’t ignore us. Otherwise, they’d lose profit and damage their reputation.
Debra: Well said, well said. And the reality is, litigation in the United States over inaccessible websites are up 63 percent. But more importantly, as you mentioned, this is about making sure all of your customers and all of your employees have full access. Why would you build any technology platform or technology solution that wasn’t accessible to all your customers? That doesn’t make good business sense.
Let me ask you the next questions, Rosemary. What do you wish that society understood about you and other persons with severe disabilities?
Rosemary: When a child looks at me, I want them to smile back. When an airline hostess comes with the food, I want her to ask me, not my friend, what I want. Society shouldn’t see the wheelchair or the crutches or the white cane first. It should see the person first. People shouldn’t presume our minds are in wheelchairs just because our bodies are.
There was a flight assistant in Holland, where I recently was, who talked with me like any other traveler. She used direct eye contact and normal tone of voice. That’s what I wish society to be. In fact, many Europeans who I’ve encountered throughout my travels have treated me as all persons with disabilities should be treated. Oddly enough, their countries don’t have the revolutionary laws like the United States, regarding persons with disabilities. And yet, many of them seem to have accessible attitudes.
Debra: That’s very, very powerful. You know, Rosemary, I think it is part of the human condition to just be accepted, and to be able to be accepted for whoever we are. I thought that was so interesting, what you said about the Europeans, and I deal a lot with Europeans and I find a lot of them do have very accessible attitudes. I like that phrase.
How can we use your story to help others? Especially people with disabilities in developing countries and people that don’t have disabilities in developing countries. How can we use your story to help other countries grow?
Rosemary: I hope my story will inspire other persons with disabilities, to not give up on what they want to do with their lives. If a woman who can’t walk, talk or use her hands has been able to graduate college, hold down a full-time job, help maintain a household and travel, anyone can realize their hopes and dreams.
Debra: I sometimes look at the way we label or we treat each other, and I’m going to dislike you because fill-in-the-blank. Your skin’s a different color, you love the wrong person, you have the wrong religion or no religion at all. The other day, I was on a program and this woman said to me that she had a six-year-old boy that was nonverbal, with autism. And I said, wow, I wonder what he’s going to do with his life. I wonder how he’s going to use his brain to have such an interesting life. She actually started crying a little bit, and I think usually people look at her son and see what he is not capable of doing, instead of looking at him and saying, well, I wonder why your soul chose to come and have this journey, and what can you teach us and teach yourself? What is the soul contract? So I think we should look for the human potential, and of course that’s what our program is all about.
So let’s go into the next question. What would you recommend, Rosemary, to a person with disabilities or someone that’s trying to support a person with disabilities that they love in their life?
Rosemary: Speak up and express their needs. I’ve struggled to learn to do that. I’ve always felt as if I told people what I needed, people would get mad. But recent events have forced me to do this. With my mother being in the hospital for hip replacement surgery, I have had personal care assistance. Although I’m very blessed to have caring caregivers, sometimes they can’t read my mind or sometimes a healthcare agency sends an inexperienced provider. Other persons with disabilities have experienced the same situation. We need to tell other people what makes us comfortable, happy, rested and so on.
Another recommendation, as I mentioned earlier, is don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way of reaching your goal or realizing your dreams. Take advantage of available resources. Accept support from family and friends, and just follow your heart.
Debra: Beautiful words, Rosemary, and something by the way, that we all should be doing. Because remember, we’re all human. So very, very beautiful words. And you also have to remember that these providers, you’re in an employer/employee relationship with them. You’re the customer.
Okay, next question, Rosemary. Why is it critical that people with disabilities have a solid voice in society?
Rosemary: Excuse me for expressing my political views, but it’s dire that persons with disabilities vote for Hillary Clinton, who will continue to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, and support the passage of the Disability Integration Act, and develop more programs to ensure our independence and dignity. If we don’t vote in droves for former Secretary of State Clinton, we truly risk losing all the things that we fought for for so long, including our civil rights. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, we can truly breathe a sigh of relief.
However, we will still need to maintain a solid voice. We still need to write to government leaders, blog our views and concerns and use social media to promote what we have done and what we can do.
Debra: Typically, I don’t express my political views either. I try not to talk about politics and religion too much. Well, I did and now I’m talking about them all the time. But I care about the community of people with disabilities and consider myself an important member of that community. And when I saw another candidate come out and actually start making fun of a journalist with cerebral palsy, I was really mortified. And then I saw Hillary Clinton hold a town hall meeting to really discuss the needs of individuals with disabilities, and the room was filled with Americans with disabilities, and it really — it just made me feel that I had to do my part, which is don’t not speak up.
And so I am also voting for Hillary Clinton, and so is everyone in my family, my immediate family. I have family members that aren’t. I have a couple family members that are going to vote for the other side, and I’ve challenged them and have said — well, anyway, I won’t go too much into politics. I’m not going to go there. I just think everyone should vote. That’s why we are in America, because everyone has the right to vote and to vote for whoever you want to. I’m for Hillary Clinton, for the same reasons you are, Rosemary.
Last question, Rosemary. You are a technologist. Do you think that technologies like smart cities, IOT or the internet of things, robotics, 3D printing, wearables, driverless cars and other newer technologies like that can help other persons with disabilities fulfill their dreams?
Rosemary: Yes, absolutely. New technology can help fulfill anyone’s dreams; not just those persons with disabilities. Take 3D print in prosthetics. They cost much less than the regular prosthetics, so amputees can have both arms are legs faster, to achieve whatever they want, whether it’s walking in the park or flying a plane. Self- driving cars will make people who have to depend on others to drive them around, more independent. There’s something called the Hummer, where a person who can’t talk or use her hands, like me, can utter sounds to activate the computer and type.
Persons with disabilities will have nothing holding them back from doing whatever they want. There’s even brain-generated systems now, where persons with mobility impairments can navigate their wheelchairs or operate their computers, using their brain waves. Since my brain waves are a tsunami, my wheelchair would have police cars following it.
Debra: I love that one. And your brain is a tsunami. That’s really cool. Rosemary, thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me interview you. I look forward to interviewing you many more times, and to actually seeing you produce your own podcast. I would highly recommend Doug Foresta.
But I also want to say that Rosemary is available to speak to audiences, and I’ve had the pleasure to speak with Rosemary at audiences. How she does it is, she prepares all the questions and she puts them in her synthesizer that she’s using. Her and I have done it together, and so she’ll have it all set up. She’ll have her communications board there, and she’ll hold the presentation. As the audience members ask her questions, I am there with her, helping her as she’s using her different communication devices to answer the questions. She usually gets a standing ovation. So if you want to know more about working with Rosemary, of course I’m very proud to say she’s our chief accessibility officer and you can find more about her by going to www.RuhGlobal.com.
I don’t want to make it a commercial, but I am so in awe of the talent that Rosemary brings to my company, and just so proud of her as an individual and as a friend as well. I believe she’s breaking a lot of barriers, and I think that she has a lot to say. I also believe that Rosemary can help other people with disabilities, especially people with severe disabilities, find their voices.
I really thank you, Rosemary, for joining us today, and I look forward to continuing the conversation in the future. Rosemary is on Skype and she just typed in that her face is all red, after I complimented her like that, but she knows how I feel about her. So I’m going to end the program now, and I just want to reaffirm to all of us that we all benefit when we can celebrate human potential. Thank you so much.
This is Debra Ruh. If you want to explore building your brand, your business and having greater social impact, I invite you to reach out to me on my website, at www.RuhGlobal.com, or on most social media platforms at Debra Ruh. My services include strategic consulting, speaking and influencer marketing. I like to work with brands that are having positive social impact. Thank you.
Episode Name: Unlocking Our Gifts and Talents