Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Saturday 1st November 2014

Between my work & my travel, which are more often than not intertwined, I get to meet some incredible people that have fascinating stories to tell of life experiences or challenges faced & met. Some are famous faces, others not well known outside of the circles in which they move but all make an impact to some degree or other.

When I started spending time in Princeton, I wanted to take the opportunity to attend Toastmasters, the international group that helps you develop your public speaking skills. The first person I met there, Doug McCullough, has now become a good friend & just happens to fall into the category I have just described.

Doug has had some really interesting adventures around the world, usually partaking in pursuits that most people have never even thought of trying.

In addition, Doug is an avid sports fan & took me along to my college football (American football, for the non-US readers out there) initiation, where I experienced the cauldron of noise created by nearly 110,000 people at State College, in the middle of which Penn State played Ohio State.

The fact that Doug’s experiences have made an impact on me & encouraged me to consider how I face challenges & difficult situations, in order to live life to the full, made me think that many of you would be interested in knowing more about my pal from Pennsylvania.  The fact that Doug's recently delivered TED talk (see below), hosted by his employer Johnson & Johnson, has been so well received, adds further credence to my opinion.

So Doug, here are a few questions for ya!

OF: Introduce yourself in 10 words please.

DM: Handicapped dairy farmer who has realized most barriers are artificial.

OF: You have a form of muscular dystrophy. Please can you explain a bit about MD & what implications it has for you in your daily life.

DM: Muscular Dystrophy actually is an umbrella term used to describe 40 neuromuscular diseases. Specifically I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type III.

SMA is a motor neuron disease that results in overall weakness, but particularly the proximal muscle groups (eg. hips, thighs, shoulders).

There is actually nothing wrong with my muscles, but due to the motor neuron not working there is no signal to innervate the muscle. Thus the muscle atrophies.

I started seeing doctors when I was 11 years old, as I was often the slowest runner in class & something didn't seem quite right. It has continued to progress & currently it is difficult for me stand from a chair, go up or down stairs or walk on uneven surfaces.

There is no cure, but I've noticed that it is relatively stable when I lead a healthy lifestyle (eg. exercise, sleep). Conversely I can look back over periods of my life when I didn't take care of myself such as college or stressful projects at work & in hindsight have had definite losses.

I've had a few falls that resulted in broken bones where I had an arm or leg immobilized. Afterwards, I wasn't able to return to full strength.

It is essentially use it or lose it.

OF: You have worked for Johnson & Johnson the last 14 years in various logistics roles (planning, procurement, project management) and currently work as a Senior Manager in Global Supply Chain for Janssen which is the pharmaceutical division.

How has living with MD developed your skills relevant to your work, such as logistical planning, innovation & prioritization?

DM: I tend to think of MD having no impact on my job. It is a basic office job & the facilities are all accessible.

For certain roles, I have had to travel regularly, but it hasn't been an issue.

We are all shaped by our experiences & teachers. Living with MD is just one aspect of who I am.

Growing up on a farm & starting my career in the dairy industry had just as much, if not more, impact on what I bring to my job.

However, I will say that living with MD makes me more of an empathetic and inclusive leader.

OF: We got to know each other through Toastmasters & you have since spoken at several events, including the J&J TED Series, on the topic of accessibility & inclusivity for people with a disability.

For those of us that have to deliver presentations, what are your 3 top tips for delivering a well-received talk?

DM: My three top tips would be:

1) Keep the audience interests/needs in mind in all you do. As a presenter, your job isn't to make yourself look good, but to provide value to the audience.

2) Have the courage to be your authentic self. I heard a top toastmaster describe this as your chest opening up & your heart just pouring out. People will relate to your humanity.

3) Don't take yourself too seriously & try to have fun any chance you get.

OF: In reference to your TED Talk, please can you tell us issues that you encounter on a regular basis that organizations need to address to make their facilities & services more accessible or inclusive.

DM: In my TED talk, I talk about how inclusivity is different & much more important than accessibility. However, despite all the improvements made to improve accessibility I still routinely run into issues.

Here are some common examples:

1) Working elevators. I can't believe how often elevators are out of service. I've had real challenges at airports & train stations where there was only one elevator & it was out of service.

If you have an elevator, but don't keep it working regularly then what is the point.

2) Snow/Ice removal. Walking on a slippery surface is challenging for me or anyone with a mobility impairment. So paying special attention to clearing the walkways to & from handicapped parking is appreciated.

Clearing the snow should be a given, but as shown in my TED talk it is not unusual for snow to be piled in handicapped spots. I also often see examples where snow or ice is not cleared from sidewalk cutaways.


3) Ramps or sidewalk cutaways that are steep & don't have a railing. Another challenge is when the cutaway or ramp doesn't match up evenly with the surrounding surface.

Having a small step or uneven surface may seem minor to an able bodied person, but it literally can make ramp inaccessible for a disabled person.

4) Handicapped street parking. Most businesses or stores have handicapped parking, but there typically are none or very few handicapped street parking spots.

Thus I need to park several blocks away from my destination & navigate the streets & sidewalks.

5) Slanted walking areas or sidewalks. Sidewalks are often slanted for drainage, but often they are slanted so much that it is difficult for me to walk. I end up having to sidestep to keep from falling over.

OF: What would you like to achieve with your opportunities on the “speaking circuit”?

DM: Create a world where disability is viewed as just normal variation in humans. No better or no worse.

SMA is a simple genetic recessive similar to hair color. Yet, we would never tell a person they are inspirational for living their life to the fullest in spite of their blonde hair.

OF: Since I have known you, you have travelled around the USA to participate in white-water rafting adventures, sit-skiing, surfing & kayaking.

How do the companies that organise these events consider accessibility & inclusivity, whilst balancing the safety aspects with the inherent adrenaline-inducing characteristics of these sports, which is the attraction in the first place?

DM: I would compare it to riding a roller coaster. Safety is the top priority, but there is the illusion that it is risky.

I've never felt any of the activities I did was particularly risky, although I did find out after going sky diving that one of the paraplegics that participated found out later on that he had suffered two leg fractures!!

OF: If you could have the opportunity to meet your 16 year old self, what would be the best piece of advice you would give yourself?

DM: Ask Sherry Karrer out on a date :-) We tend to only regret the things we don't do.

Focus on things that make a difference & make you happy.

OF: We all have things we are insecure about. People with or without disabilities often lack the confidence to live their lives fully. Where does your confidence come from?

DM: I think it starts with having high expectations. You sometimes see people collect disability payments with a slight limp, but then you'll see something that flips disability on its head.

For example, I recently saw a video of an excellent ping-pong player who has no arms. He holds the paddle in his mouth.

I never thought of myself as disabled & still don't even though my body has deteriorated. I just do what I can & keep moving forward.

As in all walks of life, you build up confidence over time as you challenge yourself & work through situations. In addition, I regularly draw inspiration from others such as that ping-pong player.

OF: Who are your greatest inspirations in life & why?

DM: Firstly, my parents & extended family including grandparents, aunts & uncles. I grew up in a rural setting surrounded by blue collar "salt of the earth" type people. Thus I learned the values of hard work, taking responsibility for your actions, treating others the way you want to be treated & not taking yourself too seriously.

Secondly, my college advisor. He had high standards as demonstrated by his motto that "we do students no favors telling them something is good when it is not", but he also advocated a work hard, play hard mentality & thoroughly enjoyed life.

I read a lot of biographies growing up. In addition to historical figures, I also learned a love of sports from my Dad. Thus, there were countless stories of people overcoming challenges through hard work & persistence, as well as stories of good sportsmanship & helping others out when you could.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Doug. I learned a bit more myself in that…as I am sure did Sherry Karrer!

For those of you that are interested in asking Doug some more questions, or after watching his TED Talk, would be interested in Doug presenting at any events you may be hosting, please click here & submit your request in the <Your Enquiry> box & I will forward these on to Doug.

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