#054: Ben Drew's Mission to Fight Oppression and Create Ordinary Lives for People with Developmental Disabilities

December 11, 2018

[4-minute read, 85-minute listen]         

In this podcast/ blog I had a pleasure of speaking with Ben Drew, Founder of Open Future Learning. Ben has over 20 years of experience working with people with an intellectual or developmental disability starting as learning disability nurse, then going on to create an individualized housing and support service, and he is now the Founder of Open Future Learning. Ben is also an incredible storyteller and even though this podcast is lengthy, it is a pleasure to listen to.

Due to the length of the podcast, the blog is broken down into Part 1, and Part 2. In Part 1 of the blog, you will learn about the Open Future Learning training resource for supporters of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs), and Ben’s life journey to fight oppression and create ordinary incredible lives for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. In Part 2 of the blog, you will learn about 3 foundational support principals for exceptional support. As always, all of these insights can be heard by clicking play on the podcast player below.

You can listen to this conversation in its entirety by clicking play on the player below, OR by clicking one of the following links to listen on your favourite podcast player; iTunesSpotify, and Google Play.

What is Open Future Learning?

Open Future Learning is an Online learning resource 100% dedicated to the field of intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs). The platform is developed for support staff, but anyone that touches the lives of people with IDD can benefit from the resource. The platform has a wide range of learning modules (for example: abuse prevention to social valued roles) which are delivered as interactive multimedia books. Open Future Learning is known for their short films and they have an on-demand video library with just over 700 short films featuring the leading global thinkers on IDD. They have also created a new product called Side-By-Side learning. 

Ben explains, “ We have the saying from self-advocates, ‘Nothing about us, without us’, but we don’t live up to this. Training is one of those things. So we developed ‘side-by’side’ learning. The person that receives the support and provides the support do the learning together. They are short 30-minute interactive learning modules.”

Ben continues, “Much of the content is created in collaboration with many of the leading minds in the developmental disability community. It is a really financially efficient way to get people to access these leading minds, compared to only the select few that were able to go to a conference.”

The platform is designed for support organizations and priced accordingly, however, if you are an individual learner or a family and you want access to this resource you can email Ben and he will help you to access this resource. Email [email protected]

Ben Drew’s Mission To Fight Oppression and Create Ordinary Lives for People with IDDs:

Paraphrasing from the podcast, Ben shares his story:

“I grew up in the UK in a small town called Devon. On the outskirts of the town, there was a small community for people with IDDs. It was kind of like Camphill without the farm. My best friend from school lived in that community, his parents managed the community. He lived in this cluster of houses where people with IDDs lived. It was great because we played football (soccer) on demand, it was mostly guys, and I got to know all of these people in the best way. When these guys came into the town the way that other people interacted with them was different. They teased them, they spoke behind their backs about them. This always sat with me and it was the starting point to wanting to work with people with disabilities. Went I was 18 years old I went to a summer camp for people with IDDs in the US, and really enjoyed it. Then came back to the UK and got a job with a guy named Gary Kent. He lived in a large residential home with 20 people with IDDs. It was a hospital that had been converted for people with IDDs to live after the institutions closed. Gary lived there as well but decided he wanted his own home. He left and purchased his own home in a nearby village. When Gary came back to the residential home he said he had to close down the residential home. He had seen the other side of life. He was learning how to cook, he was in his own community, he had control over his life and his environment – and he wanted everyone else to have that.

There was a guy that lived there [in the residential home] that was physically abusive, and there was a guy that was a runner. When the runner chose where he wanted to live, he never ran away again. The guy who was a hitter moved into a home of his own and he stopped hitting people. You can be getting really good support and if the environment isn’t right and the location isn’t right – you can only so so much.”

Insight: This was a huge lesson for Ben when he saw the change in people when they got control of their lives. These oppressive environments occur in residential homes, but they can also happen within our family homes. Speaking from personal experience, my parents home became an oppressive environment for my sister Sarah (who has an IDD) due to a lack of choice, social isolation, and lack of transportation. Most of Sarah’s decisions were made for her and most things were done for her. Of course, these things were done with the best of intentions, but this caused more stress and anxiety on everyone in the household, everyone entering the household, and suppressed opportunities for Sarah to grow. Sarah has moved out of her parents home and into a home shared with me where she now has choice and control of her life.

Ben continues with a leadership insight:

“Vulnerability of leaders is important. Gary was always incredibly transparent. He would always share his mistakes and things he had messed up. The residential home was just another thing. In order to empower everyone else underneath him, he had to be that way. The people underneath him could also make mistakes, they could also mess-up. I see cultures in organizations coming down on people. If you make a mistake it is a warning, if you make 3 mistakes you aren’t allowed to do things anymore. That culture just doesn’t work.”

Ben then when on to set up service to help 100 people with IDDs over 6 years to buy or rent their own home, manage their own supports with their own budgets, in Bristol UK, using the formula Gary gave him. Ben then moved to New York, and that is where he started Open Future Learning.

Part 2 of this blog is coming on December 18th, with insights on 3 fundamental support principals that are foundational to great support. If you want to learn about these core support principals now, you can do so by listening to the podcast.

*You can listen to the full conversation with Ben Drew by clicking below.*

Ben is also the creator of memes that help to nudge people in the direction of being more accepting, more inclusive, and to develop the understanding of what it is like to live with an intellectual or developmental disability. Here are a couple of my favourites:

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Love & Respect,

Eric Goll




Email: [email protected]

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