Episode Flyer for #56: Disability and Human Rights
Episode Flyer for #56: Disability and Human Rights

Guest: Doug Foresta       Guest Title: Producer of Human Potential at Work

Date: May 17, 2017            Guest Company: Stand Up & Be Heard            


[Intro music] 


Debra Ruh:                             Hello everyone, this is Debra Ruh, and you’re listening to Human Potential at Work. Today I have Doug Foresta joining me again on the program, and we’re going to talk about how do you focus on a person with a disability’s rights for example when millions and millions of people don’t have rights. So welcome to the program Doug.

Doug Foresta:                       Thank you very much Debra, and a topic near and dear to my heart. Thank you.

Debra Ruh:                             I agree. Human rights is a very, very important subject for me as well. That’s why I was really glad, and honored, to have the Carter center on the program to talk about all the work they’re doing to support countries that want to have a democratic process, and they want to make sure that people’s voices are heard through voting.

Doug Foresta:                       Right.

Debra Ruh:                             So I appreciate you bringing them on the program Doug.

Doug Foresta:                       Well you did a great job, and I think the devil’s advocate side might say well what the heck does democracy have to do with people with disabilities. But in fact, I think it has a lot to do with it right because you can’t separate out disability rights from human rights. In fact, the whole idea that rights of person’s with disabilities came out of human rights. I believe, I’m not an expert.

Debra Ruh:                             No, you’re right. Absolutely. The people in the United States that wanted to the create the Americans with Disabilities Act, they absolutely were fighting for their human rights. At the time, they were taking, really looking at what the African Americans did in the United States to fight for their rights, and really focusing on that, and of course paying attention at the time there was, if you think about it, the Americans with Disabilities Act will be 27 years old in 2017. So they also were very interested in at the time of what was happening, or not happening, with the diversity community of LGBT. Now the LGBT community, they had to walk a really long, tough walk, but in some ways they have had a lot more successes than the community of people with disabilities in the United States as far as rights. Some people, I could probably argue that either way, but I think we all can learn a lot from what other diversity groups do to make sure that they’re fully included. So you know, a democracy and other forms of government that allow people to have autonomy and be individuals I think is very important to the topic of human rights.

Doug Foresta:                       I agree, and what a radical concept it would be. I mean first of all, the people with disabilities were not see as people at all. Right?

Debra Ruh:                             Yes.

Doug Foresta:                       They were not historically seen, we talked a little bit the other day about the, you know how the awful, some of the awful things that the Nazi scientists did for the people with disabilities, but also you don’t have to look to Nazis, you can look to this country as well and see the history of the way that people with disabilities was treated. What was that saying about, what was it three generations of imbeciles was enough was the …

Debra Ruh:                             Yes, oh gosh. Yes. You know, and I know, I do a lot of traveling, international travel. I’m off to Dubai in a couple of days, and get back for a few weeks, and then I’m off to Stockholm, Sweden. It’s very interesting going to other countries. Now those two countries are both developed countries, but I’ve been to developing countries too. You have all of the problems associated with full inclusion in a lot of countries, but then you start adding on the lack of human rights, the religious and cultural barriers that are faced by individuals with disabilities and other groups that are disenfranchised. I saw a post yesterday from an Australia woman that was celebrating the International Day of Women, and they said even though men in Australia often make as much as 93% more in some cases than women doing the same jobs, 93%, the advice being given to women is be confident.

Doug Foresta:                       Right.

Debra Ruh:                             Oh, that’s all we have to do is be confident.

Doug Foresta:                       Right, be confident. Yeah.

Debra Ruh:                             Then the …

Doug Foresta:                       Be confident that you’ll make less.

Debra Ruh:                             Right, and that the disparities will be corrupted. Then you start, and of course the numbers are not as big according to studies in the United States and other countries, and it might have been that they were focused on just certain types of jobs in Australia, but women, how long have women been fighting for equal rights, and still are. They’re so much work to do just looking at it from the eyes of gender, from the perspective of women. So, that’s why I like that when we talk about these topics, we’re talking about it from the potential, human potential, because humans are diverse creatures. We’ve talked on other programs about labels, and not labeling, and can sometimes labeling be helpful, and all the different pieces that go with this. How do you truly get people with disabilities in the workforce, and if you’re a person that becomes disabled during your life, how do you make sure that people don’t decide that you can’t add value anymore in the workforce, or any other part of society. It’s interesting.

Doug Foresta:                       Well, I’m going to say something that seems simple, but fairly radical. Which is, if you really think about … First of all, a lot of times we use the term in the West human rights violations to go into countries that we want to go to war with.

Debra Ruh:                             Right.

Doug Foresta:                       So Saddam Hussein is a human rights violator, or some dictator in the Congo is a human rights violator. We mean it to be a very specific thing right. Like it’s female genital mutilation, or something really horrible that we all agree is terrible. But, if you really think about how radical an idea would be to truly value each person as an equal, to say that every person no matter what their gender, no matter what their disability or ability status is, no matter what their sexual orientation, has equal rights. Truly has equal human rights. What would have to change in our society if we really believe that, and we really acted on that?

Debra Ruh:                             I know, and also remember for people that call God by a different name, or maybe they choose not to believe in a god at all, those people, you know a lot of people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs as well. I know that you’re Jewish Doug, you come from thousands of years of persecution from the world.

Doug Foresta:                       Yeah, [crosstalk 00:07:47].

Debra Ruh:                             So many, many years.

Doug Foresta:                       Not personally, but …

Debra Ruh:                             That’s right, but i agree. What if we could really look at people and decide that they have value. I’ll give you an example Doug. I was doing a training class, and this gentleman after class came up to me, and he said I have three boys, and two of them have autism. I looked at him, and I said your family life must be so interesting. I said I can’t even imagine sitting down at dinner with your family. It must, you must have the most interesting conversations, and he was really surprised at my response. He said, okay, first of all I want to say I’m really surprised at your response because I don’t usually talk about this to anyone. He said, but if I do, it’s usually oh I’m so sorry.

Doug Foresta:                       I’m so sorry for your …

Debra Ruh:                             I’m so sorry. I said well isn’t it true what I just said. Don’t you have a really interesting family life? He started laughing. He’s like we do. He said we have the most interesting conversations at dinner, and he said and we’ll have family game nights. The creativeness that these two children, both with autism, bring to the, you know to our lives, it’s really amazing. Now, I’m not saying sometimes they don’t have difficult times, of course they do, and we’ve talked about that on other problems, the other programs. Life is about contrasts. We’re going to have issues in our lives, but to decide because he has two boys that have autism that his family is broken, or not worthy, or shouldn’t be included, or these two individuals can’t add value to society is just ridiculous.

                                                      I’ll give you another example Doug. When Sarah was 16 years old, I was going to an OB/GYN for regular checkups, and I asked the doctor, I said to the doctor, a male doctor, who I really liked by the way. I said, oh, my daughter is 16, and I think, when should I bring her in for her first checkup? I said, oh and by the way, my daughter has Down Syndrome. Without missing a beat, this man said, oh, well then we need, I need to see her right away, and I think we should go ahead and discuss having her, making sure that she can’t have children. I was just stunned into silence, which I don’t, doesn’t happen that often. I thought you don’t even know her. You don’t know who she is. You don’t know what her dreams are. You don’t know what her capabilities are. You just decide because she has, I should say Trisomy 21, that she should not have children.

                                                      I was so insulted that I never went back to that doctor, and I certainly did not have my daughter see that doctor, but that happened in the United States. So, it’s just amazing. Well, let’s stop that right now. Let’s not spread that. I was like you don’t even know her. She’s an amazing woman. She adds a lot of value to society. How dare you decide that, without even ever meeting her, that she’s a burden to society. For goodness sake let’s make sure that she doesn’t have a child that will also be a burden to society. I was very insulted.

Doug Foresta:                       Yeah. Yeah, it’s incredible. The thing too, I mean when we look at people from a place of lack, rather than a place of human potential, I think what you did in having that conversation right, I think what you were doing is you turned it from, I think most people would see it from the lens of I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m so sorry you have these two children, and there’s something wrong, and we’re going to look at them in that way versus what is our human potential. I mean the reality is we all have, none of us have, we always say this person has unlimited potential, but the reality is we all have, I mean I’m not going to play in the NBA, and I never really had the potential to play in the NBA. I’m 5’7″ on a good day, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have human potential. It doesn’t mean that I can’t become the best of what I can be, and that’s true for all of us. That’s even true for NBA players. Even if you make it to the NBA, you don’t have unlimited potential, you have strengths and weaknesses, and you build on your strengths.

                                                      I think what you’re pointing to is this idea of looking for the strengths in people rather than just continually focusing on our limitations because we all have limitations.

Debra Ruh:                             I agree, and we’re using such small parts of our brains now. So why would we assume if a person is born using different parts of their brain, a person like Sarah with Trisomy 21, or some of her peers that have Autism. They are using different parts of their brain, which is of value to society. So, I don’t understand why we decide that certain people are not as valuable as other people. A traditionally, in the United States, if you had a lighter colored skin, and it’s not just in the United States. Traditionally in the world, if you had a lighter colored skin you were considered more valuable than a person that had darker skin.

Doug Foresta:                       Oh yeah, well you were considered a person.

Debra Ruh:                             Well, you were considered a person. Good point. Right, and the human trafficking, that is still going on. That is still going on, and that’s something that I am getting more and more engaged in because as a society we have to stop treating people like they’re throw aways. It’s horrible, still horrible. I heard the other day that there was millions of people that are slaves. Millions of people are slaves all over the world. Millions.

Doug Foresta:                       That’s incredible.

Debra Ruh:                             How can we turn away from those facts? I mean we have very complicated issues of true inclusion in the developing worlds, but once again going back to the human rights issues, and helping make sure that there’s democracy, or any other once again, government that allows individuals to express themselves. I get that sometimes, especially in our beloved United States, people expressing themselves, sometimes you think really, did you think that you needed to say that, or wow, that was a really hurtful thing to say. So people don’t always use those benefits in the right way, but you know you don’t have to focus on who’s doing the naughty stuff. You just want to focus on what value are we adding, and what value are we adding to individuals with and without disabilities, and families, and any other disenfranchised group, including like we said women.

Doug Foresta:                       Yeah, well one of the things that we don’t do well in this country, I think, and I think at some point we’re going to have a Dr. Ranka, Professor Ranka, on the show. He’s a human rights expert. One of the things in this country there are these positive rights and negative rights. So the Declaration of Human Rights, which you know was created with Eleanor Roosevelt, it lays out positive rights and negative rights. In this country, we very much value the negative rights. In other words, the freedom from tyranny, the freedom to say whatever you want. Those kinds of things are really ingrained in us right, but the positive rights, which are for example, shelter being a basic human right, or healthcare being a basic human right. That kind of stuff we really, it’s one thing to say wow we should value everyone and treat them equally right. People say okay yeah we should do that, that sounds great, but then if you say shelter is a basic human right, no one should be homeless. Then people start saying well if you work hard, everyone can make [crosstalk 00:16:23].

Debra Ruh:                             Right, right, right.

Doug Foresta:                       Right?

Debra Ruh:                             Yeah, just make sure you’re working harder, and …

Doug Foresta:                       Just work harder. That’s where I think in this country, and in the West in general, that’s where people start to get a little uncomfortable with the idea of human rights.

Debra Ruh:                             I agree, and I also think that we … I mean it’s such a complicated multidimensional problem. At the same time, it has such potential as well. So you know, you see it in some of our urban communities that are really struggling in the United States. I was listening to a program last night about that, and a woman, an African American woman, just say it, when you’re saying urban many people are just saying black. I thought that was such an interesting point that she made because a lot of people just turn their back, and they say well we know there’s a lot of problems, for example, in Chicago. In some of the communities, but those problems are too big, so we’re just going to ignore them. We have all these human rights laws on our books, and so people just need to follow the laws. So, to, I know that these problems are really big, and they’re very complex, but I still think we need to focus on who are these individuals, and not deciding that there’s whole groups of people that are throw aways to society.

                                                      That we must stop, and we must stop, we have to make sure that efforts like the Carter Center is making. That they’re out there, and they’re supporting the people that are trying to change lives. I’m blessed to do a lot of work right now with the International Labor Organization, ILO, which is part of the United Nations. They have a group that’s called Business and Disability Network, led by a gentleman, Stefan Tromel, who is a really amazing man. He, what it is, is it’s a C to C, so corporation to corporation, or business to business group, that’s really focused on committing that they’re going to include people with disabilities in their workforce. They’re going to make sure that the services and the products that they provide are fully accessible to consumers with disabilities. And by the way, we’re not just going to do this in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, and Europe, and Australia, we’re going to commit to do it in every country where we have a presence.

                                                      So some of the charter signers, and there’s quite a few of them, but some of them for example are Dow, Accenture is another. I think Ernst and Young has signed the charter. These are large, multinational corporations that have hundreds of thousands of employees agreeing that yes, we are going to do the right thing with inclusion for the population of people with disabilities, employees with disabilities. Not just in the countries that we might get sued in like the United States or the UK, but in all of the countries where we have a presence. I think if there are employers for example that are saying yes, I know you live in Tunisia, but we have a presence in Tunisia and we actually do want to employ people in Tunisia with disabilities. I mean, or in a little village in India, or in China, or in Egypt, or take your pick, in Guyana.

                                                      So I think there’s a lot of work that the United Nations are doing that are really geared towards the human rights, of course they’re not the only ones. You have so many NGO’s and non-profits that are really making a lot of efforts, but I still think that we need to continue to have conversations on what does it mean to truly tap into human potential. What does that mean Doug, what does that look like, and what does it look like in different countries, in different …

Doug Foresta:                       Right, and what kind of societies. I think Debra you and I have been talking about this, but the idea, and we talked about with the Carter Center, is democracy in the way that we know it, is that the only way in which people can live their full human potential. What types of governance really supports living their full human potential right.

Debra Ruh:                             Right, right. Yeah, and I recently, a few months ago, I went to Norway. What a gorgeous country that is, and the people, just delightful people. You know they’re socialist, they don’t have a democracy, Sweden is too.

Doug Foresta:                       Well they have a democracy, but they don’t have a capitalistic economy.

Debra Ruh:                             Right, well said. Yeah, and so their countries are doing really well. Are they perfect, nope they’re not perfect. So far, I don’t even think there is such a thing as perfect, but they …

Doug Foresta:                       Right. America. America is perfect.

Debra Ruh:                             That’s right. That’s right. Whatever that word means, but it’s just so interesting listening to them. Also, when I was in, when I was speaking in Norway, in Oslo, Norway, they were talking a lot about the efforts that Norway is making in African countries to really support people in Africa that need human rights. So here’s this small, amazing country Norway, that is totally giving back to the world as well. It’s such a blessing and an honor to be able to get to meet all these people.

                                                      I’ve talked about this before, but I remember the first time I went to the Middle East was Qatar. Also, called Qatar depending on who you’re talking to. There was a woman with a daughter about the same age as my daughter, and this young woman also had Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome. I was watching these two women interact, and it was very similar to the way in which Sarah and I interact with each other. Afterwards, we really sat down and we talked, and we compared notes about what it was like for her raising her daughter versus me raising my daughter. Often, I’m not a negative person, but there was so much more I wanted Sarah to have when she was in school. Actually, more education than she really got, but then I listened to this mom that was just fighting for the most basic of rights for her daughter. Basic rights like whether or not she can be seen out in public.

                                                      You think back to the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you were a person with a disability, there’s a really great movie that talked about the gentleman. But this gentleman, he had Cerebral Palsy, and he couldn’t really enunciate his words very well. He sometimes would drool a little bit, but at the same time is a really, really amazing, smart, funny man. He would actually, he got kicked out of restaurants because it was disturbing to the other people eating. You think of that now, and you just think how could that even possibly happen. So we’ve come a long way in some cases, and we still, all over the world, we still have a lot of work to do, a lot of work. We’ve got to change the conversations from lack lack lack, fear fear fear, to wow okay so you have a baby that was born with Trisomy 21, or you just realized they have Autism, or any other type of disability, or they lose their hearing at a young age. I wonder what this child can accomplish if we really get out of the way, give them the supports they need to really thrive, and see what our beautiful brains can do.

Doug Foresta:                       Right. Right. Even the way that we, you know if you think about it, even the way that we deliver services is all based on qualifying. You have to qualify for things based on showing how, for lack of better term, how messed up you are.

Debra Ruh:                             Right, right.

Doug Foresta:                       Are you disabled enough to get this benefit, or to qualify for this program. What if we did it the other way? I think one of the key takeaways for me of our conversation today is really about the idea that disability rights are really human rights, and if we don’t have a concept of human rights, and the idea that everyone in society deserves the opportunity. Not just the opportunity, but the resources really, to reach their full human potential. Then we’re missing something right. We’re coming from that place of lack as you say Debra.

Debra Ruh:                             Yeah, I agree. I remember there was a program where Sarah could get, when she was in high school, she could get some work experience. We applied for it, and they said oh well, we’re really looking for people with disabilities that are higher functioning than Sarah. I thought, darn’t. So not only are we disabled, but we’re not disabled, we’re too disabled so we can’t do that …

Doug Foresta:                       [crosstalk 00:26:16].

Debra Ruh:                             Right, or there’s been situations where she wasn’t disabled enough. It can be very discouraging for the individuals and the families. So, I know that we have a lot of work to do still, and this is why we talk about human potential at work, and this is also why we have global conversations because we have to care about the families outside our countries that are not having their human rights, and their human potential considered. We all have to do our part, and we have to make sure that we’re hearing what other people are doing because also some of these countries, where some of the human rights violations are the most egregious, there’s also really interesting programs happening in those countries that we can actually learn from. So I think deciding because a country has a different government than ours, or they do things different, or maybe their leaders are acting out and doing horrible things, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing things happening in those countries, and that we can’t learn from those programs and those activities.

Doug Foresta:                       That’s a very good point Debra. Yup, exactly.

Debra Ruh:                             Yeah, so I still think there’s a lot of work to do, but Doug thank you so much for joining me today on the program. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you.

Doug Foresta:                       Thank you. Same here. Thank you Debra, it’s always a pleasure.

Debra Ruh:                             Thank you Doug.

Speaker 3:                               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 ruhglobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future episodes, go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.


[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 RuhGlobal.com. 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.