[3.5-minute read, 85-minute listen]
This blog is part 2 of my conversation with Ben Drew, Founder of Open Future Learning. You will learn about 3 foundational support principals for exceptional support; 1) be present, 2) doing with not for, and 3) be caring. Ben also discusses getting our own disability house in order for the inclusion of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs). 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; iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.
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. 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 IDDs.
3 Fundamental Support Principals.
1. Be Present
On the podcast Ben Shares: “To quote David Hasbury ‘When I say that I need you there, I need you there.’ As a support staff person one of your core qualities is just being there. Just being that reliable person in someone’s life. This isn’t always commonplace with turnover, and people moving around in an organization.”
Someone can also be physically present, but they also need to be there mentally present. Being fully present as a supporter is critically important.
Ben shares, “To quote Kate Fulton ‘When you are interacting with someone who isn’t present, you know it. You don’t even have to be physically with them, you can be on the telephone and you know it.’ If you know someone isn’t going to be present is coming to support you, you dread it. But when there is someone that is coming to support you who is present and is engaged with you, you are excited. This is what people with IDDs deal with. Quoting Kate Fulton again, ‘The way that you think about your work affects the way that you speak about your work, affects the way that you do your job.’ Imagine you get a new car, a Honda CRV, you see a Honda CRV everywhere. When we are present and see capacity, skills, and gifts, then they are everywhere. If our thinking is geared toward other things, then that is what we will see.”
A large component of being present is listening. But, not just listening to the words someone is saying. It is listening to their tone of voice [how they are saying the words], to their facial expressions, to their body posture, to their energy. Michael Kendrick calls this ‘Enlightened Attentiveness’, which he views as the greatest gift we can give anyone, and I agree.
2. Doing with people, not for them. Working with people, not on them.
On the podcast Ben Shares: “When we are doing things with people the opportunities to participate are ever present. How we involve and incorporate people when we support is a metric of good support.”
Ben shares the story of helping a man he supported, “He liked to grow a beard for a few days, then shave it off. There were bits I knew he needed help with. I remember helping him with the bits, and then after he did the bits he could do himself. Then Gary Kent [Ben’s mentor and boss at the time] said no. You first of all help him with the bits that he needs help with, then he does the bits that he can do. Then you are [person being supported is] finishing the task with a sense that I did that.”
On the podcast Ben shares the story of his efforts to support his ill father, and Eric shares his thoughts about learned helplessness. Take a listen to the podcast for these insights.
Ben used to say to the support staff he employed, “Your job is to do yourself out of a job, my job is to make sure that you always have a job.”
3. Be Caring
Ben shares, “Ultimately good support is to be caring. We should be caring, and it is okay to care. It doesn’t mean they are our friend or family, it just means that we care. I pushed this word away for a long time, but now I embrace it.”
We can often feel conflicted with this as supporters or carers, and as a result, we take on the emotions and feelings of the person we are supporting. This can drain your energy and leave you feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. However, to be caring doesn’t mean we have to take on the emotions and feelings of the person being supported, it just means we need to take the time to understand the person and to be kind to them. It doesn’t mean we feel sad for them or take pity, it means that we are attentive to how we can be most helpful to support that person to do the things that they want to do.
Ben shares, “Let’s take a step back and look at ourselves, let’s get our own house in order first. Is their website accessible to people with IDDs? Is it available in formats that people with IDDs understand? Are we demonstrating how it is to be done? We are all one, we are all equal, we are all people. What people with IDDs want is they want the same rights as everyone else. To open their own mail, be referred to in a certain way, to open their own door, to decide who comes in and out of their homes. Who could be campaigning for this? The people first groups. But from where I am sitting I am not seeing any campaigning on this.
Get our own house in order. Set the example. Then we can more powerfully influence others.”
*You can listen to the full conversation with Ben Drew by clicking below.*
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Love & Respect,
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