Ruh Global IMPACT logo
Episode Flyer for #53: Aging and Disability
Episode Flyer for #53: Aging and Disability

Guest: Doug Foresta        Guest Title: Producer of Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh

Date: April 25, 2017            Guest Company:  Stand Out and Be Heard            


[Intro music]


Debra: Welcome to Human Potential at Work. We’re doing this on Facebook Live and we’re also going to take the recording and put it on the podcast. I have my producer and voice consultant, Doug Foresta, with me today. So, Doug, thank you for joining me and teaching me about Facebook Live.


Doug: Thank you so much.


Debra: Yeah, it’s really cool to do it by Facebook Live because we can still do it as a podcast and share it with anybody that’s not live,


Doug: Exactly.


Debra: but anybody that sees that we’re live can actually join and ask questions and participate in the conversation. So we’re going to (when we feel a little bit better about doing this) do it at a certain time and we’ll make sure that people know when we’re doing it so that if you have questions and you want to join the program, you can.


Doug: Absolutely.


Debra: Yeah. So today we’re talking about aging and disabilities, which is a very important topic since there are so many people aging all over. Of course, we’re all aging, but there are very large amounts of aging populations in countries all over the world. I think it’s a very important conversation.


Doug: Yeah. I agree, Debra. I’m so glad that we’re talking about this and you’re absolutely right. I know that you’ve got some data there that you’re going to share, but, certainly, of course- the baby boomers. When I was in school, the term they used in social policy was the “Pig and the Python”.




Debra: Yeah. yeah And the millennials have actually gotten larger than the baby boomers now which is very interesting. I know a lot about the topic because when you’re dealing in the disability field, aging and our seniors, many people acquire disabilities as we live our lives. I’ve said in other programs only about 20% of people with disabilities are born with their disabilities- like Sarah, my daughter that was born with Trisomy 21. Most of the rest of us acquire disabilities as we live our lives. Once again, doesn’t mean we’re broken. Doesn’t mean we can’t contribute, but it’s just part of it.


Doug: Right.


Debra: Some of the statistics I was just looking up to refresh my memory this morning. In the United States there are 76.4 million baby boomers and of course there were 76.4 baby boomers from 1946-1964. Obviously, some people died, but immigration has kept those numbers pretty steady. I think something that’s very important to remember, especially as brands, is that those baby boomers control 30 trillion dollars of assets.


Doug: Wow.


Debra: So there’s going to be over the next 20-30 years, 30 trillion dollars of assets changing hands,


Doug: Wow.


Debra: which is amazing to think of that much money and that’s just in the United States. Japan has the oldest amount of people.


Doug: Yup.


Debra: You know, aging.


Doug: Yup.

Debra: But even here in the  United States, by 2029, 20% of our population will be over 65. Twenty percent!


Doug: That’s an incredible number.


Debra: Yeah!


Doug: Do you know what the number is right now in Japan? I was aware that Japan has an aging population.


Debra: Oh yeah. It’s a really big issue. I don’t know that exact answer. I could look it up but I do know that by 2050, 50% of their population will be over 65.


Doug: Wow.


Debra: Think of the ramifications of that. I know that in Australia they have an aging population issue, too. Right now, 30% of the population isn’t working. So that’s 70% [of people who can]. Think of the burden it puts on people that can work. We really shouldn’t put children to work, right? [laughs]


Doug: Yeah [laughs].


Debra: At some point people, hopefully, get to retire. A lot of people in the United States, baby boomers, had to put off retiring because of the financial crisis that we have.


Doug: Right.


Debra: Unfortunately, very sad, 55% of baby boomers don’t have the money to retire and it’s going to be a real major problem for our country because our social services just can’t handle that kind of pressure.


Doug: And what you already see when you go to McDonald’s. When I was a kid you went to McDonald’s or a fastfood restaurant it was all kids.


Debra: Right.


Doug:             They were the ones who had those jobs. I don’t know if you’ve also had this experience, but many times you go to a fastfood restaurant or you go to Walmart or you go to other places you see elders- you see older people that are working in those jobs that were traditionally children’s jobs or teenage jobs.


Debra: Right.


Doug: Or summer jobs and now there’s people that are working in those jobs because, like you said, they can’t afford to retire.


Debra: I know. I know and I see it a lot in the grocery stores.


Doug: Yeah, bagging, right?


Debra: Yeah, yeah I see it and it’s a problem. As we get older, I went to the eye doctor today, coincidentally, and I’m really blessed to have really good 20/20 vision and even though I wear glasses (they’re reading glasses) I was informed today I’m going to real glasses.




Debra: Even though these are real glasses, I’m going to prescription glasses because of my age. I still have 20/20 but my eyes have to work harder to have that.


Doug: Gotcha.


Debra: It’s a silly thing when I compare it to my husband’s eyes or my daughter’s eyes or some of my coworkers or friends that are legally blind. As we use these bodies and as we age we acquire disabilities.


Doug: Right.


Debra: It’s interesting. I know we’ve been talking a lot about brands and I was working with a very large brand one time and they were calling senior citizens “laggers”. Many of them were “laggers” because- they were just doing it internally- they weren’t downloading their apps and they weren’t using the technology.


Doug: Right.


Debra: They were the ones that wanted to come in physically and talk to a human being or call somebody. These customers were struggling with the voice response systems.


Doug: Sure.


Debra: Which I hate a lot of those.


Doug: I was going to say, I don’t know if I’m a senior citizen but I’m not a big fan. I’m always pressing the zero.


Debra: [laughs] And yelling at it. I was yelling at it. I was yelling at a computer yesterday. It asked me so many questions and I just wanted to get to the representative and I started yelling at my phone, “Representative! Representative!”. It’s like, “Ok, Debra, stop abusing the robots.”




Debra: I know my mother who is 78, she just can’t. She can not do it. It just really confuses her. I think the answer is not for brands to consider the population as “laggers”. Instead you have to do a better job making sure that your customers have the information they need in whatever way they need it. I’m not suggesting go back to “everyone’s gotta go back into the bank”, but I think we have to have more empathy for the different way people are using technology.


Doug: Definitely.


Debra: The way we are using technology, we have to understand the fears that some of the generations before me have. I grew up with technology. My father was a technologist when nobody had ever heard of technology.


Doug: I remember you mentioning that before.


Debra: [laughs] I remember us getting our first computer and you turn it on and it’s black and has nothing.


Doug: Right, right, right.


Debra: Commodore, I think.


Doug: Yeah, one of the Commodore? Yeah.


Debra: And we got to play that game where we could bounce the ball from one side of the computer.


Doug: Pong.


Debra: Yeah! Which was fun, but the reality is there are so many issues that play with this.


Doug: Yeah.


Debra: One thing that I know you and I talked about before we decided to do this episode was: are there any benefits to aging?


Doug: Right.


Debra: As somebody that is a woman of a certain age (and my husband is older than I am) we’re losing family members now as they’re getting older and we’re walking some interesting paths. It seems like everyone around me are walking these paths, too. Some studies prove that as we age we do get more resilient. Not everybody, but a lot of people that are older- they do get more resilient and in a way you have no choice. I’ll give you a probably dumb example. I remember when I was a young, young, young girl and I had my first car and the first time my car broke down, it was a little MG Midget. I took it into the mechanic and I started crying and I’m like, “My car’s broke and [tearful hysterics]”- I fell apart. And the mechanic looked at me and he’s like, “Yeah. That happens with cars sometimes.”


Doug: [laughs] Right [laughs]


Debra: He really acted like it wasn’t the end of the world that I was having car problems.


Doug: And you’re like, “Don’t you understand?”


Debra: [laughs] Yeah and I think about that sometimes because I’ve lived a lot and gotten a lot under my belt. One thing that I thought was very interesting, and I’m going to look at my notes, was there was a study done by Stanford University and they found that cognitive abilities tied with emotion actually improve with age. The older we get, the researchers tell us, the more comfortable we are with positive emotions and the more comfortable we are with emotions that allow us to process the information. The one thing that I love [is that] you can criticise us baby boomers a lot (we’ve done a lot of things wrong), but we have reinvented every single age that we’ve been at. We reinvented consumerism. We maybe didn’t do that in the right way but at the same time, as a group, (and I’m lumping everybody together)  we’ve done a really good job at really trying to balance the counterculture; really fighting for people’s rights- civil rights; making sure that people are included. We’ve done a lot of those things and a lot of other generations have joined in those fights.


Doug: Right


Debra: And I have a lot of confidence in the millennials- what the millennials are doing to say, “No, I think there’s room for all of us to be included.” and to focus on our abilities.


Doug: Yeah.


Debra: I think that you’re going to find that, once again, baby boomers are going to (and are already doing it) reinvent retirement. They’re going to reinvent what it means to be old.


Doug: Right.


Debra: Doug, I was telling you this the other day. I was watching a program the other day that I just absolutely loved. It’s on Netflix- Frankie and Grace. Man, if you haven’t seen Frankie and grace- it is so funny. You should.


Doug: I have not watched it. Yeah, I’ll look it up.


Debra: It’s my favorite. I love it so much that I only allow myself to watch one episode a time because you can sit there and binge watch but then you’re done. It’s a story about two women that are in their seventies. It’s Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.


Doug: Oh that’s great.


Debra: Oh they do a fabulous job. They’re talking about a lot of these issues that we’re talking about right now. On the episode I just watched, Lily Tomlin’s character starts to grab something and she hurts her back and then she’s going down and she’s like, “I got to get to the floor.” and she’s lying down on the floor and Jane Fonda goes to help her and she hurts her back so they’re both lying on the floor.




Debra: Then they’re trying to make a meeting and it’s very funny but at one point Jane Fonda’s character says, “When I was a little girl, about 9, I could climb to the top of the tree faster than any of the boys and I would scurry up that tree and I would look around and I thought, ‘I can do anything’. I know that I’m older, I know I am, but I still feel like that little girl.” as she’s laying on the floor with her back out and they can’t reach the phone or get any help. She starts really feeling so sad that maybe she’s not that person anymore. As I’ve gotten older, Doug, I do feel like the same person. I know how old I am but I think there are a lot of gifts of aging. You know?


Doug: Yeah and I think this generation- well, first of all, what is the dominant narrative about aging and disability? It’s not a good one, right?


Debra: Right. It’s very negative.


Doug: Right and it’s like you said, you just get out of touch and you just become feeble and you wait to die.


Debra: Right.


Doug: You get housed in some nursing home somewhere and you’re useless-


Debra: A burden.


Doug: You’re a burden. You’re no longer meaningful. I think (we mentioned before technology) a couple things are going to redefine aging. I think one thing is, especially, keeping up with technology keeps you younger.


Debra: I agree.


Doug: It’s not a big deal now for my son. His grandfather, so his mom’s dad, does robotics with him three times a week at school. He helps the kids, he shows them coding. He’s 77 years old and he’s doing this stuff and he can. He knows coding, he was an architect his whole life, he has been very involved in technology so he can still, at 77, teach the kids things and they can teach him things and it helps keep him young. I think you’re going to see technology, also, in terms of the things that it will enable us to do. Self-driving cars will enable us to stay in our homes longer, right? Technology will give us more independence. It will redefine aging and one of the things we know about aging, as well, is that we used to think that it was inevitable that we would have decline, right? That we would have decline, that neurons can’t regenerate. We now know that’s not true. We now know that neuroplasticity exists and that we can learn new things. We can be vital. We can create. We can have an impact. I don’t know about you, Debra, but I feel like I’d like to continue to do this stuff until I drop dead.


Debra: I agree. I agree.


Doug: And hello, Michelle. [laughs]


Debra: I was going to say, “Michelle joined us.” And hello, Michelle. Always love when you join the program. Very proud to be working with Michelle Vandepas. So thank you, Michelle, for jumping in. Michelle is saying driverless cars. I also think other things like focusing on aging in place.


Doug: Right.


Debra: More and more people do not want to go into nursing homes. They don’t want to go into assisted living facilities. They want to stay in their homes. They want to be independent. On that same show, the adult children of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin went out and got them those little necklaces that you can push.


Doug: [laughs] “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”? Yeah. Yeah


Debra: And they had a blast with that.


Doug: [laughs]


Debra: And Lily Tomlin’s character is like me, she talks with her hands and she kept setting it off.


Doug: [laughs]


Debra: They’re in this big meeting and here comes the ambulance. Just having fun with these things. And as you both said, Michelle and you, the driverless cars are going to help people remain more independent. It’s going to help people like my daughter, Sarah, that was born with Trisomy 21. It will give her options.


Doug: Right. Absolutely.


Debra: And Michelle’s noted she also loves that show. It’s a powerful show and you got to really appreciate the role that media has in trying to change our culture’s thoughts on what it means to be aging.


Doug: Right. Right.


Debra:           Are we broken? Are we useless? Can we not add any value?


Doug:             Yeah.


Debra:           I disagree with all of those. Is it because I’m getting older now? How do we embrace that? How do we embrace the disabilities that come along with aging? Like the characters in Frankie and Grace. Maybe their backs are a little bit more prone to be thrown out.


Doug:             Right.


Debra:           Maybe we don’t hear as well. I know that my husband- I really believe he’s at the point where he needs a hearing aid. I’m not just saying it as a nagging wife. We’ll be in a situation and I will hear something and he will not hear it and his father was deaf. He passed away in January and his younger brother’s already gotten hearing aids.


Doug:             Right.


Debra:           So it’s something that runs in his family. I’ll tell you a big problem that happens to people when they age and acquire disabilities. If you’re born with a disability like my daughter was or other people, we, actually, as a society are good at trying to educate you. If you’re born blind we’ll teach you braille. There’s things that we’ll do. If you have a stroke and become blind-


Doug:             Good luck.


Debra:           Yeah. You just don’t get support. I remember when my father-in-law went deaf all of a sudden he got really isolated and socially isolated. He lived in Florida and Warren, Virginia and New York. Nothing like walking the path to wake up and say I really need to make sure (and technology will help) that as we age and acquire disabilities that we have the training, the support, the technology that we need to remain independent and viable.


Doug:             Right.


Debra:           And we need to celebrate the wisdom of the aging, too. I know that some of the indigenous populations-


Doug:             You read my mind. That was exactly where I was going to go next.


Debra:           Yeah.


Doug:             I was going to talk about the wisdom of aging.


Debra:           Yeah because you meet a woman in the grocery store and she’s elderly and sometimes I will look at her and I just want to sit down and hear her story because we all have stories. Michelle thank you for joining us.


Doug:             Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Michelle.


Debra:           What we’ll do- what we’re hoping for once we get better at this- we’ll take your questions and stuff and we’ll do like we’re doing with Michelle. We’ll pull you into the conversation. I think, once again, as the baby boomers reinvent what it means to age. I want to say one more thing, Doug. As a woman, there was a saying for a long time that I always found ridiculous, that 40 was the new 20 and I thought, “Why would we do that?”


Doug:             Yeah. [laughs] I know.


Debra:           It seemed insulting to the 20-year-olds but also I don’t want to be 20 years old.


Doug:             I teach 20-year-olds. I don’t want to be a 20-year-old.


Debra:           It was confusing. It was very confusing for me.


Doug:             Yeah. It’s a hard time.


Debra:           Yeah, Sarah, my daughter, celebrated her 30th birthday yesterday and she said, “I can’t believe I’m thirty.” and I said, “Thirties are great!”


Doug:             I was like, “Thirty is nothing. You’re a young lady.”


Debra:           [laughs] It’s a great age.


Doug:             They’re the best.


Debra:           Yeah. In your forties you’re going to be better and in your fifties- but I think we have to stop alienating aging and deciding that we can have wisdoms and gifts to offer.


Doug:             Right.


Debra:           If we’re a person with disability or we’re a person who has aged into a disability or any other thing. We love looking at it from all the different diversity groups- if you believe in a different religion as somebody else. The comment you put up about shifting the narrative. I think it’s very important that we continue to shift the narrative on aging and disability.


Doug:             I think so and that idea of wisdom: could we come to really value wisdom? In many cultures elders are revered and in the United States we tend to have a youth-oriented culture.


Debra:           Right.


Doug:             It’s good to see shows like what you’re talking about because that’s the kind of thing that’s going to change that narrative- when we see possibilities. Especially (I think particularly in our culture) women are not allowed to age. We just hide them. I saw a thing about Demi Moore and it’s like, “Look how old Demi Moore has gotten!”


Debra:           [groans sympathetically]


Doug:             We all get old! [laughs]


Debra:           Right.


Doug:             She’s like 51 years old. It’s ridiculous. [laughs] Look how old she got! She’s 51. Oh my god. How did that happen? Well, first she was 40 then she was 41.


Debra:           Right, right.


Doug:             We definitely, in our culture, don’t see actresses who aren’t young and attractive and then all of a sudden the men can be handsome forever but the women you just never see again. They just disappear.


Debra:           It’s sad.


Doug:             And you never see them and it’s like the message is clear- if you’re a woman over a certain age you should be invisible because nobody wants to see you anymore because you’re just washed-up. I think brands can have a big part to play in that and like you said, there is a lot of money and consumer income that is tied up in this age group so it’s not like an act of charity to engage this group. It’s actually in brands’ own interest to do so.


Debra:           And to do it in a real empowering way.


Doug:             Right.


Debra:           I know I keep going back to the Grace and Frankie show-


Doug:             Yeah, Grace and Frankie.


Debra:           but they were talking about- they have a product and I won’t talk about that.


Doug:             [laughs]


Debra:           They have a product and they went to an advertising agency and they took- now these two women I think are gorgeous women. They’re beautiful. They’re funny, they’re entertaining they’re very well-rounded amazing characters.


Doug:             Sure.


Debra:           To me, what the real word “beauty” means [is that] there’s a lot of substance to these women. What the advertisers did is they took away all the wrinkles, they made them really young.


Doug:             [groans]


Debra:           They were both like, “Ok, I look amazing but that is not what I look like and we are selling a product to women our age and we don’t want to be inauthentic because this is who we are and we are proud of who we are.” I notice the wrinkles on my neck. You know I’ve earned every one of the wrinkles that I have. I color my hair because I actually like this haircolor better than my natural haircolor. I think that’s ok. But I think, like you said, women disappear. They become invisible because they’re over a certain age in our media and we really have to stop. We have to stop doing that. We have to stop doing that to women. We have to stop doing that to everybody. We have to stop assuming that people are less than because they have a disability or they have aged into a disability or they’re different.


Doug:             So the exciting thing is that this is a really good time, actually, to be aging and if you’re going to develop a disability because all of the accessibility efforts that you’ve done over the years, Debra, and others in the space. You have a really good chance of being able to participate still, even if you become disabled. There are still a lot of things you can do to participate in society and to participate in meaningful work; meaningful relationships. Isn’t that, at the end of the day, what it’s about? We want to have meaningful relationships, we want to contribute. Even if we don’t have to work for money anymore, we’re retired, we still want to have meaningful work. And we don’t address that either. We never talked about what are people going to do after they retire.


Debra:           Right. Right.


Doug:             Right? What’s your purpose? Is your purpose to just collect your pension for another 20 years?


Debra:           Right. and some people that we were talking about earlier- they’re working at the grocery store or they’re working at McDonald’s. They might be doing it partly for socializing.


Doug:             That’s right. Exactly


Debra:           I’ve talked to some of them and they’ve said, “You know, well, it just got to the point where I was getting out to go to the grocery store or maybe go to church but I just”- even my father-in-law said, “All my friends are dying.” So you do want to continue to be a part [of things]. You do want to be viable. We all want to be viable.


Doug:             That’s right.


Debra:           And the thing I love about it is that you can do amazing things working at a fastfood restaurant. I mean you can make somebody’s day just by smiling at them.


Doug:             That’s right.


Debra:           And talking to them and engaging with them.


Doug:             That’s right. and it can be very purposeful.

Debra:           Right!


Doug:             It’s like what Michelle says (Michelle Vandepas), “You can’t not live your purpose. So you’re absolutely right. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s this horrible thing that to be an elderly person greeting at Walmart or something. That’s not a bad thing. They may very well want to be there because it’s something that they enjoy doing- it brings them pleasure, they help other people, they make a few dollars. So, absolutely, it’s not [a bad thing]. It’s really challenging the narrative that with aging or with disability you’re not able to live a purposeful productive life. That’s just simply not true.


Debra:           I agree and I do think the realities are what we talked about before. Once again, 55% of baby boomers are not financially able to retire. It’s a huge crisis.


Doug:             Yeah.


Debra:           It is going to impact us but us taking the time to always remember to, I don’t know, honor each other no matter what age we are- regardless of whether we have a disability or not. I think using technology in a responsible way to make all of our lives better, continuing to fight for those that may be persecuted- just really, using Michelle’s comments- leading a purposeful life, I think is very important.


Doug:             Yeah.


Debra: So, Doug, thank you. Thank you for the conversation today. We’re going to have more conversations about aging and disability and I just think it’s a very powerful topic and is certainly one that’s very in my face these days- I’m walking it a lot.


Doug: Most definitely. Thank you so much. Really enjoying the Facebook Lives. These are fun. We’ll be adding people in as we get more comfortable with it. [laughs]


Debra: I think it’s such a powerful tool and I really applaud Facebook for making this available to us.


Doug: Definitely.


Debra: I know that they really want people to use it and I think it’s just another way that we can engage with each other. I’ve mentioned this before, but we have a Facebook group called Human Potential at Work and it’s open to everybody. We would love for you to come and engage with us and join the conversations and really continue to change people’s minds about what it means to be human, which includes aging and disabilities and all the different diversity that makes us a really amazing species.


Doug: Amen.


Debra: Thanks, Doug.


Doug: Thank you. Thanks, Debra.

[outro music]


You’ve been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future epsiodes, go to itunes and subscribe to Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.