Are profound disabilities neglected?


The needs of people with profound and complex disabilities are often neglected. This new module changes that:

Built in collaboration with leading experts it uses personal experiences, storytelling and practical and straightforward advice to bring a special focus to people’s needs so that your staff can directly impact the quality of their lives.

Learn more about all of our modules here.

“God finally shut him up.” – Dave Hingsburger


Dave Hingsburger died on Sunday, July 18th 2021. To honor Dave we are sharing this piece written by Karin Melberg Schwier which we feel so aptly illustrates Dave’s unbridled commitment to his work. Dave started collaborating with Open Future Learning in 2012. Some of Dave’s most notable contributions to the Open Future site include the modules: Sexuality and Relationships, Boundaries, Personal and Intimate Care, Me and Mine, Diversity, and Abuse Prevention.


The Art of Being Human


Dave Hingsburger sits at the front of the room smiling and sated. To borrow from Psalms: “Be still and know that I am.” It is this point that Dave Hingsburger so clearly defines with his examples, stories and role-plays: Think and feel what it is to be human.


Dave Hingsburger is a renowned sexuality consultant, lecturer, speaker and alarmingly prolific author. He doesn’t mince words and he has a lot of them. His admonitions can be as razor sharp as his wit and praise. People who hear him speak leave like so many limp dishrags from laughing, crying, raging, thinking. It is exactly the response Hingsburger wants. To be in Hingsburger’s presence is to be changed, lifted by the lapels, status quo shaken, then gently lowered to the ground. You are not the same afterwards.


Hingsburger does this ruffling to somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people a year. He has lectured in almost every state and province from Alaska to the Yukon to Texas and Louisiana. He has an astonishing Stephen King-esque productivity record that now stands at some 28 books, not including chapters in the works of others, articles in journals, magazines and newspapers, scripts for training films and documentaries. Hingsburger and partner Joe Jobes created Diverse City Press so they could develop plain language, affordable materials on vital issues for direct-support professionals, parents and people with disabilities. No book sells for more than $16. He owes this productivity to an inability to say no.


“I write a lot because I just can’t turn down opportunities to get the word out,” he says. “In one week, for example, I did a two-hour interview for Hustler magazine and a piece for a small religious press. Some might find conflicts between the two. I don’t. If there is an opportunity to intelligently discuss issues pertinent to the right of people with disabilities to have an adult life, I’m there.”


Sticking his face in it with honesty and a razor-blade sense of humor brings admiration from people in the disability field who count on Hingsburger to raise difficult issues and tackle controversial problems. Patty Gibson of the British Columbia Association for Community Living has worked with him many times and appreciates his “inability to gloss over an issue.

Not only is Dave a true original thinker, he’s absolutely fearless,” Gibson says. “While others may tiptoe around certain issues, not wishing to offend or wanting to preserve pleasantries, Dave cuts straight to the heart of the matter. And that matter inevitably has to do with some form of injustice inflicted on people with disabilities.”


Becoming fearless has taken Hingsburger to places he never dreamed he’d go. In fact, as a kid born in Olds, Alberta, who grew up in the interior of B.C., Hingsburger says his childhood was comprised of “equal parts terror and loneliness.” In a school with absolutely no diversity, he recalls, a fat kid was an easy target.


Spending years as a child who tried to avoid being seen, it’s remarkable that Hingsburger chose a career as a public speaker. It’s not that he actually chose it; perhaps it chose him. His very first public lecture did not go entirely as planned.


“Having lied in the job interview where they asked me if I was comfortable doing staff training, I suddenly found myself required to do a one-hour orientation with five staff on the principles of human behavior,” says Hingsburger. “I stood at the front; they all looked at me and years of insecurity flooded my consciousness. I fainted. Flat on the floor. They revived me and I talked non-stop for the remaining 45 minutes and told the class everything I knew about psychology, from Freud to fantasy. It was horrible.”


Despite that shaky beginning, Hingsburger soon discovered there were things he wanted to say about people with disabilities, their rights and the treatment they receive at the hands of others. Training for staff was lacking so he took every chance he could to speak. Parent groups in church basements. Civic groups over rubbery chicken dinners. Front-line staff in small meeting rooms. He got better, having decided that fainting was probably distracting to the audience. “I was determined to get better at getting the message out. Now I do a relaxation procedure about 15 minutes before I start and then a rapid prayer just before I begin and then I’m on.”


Hingsburger became a sexuality consultant at York Behavior Management Services in Ontario. A referral for a young man with an intellectual disability who had touched a child led Hingsburger and others at the clinic to realize that there was only one ethical approach. They would help people with disabilities develop a means of appropriate sexual expression, help agencies develop policies that fostered and encouraged relationships, and help parents see their children as adults with adult needs.


“It’s led to controversial stands,” he says. “I wrote what I believe to be the first article in the literature on supporting lesbians and gay men with developmental disabilities. I wrote and helped film” — not as an actor, he points out — “masturbation training tapes for men and women with disabilities. I have assisted self-advocates in their desire to speak up and speak out against sexual abuse.”


All this speaking up and out and Hingsburger’s absolute conviction that adults with disabilities are sexual beings has led to a variety of reactions. Not everyone is a fan. Hingsburger is absolutely unapologetic about telling people — staff, volunteers, parents, and administrators — when their policies and behaviors at best perpetuate dependency and at worst set people up for abuse. It’s a message that leaves many people squirming in their seats, if not leaving their seats altogether.


“Dave’s insight is exceptionally keen and his sense of humor is always entertaining, but it is his deep respect for people and his truly human perspective that stands out for me,” notes Dr. Dick Sobsey, director of the J.P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre at the University of Alberta. “He takes on a variety of risky topics… and that sometimes means offending people. But he always makes me think a little deeper, question more of my assumptions and get in touch with genuine feelings about the human condition.”


Nancy Wallace-Gero is an executive director of an Essex County service provider for people with disabilities in Ontario.

“We’ve worked with Dave on a number of innovative projects designed to lower the risk of sexual victimization of people with developmental disabilities,” she says. “His energy, drive, commitment, the brilliance that he exudes, are amazing and inspiring. He is simply the most progressive and creative leader in the field today and his message is what we want our staff to adopt as a guiding principle.”


Hingsburger is well aware of the controversy that sometimes erupts around him. In fact, he regularly runs his thoughts and ideas past leaders in the disability movement. Lucy Gwin, editor of U.S.A.’s Mouth magazine, provides feedback, as does Lisette Lanthier, a woman with an intellectual disability who has co-presented with him on abuse issues. Hingsburger finds that he needs “supervision and support from people with disabilities. Once I have that,” he adds, “damn the torpedoes. I can’t hold back; there’s too much to do.”


Sometimes he receives letters from people who advise that he will “lose his following” if he stays a particular course. He considers such messages hollow threats and is unconcerned, even unaware, about what his “reputation” or “following” might be. Once a lonely, fat child, Hingsburger knows he can survive without the approval of others. So he continues with his message, often through stories of his own experiences. Many are self-deprecating stories in which he has learned a valuable lesson from a self-advocate, a parent or someone who has helped him better understand the human condition. As advice to people starting a career in human services, he recommends that they never cease to “feel and think.


In stories are the truth of human experiences. I know that some stories I tell are painful. Others are funny,” he says. “But life is painful. Life is funny. Sometimes it’s both at the same time. I think that people in human services are attracted by what is authentically human. Data, graphs, numbers are important but they don’t connect with the stuff of life. Parables are remembered; numbers are jotted down and then forgotten.”


Gill Rutherford has known Hingsburger for six years. She coordinates Disability Studies at Dunedin College of Education/Te Kura Akau Taitoka in New Zealand, and cites one of her earlier memories of the keynote speaker.

“I was at the back of the room with the AV guys, who had come in to check that the sound was working okay,” she says. “They usually did a quick check, then headed off for coffee. This time, they stayed. Here they were, two guys with no real interest in disability issues, and Dave had captured them with his first few sentences: ‘This guy’s good…’”


“Dave can move you from laughter to tears in a sentence. My students really appreciate his forthrightness, his insight and, obviously, his humor. He’s a breath of fresh air in academia, and his words provoke students to think about and question what they see happening with people who have disabilities. I believe the purpose of education is to unsettle the mind — Dave does this well.”


Hingsburger’s message has had a profound effect on the field of disability, if official recognition is any indication. The running count of awards to date is long. The first award he ever received was from the Newmarket and District Association for Community Living. It was the Professional of the Year award. It is possibly the most meaningful of all the formal awards he’s received because it was given by people who saw his work firsthand. “Doing ranks higher in my mind than does yapping,” so an award from the Self-Advocate Council of the Ontario ACL for his work to make the world safer for people with disabilities is also treasured, and it still moves him to tears. The prestigious Dana Sambour Award from the Committee on Sexuality on the U.S. west coast, the Pioneer Award from the U.S. Institute on Dual Diagnosis and a leadership award from the Young Adult Institute all rank among his most memorable.


But the one that comes out on top isn’t a plaque. Hingsburger assisted in a legal case involving a woman with a disability who was brutalized. He was impressed with how the police officer handled the case, and told him so. Hingsburger was surprised with the officer’s response: “I was at one of your training sessions and I followed the advice you gave.” Hingsburger is confident there will be a conviction in the case. To him, that’s the best award of all.


While he deals with the darkest sides of humanity and is continually reminded that people with disabilities are still caged by systems, isolated by fearful parents and victimized by predators, he is a hopeful man. He tells of sneaking into a large institution at night. Standing in the middle of an empty ward, he says, he “could still smell captivity.” But he was enraptured by the sound of silence, of emptiness. He felt the knowledge that he is part of a movement that has set people free and “it felt good.” He is proud when he sees people with disabilities working in the community, waiting for a city bus, doing the ordinary things that have been out of reach for so long.


“Once I found myself crying simply because I was watching an elderly woman with a developmental disability make butter tarts,” he recalls. “She moved about in freedom as if the air had the buoyancy of water. This is what we work for: real lives in real communities for real people.”


A few years ago, Hingsburger nearly died. This not only alarmed him and those closest to him. It also had a great many people holding a collective breath as they watched a significant light flicker and grow dim.


“All I can say is that I understood, really for the first time, what quality of life is. And what it isn’t. Boy,” he sighs, “have we made some mistakes.”


Still, 20,000 people cross paths with Hingsburger each year and thousands more read his books, see his videotapes, conduct training with his instructional materials and quote his parables. In one of his seminars, hundreds will experience the simple act of feeding another human being a cookie and will, in return, receive that communion from another human being. They will be asked to reflect on this profound act of being with another person: “Be still and know that I am.” And each will become a better human being in the process.


As evidence that his wicked sense of humour burns again at full flame, Hingsburger chuckles as he ponders the question of what might be written on his tombstone when he does finally shuffle off this mortal coil.


“God finally shut him up.”


By Karin Melberg Schwier

Original article at:

(Karin Melberg Schwier of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is the parent of three; the eldest son has a disability. She is also an author whose most noted works are about people with disabilities. She co-authored with Dave Hingsburger Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters with Intellectual Disabilities (Brookes Publishing, 2000). Most recently, her debut novel Small Reckonings has earned literary awards; she had been in touch with Dave several weeks ago about researching repressed memories of assault in people with disabilities for the novel’s sequel. The Art of Being Human first appeared in Abilities magazine.


We can go out today.


The hockey arena is cavernous and cold. The fluorescent lights are harsh, and it smells like chlorine and Zamboni fluid. We, five men with intellectual disabilities and their support worker, are there to get our first doses of the Covid vaccine. The line is long, but we are patient. We have gotten very good at waiting. This is the first time the men I support have been in a public space, the first time they’ve been face to face with a person they don’t live with, in a year. We wait in line for forty-five minutes. But we have been waiting so much longer than that.

First, we waited in fear, every cough and runny nose a potential harbinger of an outbreak. Then, after the months began to past, we waited in boredom. Then, resignation: This is just how we live now. Then with the Spring came the vaccine, and resignation turned to the restlessness of hope. This vaccine has given us something concrete to wait for.

Finally, the moment comes. The last consent form is signed, and we are lead out to center ice, where a dozen kind but weary nurses await us. We roll up their sleeves, and the needles go in. We are directed to the chairs towards at the far end of the rink where we sit and wait some more: Fifteen minutes more to be exact, to be observed for reactions.

As we sit and wait, I look around at the men I’ve waited through the year with. There was so much fear, a year ago, so much doubt: Would they be able to follow protocol? Would they be able to abide the disruption to their carefully crafted routines? Would they be able to share their limited space with one another?

But I needn’t have worried. They have been heroes, each of them. They have risen to every challenge that has faced them with grace and courage and an overwhelming empathy for one another. Whenever the restrictions have seemed too much to bear, all I’ve had to do is remind them that they are doing it to keep each other safe, and all their objections have fallen away. If the rest of the world had shown the same compassion towards its neighbor, the same selfless endurance for the sake of its community, the story of this year would have been very different.

Our fifteen minutes are up, and we are directed to a tunnel at the back of the arena that leads to the exit. It is dark in the tunnel after the glare fluorescent lights, and we fumble in the dark for the fire door. I find it, push it open, and we are out, into the sunlight and the springtime. The air is warm, the sun is blinding. For a few moments we can’t see where we are going.

And this is where we are, the men I support and I, and the agency that supports us, and the ministry that supports them. We are coming out of the tunnel after a long darkness, and the world outside is not the one we left behind. The old rules no longer apply. The policies and protocols will have to be rewritten. We cannot go back to the way things were. We cannot stay where we are. We are in a new world, and we must make a new life in it.

I do not know the way forward from here. It’s too bright to see, and I must wait for my eyes to adjust. But as I look around me, at the men who have taught me how to endure the isolation, privation, and loneliness of this past year, at the men who have taught me the meaning of courage and self-sacrifice, I know who we must look to for guidance, and the way forward, if only we will ask them. If only we will listen.

By Mike Bonikowsky

Mike Bonikowsky lives and works in Dufferin County, Ontario. He is a direct support professional with the local Association for Community Living and spends the rest of his time raising two young children. He has been living and working men and women with intellectual disabilities since 2007.

Developmental disability agency halves turnover.

“In the field of disability services turnover is last Tuesday!” – Dave Hingsburger


Nationally, turnover is actually at almost 50%. Here is what Direct Support Staff want:


Here is how one agency is working to change things:


Penn-Mar Human Services was founded in 1981 and serves over 400 people with locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Penn-Mar approached Open Future Learning as a means to engage their staff in the National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) credentialing program.


The first step on the NADSP career ladder program is to become certified as a Direct Support Professional level 1. This requires 50 hours of accredited training. So far over 50 staff have now graduated through this program, and for those graduates, turnover has reduced from 34% to just 16%.


Meet Natalie and learn how she is using Open Future Learning to become certified:



Outside of the NADSP credentialing program all staff are required to complete 24 hours of training per year. Using the flexibility of the Open Future resource, Penn-Mar’s users complete modules on their own and also in group settings. Previously these group style meetings took place in person, but now learners watch the modules as a group over zoom.


All staff are required to complete a set list of modules. Penn-Mar’s director of learning and development Gina Brelesky identified the ‘Personal and Intimate Care’ training as one of the most important and impactful modules that her staff complete. Here is the trailer for that module:

After completing their required training Direct Support Staff meet with their supervisor to review their learning and discuss how they can apply what they have learned to their practice. Professional development on it’s own is not enough. Staff need to demonstrate how they are using what they have learned to impact the lives of the people they support.


To learn more about how you can help your staff to become credentialed, email for a demo and a free trial of the Open Future resource.

No contracts. Ever.



Not Friends, Not Family

We are not friends, we are not family.


No punches pulled – just the truth. Our interactive Mini Module ‘Boundaries, Paid Friends’ is four pages long and takes just 20 minutes to complete.


Your staff will learn that they can have a caring and friendly relationship with the people they support without blurring the boundaries. This excerpt might be hard for some disability support workers to watch:


About Mini Learning Modules:
– 30 minutes or less to complete.
– Access them on any device.
– Use them with groups of staff in person or remotely.
– Over 90 mini modules to choose from.


Take a 20 min GoToMeeting demo of our site and your company can have 30 days of access to our entire resource – no contract. Email for more information.


Learn more about all of our modules here.


At the end


Providing end-of-life care is a privilege that is hard to choose. It is to choose to go down into the dark with another person, down into the deepest mysteries of the human experience. It is to share in the most difficult journey of a person’s life, a journey from which only one of you will return.

A palliative diagnosis can mean that the person is sent from their home and everything they knew, to finish their journey among strangers. Sometimes this is a relief to those left behind. It is hard to watch someone die, and it is not part of the job description. It is far too mysterious, too intimate, too life-changing, too precious. It is a hard thing to choose.

But for those who can choose it, for those willing to learn how to apply the fentanyl patches and manage the morphine drips, to move a person hourly to prevent bed sores, to change their catheter bags. This is no added burden to an already heavy load, but an honor they wouldn’t miss. They see it as finishing well, a privilege they won’t share with a stranger. It brings much-needed closure to a relationship of support in some cases decades-long. It is their final act of love.

The decision to take on this last and most difficult work is not a selfless act. Those that have done it know that there are gifts to be received here that no one else can give, and lessons that must be learned that can be learned nowhere else.

At the end of life, the balance of power between the support person and the supported shifts. The people we support finally find the equality they’ve always deserved but have so rarely achieved, and more than equality. The person we support at the end of their life are learning a thing, doing a thing, that we do not know how to do, but some day must. We find ourselves the ones supported. We sit quietly by the hospital bed. We listen and we learn perhaps the most important thing a human has to learn: how to die well.

At the end of their lives, all of those careful systems that have been crafted to teach and support and control those in our care collapse. We are no longer concerned with behavioral support plans or age-appropriate activities or annual planning meetings. The person is finally, truly, at the centre. Their wishes and needs can no longer be paraphrased and ignored. Here at the end we learn what support really is, and we find that we are able to provide it, one human being to another.


This is where all our work comes to its final fruition. This is where all the labels drop away, and we meet one another simply as humans, sharing the joy and grief, the gratitude and regret that is the common lot of mortals at their common end.

Learn more about this and all of our modules here.


For a free demo and trial please email



People are growing older … help!

When we surveyed direct support staff the biggest single concern they had was their ability to support people as they age. We made this beautiful module so your staff will know how to support people as they grow older.



On successful completion of this module, your staff will be able to:


  • Understand the changes the people they support may experience as they grow older, and how this may affect them.


  • Understand how to support people to age well through staying healthy, keeping friendships and connections, and adapting their life style.


  • Help people to cope with challenges and difficulties they may face, particularly as they become frailer and lose some independence.


  • Support people at the end of their lives.


Learn more about this and all of our modules here.


For a free demo and trial please email


You don’t know her name


This weekend marks the third anniversary of the death of Heather Roselli. Heather Roselli, who had a developmental disability, died on on June 18th 2017 after being pushed to the ground and held there by the staff of the New York group home where she lived until she died of asphyxia and internal injuries, including broken ribs and a lacerated liver. This attack was prompted by her insistence that she be allowed to call her stepfather. It was Father’s Day.


On the anniversary of her death, the world is rocked with upheaval triggered by the police killing of George Floyd. The similarities are shocking: death by asphyxiation due to an incorrectly performed but theoretically legal restraint. The inciting desire to call her father, echoed in George Floyd’s call for his “Mama”. The lethal use of force by an authority over a devalued member of society, with little consequence (Only one of Heather’s killers will see jail time, and likely for a sentence of less than a year).


But what is most telling is where the similarities end. For while the world has rightly risen up to demand justice for George Floyd, the name of Heather Roselli has been all but forgotten. Why this silence? Why do we not demand justice for Heather? Why do men and women with disabilities continue to suffer the highest rates of every kind of abuse? Why do they continue to die in silence at the hands of their caregivers?


The answer, as in so many of the injustices that wrack the disability community, lies in isolation. Heather Roselli lived and died with only her paid support workers as witnesses. They and they alone were the arbiters of her days, and they proved to be terribly and tragically unworthy of the task. George Floyd had friends and allies, in his personal life, in his faith community, and eventually in government and in the media. These alliances came too late to save him, but they may have at least assured he did not die in vain.


Heather Roselli died as she lived, with only the state to guarantee her value and safety, a role it failed utterly to provide. She had called emergencies services to express her fear that she was going to be killed there, fears that were dismissed. She had no allies but her family, who she was killed for trying to contact. George Floyd was known by many, and because he was known by many, he was loved by many. Because he was loved by many, and they are loved by many, the many have risen up. But Heather Roselli, though loved by those who knew her, was known by few, and is even now being forgotten.


A life of isolation in care is not how life is meant to be lived. It is not only a sad and lonely way to live, but as Heather’s case shows us, it is not even safe. So much of the work we do is in the name of safety, but we have neglected the most important factor in protecting a vulnerable person: a robust and vocal community of natural relationships.


A person who has difficulty advocating for themselves needs witnesses. They need advocates. They need friends with voices that will be heard and listened to. This is why our most important role as paid caregivers is to make ourselves unnecessary. We must not be indispensable. We must be a necessary evil, a crutch until the bone heals. We must be the bridge that those in our care cross out into the real world, where they may be met and come to be cared for, to become friends, to become beloved. For if they are known, they will be loved, and if they are loved they will be safe. They will be missed when they don’t show up at work or at church. Their bruises will be seen and asked about. Their cries for help will be heard, and answered, before it is too late.


Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Heather Roselli’s death remains how little it is known. Almost no one, even among the professionals of the field that killed her, knows her name, though she died only three years ago. What is forgotten is repeated. The walls of a group home are soundproof. It is a place of muffled silence and muted tones, and what is not shouted is not heard at all. We must shout the name of Heather Roselli. We must write it on our hands and brand it on our hearts. And in Heather’s name we must help those we support in breaking down the invisible walls that still surround the group home, that keep those that live there from knowing and being known, from loving and from being loved.


Mike Bonikowsky


Support & teach advocacy then shut up!

“I used to think that my voice was equally important, if not more so, than the people I supported. In this story I saw this man advocate for himself, speak for himself, and voice his own dreams. It was at this point I understood that I was his ally not his advocate and that only he could advocate for himself. Our job then is to support advocacy, even teach advocacy, but once those are done our primary job is to shut up.” – Dave Hingsburger



This video is an excerpt from the Open Future Learning Mini Module ‘Helping People be in Control.’ Taking 30 minutes to complete, this Mini Learning Module captures everything you expect from Open Future and delivers it in a bite size format.



Our members use this module so their staff know how to help people to:

  • Make good decisions.
  • Stay in control while remaining safe.
  • Use self-advocacy as a powerful way of taking control of their lives.


First month free:

Email to schedule a demo of the Open Future resource and then receive your first month free – no contract of use.


Learn more about all of our modules here.



An important message for disability support workers.

We know that supporting people with developmental disabilities can bring joy and meaning. But our work also often results in stress, burnout, and high levels of turnover. And that’s before the onslaught of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.


Enjoy this message of encouragement from Peter Leidy:



Here are some thoughts on what we can do to take care of ourselves and others during this unexpected, uncertain, and challenging time.


You, and people who count on you, need you to take care of yourself as best as possible, when you are on as well as off of work. In a minute, we’ll get to a few ways you can do this – and engage others around you in your “self-care” during these difficult times.


But first, consider this. There’s a reason airline passengers are instructed that if the oxygen masks drop, adjust your own mask before assisting others. It’s not to be selfish; you can’t be your best for someone else if you’re not okay yourself.


In this film David Pitonyak asks, “Are you someone who helps people to get to dry ground or are you destined to push them further under water?”



This bears repeating, but I’ll phrase it differently. You can’t truly support another person well if your own needs are not being met. A key question here is: How are your needs being met?


In my experience, both personally and professionally, a person’s needs are met not just by what the person does for their own care, but also how others contribute to that person’s wellbeing. I do what I can to take care of myself, but I am also blessed with others in my life who help meet my needs. We take care of me.


People in support roles often feel isolated, on our own. If I don’t do this, no one will. This is totally on my shoulders, at least until the end of my shift. We need to support each other: ask what we can do to help out, check in, be present, be responsive. Family members, managers, support workers, teammates: We all act together for good support.


Okay, now back to some ways you can take care of yourself – not just for your own physical and emotional health, but for the sake of those you are supporting. Here are some ideas which may bring light to your support relationship, to you when you are alone – or both:


  • exercising
  • noticing beauty in nature
  • mindful breathing, even for a few minutes, focusing on the inhale and exhale
  • yoga and/or meditation (lots on YouTube and Zoom these days)
  • calling someone who’s currently socially isolated
  • offering to help a neighbor
  • taking a 15-minute walk in the morning (or any time)
  • writing positive messages with sidewalk chalk
  • offering something you have that others may need


… just to name a few.


When I’m with groups in workshops or training sessions (which I’m taking a break from now, except virtually!) I might ask people to bring to mind something or someone they’re grateful for.


How about trying this right now? Go on, I’ll wait for you. Honestly I’m not going anywhere! What is something or someone you are grateful for?

Often, it turns out to be a person. If it was for you, I ask that you tell that person – now! Call or text and let them know THEY popped to mind as someone you are grateful for. Why? Because being mindful of our gratitude improves our own wellbeing, and sharing it improves the other person’s.


If you didn’t try that right now, have a go later or when you are next with someone you support. Who or what are you thankful to have in your life?


University of Wisconsin epidemiologist Malia Jones offers some important insights on our current global crisis (interview, Capital Times, 3/18/20.) She says, “Public health by nature is a community project.” We have to cooperate, listen to each other, help each other, ask for help from others. Sound familiar? This is our work.


Good hygiene, safe practices, protecting vulnerable people: doing what we can to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All of this is so important.


But let’s not ignore what else is needed as much now as ever: Listening, self-care, practicing gratitude, cooperation, helping each other, and seeing this crisis as an opportunity to build community.


By Peter Leidy


What is everywhere you went Peter Leidy went with you?



Email to schedule a demo of the Open Future resource and then receive your first month free – no contract of use.


Learn more about all of our modules here.



Can we go out today?

A disability support worker shared these words with me and it is one of the most beautiful, insightful and compelling pieces I have ever read.


Founder | Open Future Learning


Each morning since the pandemic began, I leave my home and drive down the empty highway to the location where I work. I enter the home, sanitize my hands, and greet the five men who live there. Each morning, their expressions and vocalizations are a little more anxious and a little more intense than when I left them previous afternoon. Each morning, I answer their questions: Can we go out today? No, I’m sorry, we can’t. When can we go out again? We just have to take it one day at a time. Why can’t we? Because we could get sick. Is it just us? No. It’s the entire human race. Each morning they respond with a little more resignation, and a little more despair. We settle in for another day of shelter-in-place.


We follow the rules and stay home. We forgo our regular routines and entertainment. The bowling trips, the painting classes, and karaoke at the day program are cancelled. Dwain, whose mental health is closely linked to a stable schedule and his twice-daily bus rides to the local Wal-Mart, is finding the days particularly difficult. When it feels like the walls are beginning to close in, we pile into the van for long drives through the silent countryside of early spring. Gas is cheap. Until this week, we risked the Tim Horton’s drive-through and cradle gently our totemic double-doubles, sipping this rare elixir of normalcy. Together, we watch the live news broadcasts, Trudeau on his porch.


At first I was reluctant to have the news on, worried it might prompt anxiety – for all of us. But when I’d ask what they wanted to watch, their answer was always “the news”. They appreciate keeping up with the latest updates. While it might seem kinder to keep people “in the dark,” respecting choice and self-determination is all the more crucial in times when our options seem so limited. This is their home, not mine. They are adults, so it does not make sense to simply follow the protocols I keep with my children. Similarly, dignity demands that considerate honesty must come before my own desire for a sheltered and calm working environment. We are, after all, truly all in this together.


As we hear announcers share the rising numbers, we try not to think about what an outbreak would mean in this small split-level residence, home to five men of advancing age and already-compromised immunity. We wash our hands again. We stay home some more. We stop risking the drive-through, make our coffee at home, drink it together while we watch the news.


I am afraid. I am afraid for them, but also for me, and for my family. But they are not. In many ways, COVID-19 has not disrupted their lives to the extent it has mine. They are now old men, tough and wise, who came of age in the crucible of the institutions. They have known hardship I can’t imagine. They have friends in the unmarked grave behind Huronia, and do not fear death as I do. They have lost more than I can understand and have lived through much grief – along with joy and celebration. Though not of their own choosing, social isolation is often not a new experience for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These men, despite their depths of hard-won wisdom and delightful companionship, are well-accustomed to strangers keeping their distance in public places. The conditions we ironically bemoan on social media are barely distinguishable from how they have spent most of the days of their lives. They are old pros at quarantine, and they are teaching me.


My shift ends. I gratefully wash my hands and guiltily break the quarantine, to drive through a numbed town that has lost its freedom. The parks are empty, and the bars and the movie theatres are closed. For the first time, the rest of are learning the taste of institutional living. It is our liberties that have been curtailed, our habits that are being judged, our behaviour that must conform now to programs designed by others. All homes are experiencing increased legislation, restricted freedoms, and pressure to act and behave in certain ways. Throughout history, these demands we now face have too-often been the experience of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I hope that I – that we – can bear these conditions with half the grace and humour that these men have for so many years. Now we do so to protect vulnerable people from the coronavirus. In the past, vulnerable people have often been asked to act and behave in certain ways only to protect the status quo.


Back at my own home, I find myself without so many of the social connections that add meaning and fulfillment to my life. I taste the marginalization that is part of the daily experience of so many people. We have so much to learn from one another. I am just now learning what many others have been training for their whole life: that when our work is taken from us, when our hands fall still, and when our distractions fail us, we are left with what matters most. We come face-to-face with ourselves, and those who are closest to us. So let’s be good to one another. Let’s be kind and patient. Let’s have grace for lack of social skills, for poorly chosen words, and for tempers lost. Let’s share the television remote and swear at missing puzzle pieces together. Let’s care for one another and be grateful that this isolation is not forever. It is an act of love for a broken world. And when these quarantines end and we once again find it easy to take our casual gatherings for granted, let’s remember Dwain and others for whom “social distancing” has too often been an unchosen reality of marginalization. Let’s stay home together. And when the time comes, let’s leave our homes together as well.


By Mike Bonikowsky


Mike Bonikowsky lives and works in Dufferin County, Ontario. He is a direct support professional with the local Association for Community Living and spends the rest of his time raising two young children. He has been living and working men and women with developmental disabilities since 2007.

How do you talk about COVID-19 to people with intellectual disabilities?

Coronavirus is changing people’s lives dramatically. People can no longer take part in activities outside the house, meet with friends, go to work or clubs or anything else that involves groups of people. People can no longer visit elderly relatives, and people’s families can no longer visit. Suddenly, the holiday someone you support had been looking forward to is cancelled.

We often think about “bad news” in relation to serious illness and death, but really, it could be anything that makes your future look less bright than you had thought.

How bad news is experienced, is affected by someone’s concept of future, their ability for abstract thinking, and the things that they had looked forward to. People who have difficulty coping with change may experience any kind of changes to their routine (even seemingly minor ones) as “bad news”.

This makes the coronavirus very bad news indeed.

Coronavirus is particularly difficult for people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom are particularly reliant on routines, on familiar activities, on seeing their families and friends. How can you support people to understand what is happening and to cope with the sudden changes in their lives?

Here are five hints and tips.


1. Talk about the Coronavirus!

This is important. The coronavirus is all over the news and everybody is talking about it. Nobody should be excluded from these conversations. How you do this, and how much you explain about what coronavirus is, depends on how the person usually communicates and understands things. There are easy-read resources available that may help you find simple words, and help you explain what it is we all have to do now (regular hand washing, social distancing etc). But for some people, this information may be too complicated (especially for those who don’t understand words or pictures), or too overwhelming or frightening.

You can keep it fairly simple:

Coronavirus is making lots of people sick. We have to stop people catching it from each other. That’s why we are not allowed to go to work/see mum/go on holiday. Or: That’s why we have to wear a mask.

The important thing is to answer any questions openly, honestly, and factually. You can check what the person has understood, by asking them to explain it back to you.

Stick to statements that you know are true. Never pretend that you know something when you don’t. It is okay not to have all the answers – nobody does, especially not about coronavirus! However, if the question is important (as most questions are), see if there is anyone else who could answer it: “Shall we ask the manager/ look it up on the internet?”


2. Share the emotions

You do not need to make things better. Don’t say “Never mind, we can go on holiday next year”. Cheerful reassurance can be very confusing, and may stop the person showing you their true feelings or telling you what is worrying them. It is OK (indeed it can be very helpful) to talk together about how upsetting this is, and how angry it makes you all feel.

The people we support can be very upfront with their emotions. Distress, worry, fear, anger, excitement, and happiness can all surface very quickly, triggered by something seemingly minor. Some people cry easily and readily. It is important to allow it. Remember it is not you who has caused the anger or the tears – it’s the Coronavirus! By allowing the expression of emotions, you are helping people cope with them.


3. What is the “bad news” part of the Coronavirus?

It is helpful to consider how, exactly, the coronavirus impacts on the life of the person you support. What is the worst of it, for this person? Is it not being able to visit mom, or not being able to go to the café, or being supported by someone you don’t know because your regular support workers have all gone off sick? Talk about that.

Even if someone really cannot understand what is happening, they will still experience the impact of coronavirus. For people who understand the world through experience rather than through words, it may be that your support has to be around particular changes of routine. Rather than explain why you now all have to wash your hands more often, you might focus on helping the person grasp a new hand-washing routine (perhaps 20 seconds is as long as their favorite song). Perhaps you can’t explain why they can’t visit mum, but you can help them see mum on Skype or Zoom. Which brings us to…


4. Find ways of coping with the changes

We all have to find new ways of doing things. Your managers are probably working hard to make sure that you can manage the changes in your work. Your task is to help the person you support find new ways of managing their daily life. People on the autistic spectrum, in particular, will find it helpful to have a clear new script.

For example: “We can’t have tea at your mum’s house on Saturday, but instead, we will make a cup of tea in your apartment and she will make a cup of tea in her house. And then we will call her on Skype so we can see her and talk to her.”

Or: “We are going to write down of all the things you do in the week, and if we can’t do them, we’ll write down what you will do instead. And we will pin it up in the kitchen so that if I can’t come in, and a new support worker comes, they know about it.”


5. Find ways of sharing with colleagues

Why not organize a regular video meeting with your colleagues, and talk about the things you find hard? Working as a team is so important.

We just have to find new ways of doing it.

By Irene Tuffrey-Wijne


About Irene:

Irene is a professor in intellectual disability and palliative care and works at St Georges and Kingston University in London. Irene has conducted research into end of life care for people with intellectual disabilities and specifically how to break bad news and how to talk to people about difficult changes in their lives.


More about Irene’s module:

Breaking Bad News: Nobody likes to break bad news. We worry about how to do it, how someone will respond, and how we will cope with their response. It may seem easiest not to break the news, or to get someone else to do it. Many people even try to pretend that the bad news event hasn’t happened. This module will guide and support you in the process of helping someone to understand bad news.

Email to schedule a demo of the Open Future resource and then receive your first month free – no contract of use.

Learn more about all of our modules here.



Is COVID-19 an Opportunity?

As every human service organization on the planet will be in, or is approaching, its own “state of emergency” here are some words to consider.

This is not medical advice. There are plenty sources of advice from Governments for dealing with the health and economic implications of the pandemic. Go there or ask your employer if you need advice.

Instead the six points below seek to connect us to the experience of people with intellectual disabilities in a pandemic.

1. Promote reassurance, not fear or anger.
Many workers will be scared, as will the people we support. Fear is more infectious than COVID 19. Frightened people need reassurance. It’s hard to give to people supported when we can’t dig deep and find the strength to reassure ourselves and our families. So, build the future you want to be part of.

2. Choose inter-dependency, allow and enable people to “give”.
A lifetime of dependency leads to dependency. Perhaps it’s time to think about inter-dependency and work out how people we support can “support” the people who support them. That would be a great outcome from the pandemic. Power relationships finally equalized. All that work we’ve done on “gifts and talents” should support us to work out how.

3. Choose to see strategies, not behaviors.
Frightened people express themselves more emphatically. When routines that people rely on to understand their world begin to disassemble (they surely will as services close and shift from individualized support to basic cover and risk management) some are going to express their fear emphatically, potentially to workers who don’t know them like regular staff or family. Let’s choose to see “confused, scared and frightened” as strategies people use to cope, NOT “behaviors”. Let’s “Normalize the worry” and rewrite people’s stories.

4. Choose honesty.
People who find things difficult to understand need stuff explaining in simple terms. Nothing new there. Adults need to be treated like adults and not cosseted to ease our working life. The rule of thumb is “tell it like it is, simply, and then help people to work things out in a way that makes sense to them”.

5. Choose relationships, they matter.
We’ve talked forever about the importance of continuity in human services without really agreeing what we mean. For some it means an “activity timetable” and for others “everyone saying the same thing”. In unprecedented times continuity fundamentally means “people who know me and relationships I can trust”. If everything changes let’s make “relationships” the bottom line. “Relationships I can trust”. Keep them intact. If you can’t be there in person you can still get to someone by Skype, Facetime or a similar platform. You can still offer connection when self-isolated. You can still support your colleague who doesn’t know someone as well as you do.

6. Build connection.
Human services support some lonely people. Some have no-one in their life who isn’t paid. Brilliant support services have worked hard to build community connections for people many of which, like clubs and groups, will now be suspending activity. Maybe it’s time to reach beyond the activity to secure individual “connections”. It’s what we always meant to do, but the current crisis allows us to be blunt and “ask” for help and connection. Get brave. Ask people in your community to help!


Human services will go one of two ways. Some will hold on to the humanity of our work, preserve the intimacy of relationships and help workers and the people supported to hold on to those. Others will suffocate under changing rules, guidance and procedures. There’s more than one kind of “health” for us to maintain. Rules place emphasis on physical health, for good reasons, but mental health matters too. Choose physical and mental well being.

With the right approach it’s just possible that a pandemic could release people from old stories. Extraordinary circumstances offer extraordinary opportunities. Let’s be brave, focus on that possibility and use crisis as leverage we have always needed to build a future that we didn’t manage to out of the ordinary.


By Judith North


Judith has worked in social care since 1986 and now runs Orenda. Orenda provides training and consultancy focused on improving the lives of people who use and work in human services organizations. Judith is featured in and helped to write ‘Autism’ and ‘Autism and Sensory Processing’ for Open Future. More about these modules:


Autism: This module combines a straightforward introduction to autism with a broad range of practical strategies and approaches. The short films within the module balance the personal perspectives of people who have autism with the opinions and experiences of a number of leading professionals.

Autism and Sensory Processing: This module expands on the learning provided in our module “Autism.” Please complete that module first. Understanding and gaining insight into your processing system takes time and effort. Understanding someone else’s requires really careful observation, imagination, and empathy. In this module you will learn how your processing works and in turn we will teach you how to better understand and assist the processing realities of the people you support.

Email to schedule a demo of the Open Future resource and then receive your first month free – no contract of use.

Learn more about all of our modules here.


Meet Victor

People with intellectual disabilities are three to four times more likely to experience mental illness. Victor wants to end the stigma once and for all:



Our new module ‘Mental Health’ captures the experiences and perspectives of leading thinkers to offer a comprehensive insight into mental health.




– understand mental health.

– support a mental health difficulty.

– help people cope with difficult situations and emotions.

– protect and promote mental health.



– with groups of staff.

– on your phone.

– with the people you support.


Schedule a demo and then you can get your first month free! No contract. Email for more information:


Learn more about all of our modules here.


Do you have permission to touch disabled people?

Do your support staff seek permission before they touch people? Our members use us to create better support relationships. Watch this video:



Our new module ‘Personal and Intimate Care’ offers several very practical strategies that can be used to seek permission even when people do not use words to speak.


Parallel talk is one such example. Parallel talk simply means describing your actions before and as you take them. It can be as simple as: “I’m just going to reach over for the shaving foam…okay I’m ready to start by helping you wet your face…now are you ready for me to carry on?” The key is ensuring the person is always aware of what is happening well before it happens. A key word, phrase or behavior can indicate someone’s choice. Many people give permission without speech – it could be their facial expression, their posture or simply their gaze. So you wait for their response, then move on.


In the busyness of our work we can forget about humanity really fast. Parallel talk slows us down and reestablishes that connection. Plus when combined with a routine that all staff follow, it can encourage learning. Every time you describe what you do, the individual gets to hear and experience the routine. Without knowing it, learning starts happening and at that point even people with profound disabilities will start to participate in the routine.


Preserving dignity and promoting control are two of the most important tasks a support staff person undertakes. Why? Because we expect it ourselves.



– with groups of staff.

– on your phone.

– with the people you support.


Schedule a demo and then you can get your first month free! No contract. Email for more information:


Learn more about all of our modules here.


Happy holidays?

For most of us, the busy holiday season means time to entertain, party and enjoy some down time with friends and family. But for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be an intensely lonely time of the year when the social isolation they already experience only gets worse. Imagine if the only people you saw over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year were those paid to support you?


Friendships – all year round, not just in the holidays – as Open Future contributor and self-advocate Steve Dymond says, are crucial:


“It’s important for me to have friends because without friends you haven’t got anyone else you can rely on. It’s a good feeling to know you have some people there if you need them. It’s all about sharing experiences and sharing different things between each other.”


Open Future Learning strongly believes that the support staff person’s most important role is to help people to develop and maintain friendships. Community and friendships help us to live longer and happier lives, yet a recent review of research showed that 50% of people we support experience chronic loneliness.


As Open Future contributor David Pitonyak says in this film: “Nothing is more important than building meaningful and enduring relationships.”

Helping people to connect with others in their communities can seem like a daunting task. Open Future contributor Margaret Cushen says a community mapping exercise is one way to start building connections, just by writing down or photographing local places and activities that are – or could be – important to someone.


Leading thinker Beth Mount adds:


“We have to know people’s communities inside and out. We go into community as an explorer. What are the assets of this place, what do people need done here, what do people need help with, where are the opportunities to contribute? Talk to people, go explore! Find out what is here in this place and how that might be a world that someone with a disability can bring and offer something.”

To build and connect someone to new friendships most successfully means being the kind of support worker who recognizes they are not at the center of things. Instead, their role is clearly to help people take control of their own lives as active members of the community. “As a support worker,” says Open Future contributor Jack Pearpoint “it’s really important for you not to create dependency…a key role is to expand the network of support, build the circle of friends, and engage people in the community.”


It is worth bearing in mind the basic tasks of good support as developed by John O’Brien which are as pertinent now as they were almost 40 years ago when they were first developed. To help people become full citizens, John said, the first step is to discover their gifts and interests, create opportunities in community and help people share those gifts.


One story David Pitonyak tells is about once working with a young man called Roland. Roland was very aggressive, but he and David made a connection. Returning to his shift one evening in Vermont, he noticed Roland had left the home without anyone noticing. David eventually found Roland tramping through the snow walking towards his house. David recalls:


“I realized that an essential place of Roland’s suffering is that he didn’t have anybody in his life. We knew he experienced autism; we knew he was aggressive. But nobody had ever noticed that he had no people that he wanted to be with.”


David shares that he used his close and trusted relationship with Roland to help Roland to explore and experience things he had never tried before. David explains that it wasn’t long before Roland was making expansive lists detailing all the things he wanted to do and all the people he wanted to see in a day.


As David says, relationships are critical to our wellbeing. Having something to look forward to helps us cope better with our daily lives. “A lot of people who experience disability don’t have that much to look forward to…I really believe we should help people find more joy in their lives”.


And what better time to find that joy than this holiday season.


Learn more about the module ‘Building Friendships and Community’ and all of the Open Future Learning modules here.


Please email to schedule a free demo and trial.


Do people with disabilities have a right to choice?

Did you know?

– Our learning modules be used to train groups of staff.

– When you train groups of staff you only use one seat on your membership.

– You can complete our modules on any device.

– You can make your own modules.

– When staff access a custom module they do not use a seat.


Have a free demo and trial by emailing


Learn more about all of our modules here.



I don’t see your disability!


To recognize that every person is unique and to respect each person’s differences define diversity and the mission of our new module. Watch this:



Co written by Charles Archer, Karyn Harvey, Roger Ramsukh and Dave Hingsburger this module features four very different perspectives on diversity. These perspectives will in turn explore how you can allow people to define who they are, how they lead their lives, what they need to be safe, and how your support can lead them to reach their potential in all that they do.


Learn more about all of our modules here.



Supported Decision-Making

The people you support can and should make decisions. This module will help you to learn how.

The relationship you have with the people you support is an intimate one. Over time you develop trust, respect and understanding. This module will help you to understand how you can support people to claim their voice so they can express their opinions, and make their choices.

This module includes video presentations from Michael Kendrick, Malia Carlotto, and Bob Fleischner.

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

– Understand the different ways that people make decisions.

– Describe supported decision-making and how it works.

– Explain the support people will need to make their own decisions.

Module Length: 95 Minutes

Learn more about all of our modules here.


About Our Pricing

This video explains our pricing and how we work with our members to provide the very best value for money:

Learn more about our pricing here and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us via


Building Valued Social Roles

Narrated by Beth Mount, this excerpt from our module “Valued Social Roles” explains the importance of helping people to build wide, deep and sustaining relationships.

This module is written by Marc Tumeinski from the Social Role Valorization (SRV) Implementation Project. Marc uses his intimate knowledge of SRV to help learners to reflect on both the barriers to the “Good Things of Life” and how valued social roles may help the people we support to have greater access to these good things.



This module includes video presentations from Marc Tumeinski, Gary Kent, Beth Mount, Steve Dymond, Jack Pearpoint, and Simon Duffy.


On successful completion of this module, learners will be able to:


    • Describe related elements of social devaluation: negative perception followed by negative treatment.
    • Describe a shared practice of human service involving vision, attitudes, and skills and actions.
    • Understand and articulate a shared practice for supporting the people you support.
    • Describe the “good things in life” and valued social roles with examples, and also explain how they are linked.
    • Describe devalued roles as wounds, how these occur, and what the consequences of these wounds may be.
    • Understand and articulate skills and attitudes which support our vision including: Stepping into the shoes of the people you support, serving one person at a time, and holding high, positive expectations for the people you support and for ourselves.
    • Describe how rejection, distancing, and communication can be potential barriers to applying this vision.
    • Explain how you can be a better listener.
    • Explain how person-centered planning can help to raise possibilities and expectations.
    • Understand the importance of, and how to enhance image and competency, and how to avoid the associated challenges that may include life wasting, lost opportunities, and society’s own perception.


Everyone Can Learn


Heather Simmons shares an insightful story illuminating the idea that people of all abilities have the ability to learn giving the opportunity. Although Heather was originally from Scotland she now lives in Perth Australia where, with her husband Richard Hill, … Continue reading



Repeated exposure to abuse, social exclusion and rejection has had a devastating affect on the people we support. Trauma affects the way our brains develop and function and it leaves a lasting impression. Welcome to our new module titled ‘Trauma-Informed Care’ … Continue reading



It might seem odd that a professional would ignore someone who is drowning. But as David Pitonyak explains, this happens all the time in our field. People who have disabilities and difficult behavior are often overboard and terrified, and we … Continue reading

Relationships, Dating, and Intimacy by Dave Hingsburger


Relationship, Dating and Intimacy expert, Dave Hingsburger, shares with you his knowledge about the importance of assisting the people we support with developing positive relationships, experiencing dating and intimacy in order to have a fulfilled life. This side-by-side module allows the people who receive support and the people who provide support to learn together. Continue reading

Difficult Families?


What can we learn from the families we support and work with? This video is a celebration of families and what we can learn from them. The moving and thoughtful words of the families who made this video will help … Continue reading