Ben Satterfield is David Hirsch’s guest on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast. Ben and his wife Pat are parents to five children, including Kathleen and Blake who both have Down Syndrome. Ben has spent his much of his life developing computer solutions that help those with disabilities communicate with their families and loved ones. We’ll hear Ben’s fascinating life story on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email Ben direct at: Ben@gatfl.org
SFN Dad to Dad 101 Dr. Ben Satterfield – Has Two Kids with Down Syndrome & Spent a Career Helping Special Needs Kids Communicate
Ben Satterfield: I know we don’t use the R word very much anymore, or we shouldn’t, but the, in the French, that word or the expression, all retard means to be late or to come to the party a little bit after it started. And, and what I think that really is saying is that we get there, right. Blake. Kathleen learn things, but sometimes it’s not at the same pace and speed.
Tom Couch: That’s Ben Satterfield, David Hirsch’s guest on this Special Fathers Network, dad to dad podcast, Ben and his wife, Pat are parents to five children, including two Kathleen and Blake. Who have down syndrome. Ben has spent much of his life developing computer solutions that help those with disabilities, communicate with their families and loved ones.
We’ll hear Ben’s fascinating life story on this Special Fathers Network dad to dad. Podcast. Here’s our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for dads to support dads to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in to this conversation between Ben Satterfield and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Ben Satterfield of Lawrenceville, Georgia. Who’s a father of five and research associate with Georgia tools for life at Georgia tech. Then thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the special fathers network.
Ben Satterfield: My pleasure.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Pat had been married for 47 years and of the proud parents of five.
Kathleen 49, Matthew 44, Randy, 42, Nathan 31 and Blake 29. Both Kathleen and Blake have down syndrome, but let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Ben Satterfield: Well, I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. My parents, our family had, uh, four kids in it. Uh, like ours does. We had two boys and two girls.
The boys came first and the girls came next. We, um, I’m the oldest of the four. I don’t know that there’s anything remarkable about growing up. We did the usual things, the sports and the building models and playing in the neighborhood. It was a very pleasant childhood. I don’t think there was any, anything really remarkable about it though.
David Hirsch: Okay. So I’m out of curiosity. What did your dad do?
Ben Satterfield: My father was an insurance agent. He did a lot of work for a lot of different people. There were some people who were part of his agency who sold big accounts and didn’t have to go chasing after, you know, when the STEM for renewals to try to come up with a better plan for their customers.
But. I do remember my father going out of his way to always try to work up the best deal for his customers. And that kept him busy. But I think one of the things that I observed was that he served a lot of different people and I thought it was remarkable how much he had respect for all different kinds of folks in a time when, uh, in the South, you know, you, you probably, uh, Gravitated toward people you were familiar with and felt at home with.
He seemed to be at home with everybody and, um, I always found that a model and a hope, hope we’ve grafted some of that in and our lives.
David Hirsch: You didn’t use the word inclusion, but that that’s what comes to mind.
Ben Satterfield: Oh, that’s a good word.
David Hirsch: Yeah. So is your dad still alive?
Ben Satterfield: No, he passed away, uh, 2002, 2003, somewhere in there.
He was 78. He had a good, long life. He wanted to make it to the turn of the century and he did.
David Hirsch: So, uh, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Ben Satterfield: It was good. He was a, a, a thoughtful and. I want to say critical in a positive way. Uh, he would always give the upside and the downside of the things that I would go to him with.
As I got older, I really valued that about him because there would be things that I knew in my youthful exuberance. I didn’t see everything that Mike would be coming, but he was good at pointing out. Well, you know, you ought to look for this or make sure you watch it for that was always Sage advice. And he was always a big encourager of all of our sports was big as we’ll talk about in a minute in our lives.
And he was right there rooting and cheering us on.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Are there any important takeaways from your relationship, a lesson learned or something that you know, you think about when you think about your dad?
Ben Satterfield: Yeah. I think the most important thing that he left me with was the sense that. I could talk to Jesus as if he were sitting right there in front of me, that concept of the presence or practicing the presence of God was I think one of the things that really played a role later in my life, it made.
Working through some of the issues and some of the, the callings that, uh, we’ll talk about again, it made that a lot smoother. Just having a sense that conversation with God prayer is, uh, something very natural and, uh, I don’t know how other to describe it, except that, uh, I did catch that from him. And, uh, I think it served me well as time went on.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Um, I’m sort of curious to know, uh, what role, if any of your, grandfather’s played first on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side?
Ben Satterfield: Well, on my dad’s side, my grandfather. Uh, passed away a couple of years before I was born, he had been a Commonwealth attorney and a us Congressman from the Richmond area.
So he had a legacy and everywhere I went, people were always telling me, I knew your grandfather and they always had some. Crazy story about how socially life of the party granddaddy is. We used to call him was, but he was also a man that a lot of folks had a lot of respect for. And so once again, I think the character, I mean, he was not only a character, but he had a lot of solid, uh, Ethical character that I think served him well, as in both in Congress and, uh, as the Commonwealth’s attorney that I couldn’t, I couldn’t help, but pick up on, as we ran into folks, uh, my grandfather on my mother’s side, I did get to know it was a house painter.
Very simple, straightforward, hardworking man got up early, stayed until the job was finished kind of guy. And he worked with a lot of different people as well and painted houses for a lot of them. And, uh, yeah, I think he reinforced that sense of inclusion if you want to call it that, but, uh, everybody’s important in their own, right.
So I kinda got that from both sides.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s interesting. Um, both your grandfathers had an influence on you, the one that you knew, right. That you’d met and then the one that was maybe a bigger than life, right. He had this presence even after it. Yeah.
Ben Satterfield: Yeah. Well, that’s true. That’s true.
David Hirsch: Is there any other father figures growing up, any other men that played an important role, either as a youth or as a young adult
Ben Satterfield: yourself?
Well, there was one youth group leader, uh, at our church and dr. Richard Shannon. Uh, he was, I’m a professor at the university of Richmond, so he kind of became a model for me in terms of solid intellectual ability, balanced with a well-roundedness just. Working alongside him for a couple of years. And youth group was very powerful.
I also, um, had a soccer coach in high school who coached me for three years, Russell . He taught me a lot about coaching and about getting along with, uh, all kinds of different kids models of the world and have different. Faith backgrounds, uh, cultural backgrounds. And, uh, a lot of those guys gravitate it.
People with different backgrounds gravitate it to the soccer team. And I think that was, uh, Coach flame, you did a really good job of combing all those different gifts and talents, shall we say together? And, uh, been a pretty good record too.
David Hirsch: Well, from what I remember in a prior conversation, uh, you had a state championship or two, uh, while you were there.
And, um, was that where you got some job experience as well?
Ben Satterfield: Well, uh, it, it definitely was, um, an encouragement to do that when I, um, Finished college and went to, went into teaching. I did, uh, when I finished college, I got my teaching certificate and went to teach in a high school on the North side of Richmond, uh, called, uh, Lee Davis high school, uh, in Hanover County.
And I taught us history. Uh, 20th century history for seven years, and I got to coach several sports, but the one that really stuck was soccer. We started the program there and in five years we built it up to a place where it was a regular, uh, winter. And, um, the last year I was there, we won the state tournament.
And so that had a really positive effect in a lot of different ways. One of which was to catapult me on, into college coaching, but, uh, That was a great group of guys. In fact, all the kids that I had in high school were great. And there were a lot of things that I remember pulling out of my memory bank that coach had.
Um, I remember, uh, issues or things that he had, uh, Ways that he had dealt with different situations that when they popped up on the radar, uh, or when they occurred in my, on my teams, I have that experience to draw from.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, it sounds like you had some great role models between Richard toony and Russell
Thanks for sharing. So from what I remember, um, you have three different degrees. You have a history degree from William and Mary, which you made reference to you have a master’s in education from university of Virginia. And then, um, you also years later decades later also got your PhD from Nova Southeastern university.
That’s an assistant of technology and distance education master’s degree. I’m wondering, where was your career pointing? What were you thinking? At that point in time,
Ben Satterfield: what was I thinking? Yeah, I had, I had, I’m kind of focused on teaching as a career and that, that had been sort of a calling. I felt like that was what I was supposed to do from an early age.
So the master’s degree was in curriculum and instruction and I kind of felt like, um, there were supervised as a repositions within the district, but might be a attractive, but, um, as time went on, uh, I, I. I guess my family outgrew, uh, the ability to supplement my income through coaching and or supervisory position.
So door opened to coach at the college level. And so we, we. Stepped right in, took that on. I thought that would be an exciting direction to go. And it turned out to be all of that and more, but I felt like a, I almost had to do it from my family teaching. Hasn’t always provided the highest paying opportunities.
I love doing it. I loved working with the kids. I really did love teaching. And to this day, I feel like that’s a gift. I try to keep it. Doing what tree keep it in. Good practice on. So I valued that time at the Lee Davis high school, but, uh, it was time to move on.
David Hirsch: Okay. So, um, from a career standpoint, you started out teaching, you moved to the college level.
And then, um, I remember you telling me that you started a company called dunemas.
Ben Satterfield: Yeah, I was
David Hirsch: wondering what the backstory on that is. And then, uh, What did that company do as
Ben Satterfield: well? Okay. Well, the backstory includes the fact that we were really doing great things at the college of Virginia Commonwealth university VCU in Richmond in soccer.
We had. One, just a truckload of games. We had moved into national prominence. I had an all American on the team, the top three scores in the state of Virginia at the time. And on the other, your side of my job, I was working in sports administration, sports promotion to be specific, selling basketball, tickets and advertising and that sort of thing, and things were going great guns over there.
So I used to tell folks I had all those great players and great. Situations in my soccer team. And then from the sports administration, I had a. Expense account that I could use to take businessmen, to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and talk about sports. I had a new car from the sponsor sponsoring car dealership, every 5,000 miles, whether I needed it or not.
And I had to, now this was job requirement. I had to go home and watch every basketball game on ESPN that I could. So when I would know what I could talk about with, uh, The guys always taken to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I mean, VCU was a new kid on the block and everybody else went to other schools. So I had to find out what those other schools were doing.
David Hirsch: you got paid to do that.
Ben Satterfield: I got paid to do that. This was great. And you know, I really felt like this was a blessing from the Lord as well. I was, I mean, not only were things going well, business wise, but. I mean from sports administration, but they also were going great in soccer. We were making a difference, I think, in some of the kids’ lives.
So I really felt like this was really good. And so, uh, I don’t know what possessed me to do this one day, but I was praying and I said, Lord, I still feel like I don’t really know what the life of faith, if it’s all
David Hirsch: about.
Ben Satterfield: Oh boy. Um, I, I, so I, I prayed that prayer and I sort of had this sense of foreboding, like.
Ben, you know, sometimes you get what you actually pray for the all American flunked out of school. Uh, I had injuries to two of my stop scoring players. I had to kick another one off the team or, you know, uh, behavior in violation of, uh, team rules. We went from from 13 and four the year before to four and 13, I wound up.
On the administrative side, finding myself stuck in situations where I was selling. I was trying to do things for the sake of the administration and the school and the athletics program that I really am. I said, when I stopped and looked at it, I. You know, the NCA handbook is very complicated and I began to wonder, am I doing something it’s like, I shouldn’t be here.
You know, I was trying to help, but, uh, was kind of moving in a direction that I, I felt like was vulnerable. So I just said, Lord, you got to get me out of here. I don’t know. I don’t know how to get it out myself. I don’t know what to do. And it was like the next week I got a call from my college roommate at William and Mary Ben.
I got this new company I’m starting down in Atlanta. Yeah. You got to come down here and take a look at it. And, uh, I think I have a job for you here, so. About a month later, uh, I went and looked at it and boy, that was a great job. So I, I started working for a company called chalkboard in Atlanta, Georgia.
I didn’t realize it, but they were already going out of business by the time I had moved my family down there. But in that process, um, it was like, God used that job to help me learn about, uh, all the different parts of a small business. So I’ve learned by the time this company went out of business.
Enough to run my own company. And it was amazing when it all came down, that that’s what had happened. But along the way, I was working in customer service one day and some families were calling in saying, you know, you guys have got this really cool product. It’s called a power pad and you can touch it.
And stuff happens on the computer screen. And, you know, you can draw it with your finger and graphics appear, or you can play music with your fingers, but I have a kid who’s. Got a disability and he can’t talk or he needs some way to express it. Are you ever going to develop any software for us? And I thought, Hmm.
That’s a good question. So I went to my old college roommate and I said, Bob, we’re going to do anything like that, this, and he said, no, Ben, and this is a great quote. He says, I think if we did that, that’s too small a market. If we ever did that, we’d go out of business. Well, they didn’t go out of business about six months later, but I, I, I went back to him.
I, I thought. Oh, Lord, this is just not right. I mean, this is something that could really, uh, help these folks. And so I was saying, somebody’s gotta do it, do something. And it was, you know, God seldom speaks to me in an audible voice, but this was about as close to it as you could. Yeah. It was like, well, Ben, why don’t you do something?
And I thought, yeah, you know, that would be good. So I went to, I went to my old roommate and I said, Bob, are you going to, if you’re not going to do anything, how about if I start a company and we create some software to go with this product that everybody likes. And he said, that’s a great idea, Ben. Yeah, we’ll get you started and help you get set up.
And it was, it really worked out well from the standpoint of getting started with a company called dunemas, uh, that company was focused on people with disabilities, trying to create assistive technology that would help them. Of course, in those days. 1984. We didn’t know that there was such a term as assistive technology.
Uh, we were working with, uh, the Apple two plus and the Apple two E Steve jobs that just kind of put up this personal computer idea. Uh, so it was really in the early days of this. Technology thing, but we had this vision that technology could have an explosive creative impact on the lives of people with disabilities, if it was harnessed for their, you know, to work for them.
And that’s the feedback we were getting from the people we were talking to. So anyway, we named it, dunemas, that’s a Greek word for dynamite dynamic or the root word for that. So it just talks about a creative explosive power. And so we thought. That’s kind of what we’re about here with this company.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s an amazing story.
Thanks for sharing. And I think that you had mentioned that, um, somehow some way you were able to take on a, like a million dollars worth of inventory, but at no cost to yourself,
Ben Satterfield: Oh, man, what a story that is we, as I said, this was, there was this product called the power pad that chalkboard had created.
And when they went away, we fell air to it. To inventories that existed were in just two or three places. Most of them were controlled by the courts and that while the. The company was languishing in the courts, people were calling saying, can we get one? And so the lawyer worked with us to allow us to sell it.
We found another location where there was a big pile of these. And, uh, yeah, the person who was, I was dealing with kept saying, you know, Ben, this pile of equipment is just taking up space in our warehouse. Pretty soon. We’re going to have to get rid of it. So, um, We will, we’ll probably sell it to a closeout artist.
Somebody who will just sell it for pennies on the dollar, and you’ll just have to work with him on getting the product well, that would happen every month or two there’s guy would call and say, yeah, I think we’re really going to get rid of it. And this company we had started had this product as the core.
The centerpiece to what we were doing. We were building software for different groups of people with disabilities around it, but it was this touch sensitive digitizer pad type of thing. It worked with a couple of different computers after a while we built interfaces for it. So I, I called the guy who we’ve been working with from intelligence systems up on the phone.
And I said, look, it’s time. I think that we, um, we do something so we can take that inventory off your hands. And what I was expecting was that I would have to do some fancy financing thing where I would, uh, You know, work out some agreement where I would pay him over time for these things, but he surprised me and he said, Ben, I was just getting ready to call you.
I think you’re right. I think it’s time. When can you come and get it? What’s like, uh, what don’t you want to work out some terms? He says, no, we’ll listen. We’ve got to cut our costs. And so we’re going to close this warehouse down. I want you to come and take all this stuff and get it out of there. How fast can you do it?
So we, we got right on it.
David Hirsch: So out of curiosity, how did you and Pat meet?
Ben Satterfield: Well, Pat and I met in church of all things. We went to two different churches during our high school days. And in the summer between our freshman and sophomore year in college, we had come home from college, checked in at our church and we, both of us were present and it had a, there’s a person, the Presbyterian church called the director of Christian education.
And her DCE as they are known. And my DCE both had the same conversation with us saying, look, I’ve got this meeting downtown at another church. We’re supposed to send somebody from our church. Would you go for us? And both of us were like, huh? Yeah, we don’t have anything better to do that day. So actually it was a weekend and it was kind of an encounter group.
Uh, it was not. Uh, touchy, feely, but it was more focused on spiritual development and, uh, getting in touch with, um, and, and being able to articulate what your spiritual concerns and perceptions are. And in the course of it, Pat and I just kinda got paired off for some exercises. And before, before the weekend was over, we had pretty well.
Gotten to know each other really deeply, but we didn’t know things like how many brothers and sisters do you have and what part of town do you live on? What high school did you go to? You know, but we, we had this deep insight into each other’s lives, so it was just the natural thing for us to connect outside of that experience.
And, uh, we started dating for the rest of that summer. And that we’ve been a thing, I guess you’d say ever since.
David Hirsch: Well, uh, that’s amazing. Thank you for sharing. So, uh, You met through church, you dated for awhile and then bam, you get married and it’s 47 years later. It’s like a where all the time
Ben Satterfield: go. Yeah.
Yeah. Uh, it seems like just yesterday, at times, but you know, we’ve been through a lot, uh, having a child with a disability. Is statistically not a plus for many, um, marriages, uh, getting a doctorate is another one being in a business to small business, especially together. There’s a lot that the patent I have gone through.
Yeah. And I think a bear, the scars for having done so, but, uh, I think what’s happened for us, uh, particularly coming from where we come from. I think it’s served to draw us closer together. I think we really sense the authenticity of each other’s faith. And I think it also helps hold each other accountable.
Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, but it’s also very necessary. It turns out to be a good thing.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Thanks again for sharing. Um, I’m going to switch gears. I’d like to talk about special needs first on a personal basis, and then on, um, if you will, beyond you have an interesting situation. Um, from what I remember, you had two children and then Kathleen came into your lives and I’m wondering if you can recount.
How that all
Ben Satterfield: transpired. Yeah, this is so cool. Um, we had been in business doing this assistive technology for people with disabilities for a couple of years, and we were writing new software and we were doing some field testing in the local school district and my wife and the older two boys would go and, uh, help the.
Special needs classes that were being taught in this one school apply and use the software. And we saw some really neat things. I mean, there were some, some kids who had been sort of, um, I guess, kind of labeled, uh, and, and it was assumed that there wasn’t, you know, a lot of intellectual activity going on.
And once they got a tool in front of them where they could express themselves and communicate, it was like, Oh, Wait, we got to rewrite this IEP a lot more happening here. So it was, it was neat. We were welcomed in by the schools. And one of the, one of the kids that we worked with her name was Kathleen.
She had that well syndrome. She was about 16, 17 at the time. And her home placement at that time fell through and. In those days, if your home placement fell through, you didn’t have a place in the community to live. You went back to the institution and we had one in North Atlanta called Brooke run. I was pretty good by all reports, but still it was an institution.
And you weren’t. Yeah in the community. So, uh, so we came home that night, realizing that Kathleen was maybe not going to be, yeah. Is there much longer way that we prayed about it and thought about it and talked about it and said, okay, well, let’s, let’s ask Kathleen if she’d like to come and live with us.
And of course we started this business and I felt like, God kind of said, okay, if you’ll do this, I’ll, I’ll be in it with you. But, uh, we never had any experience with people with disabilities. Uh, apart from the little bit that we started, it’s a gain in the course of our business. But when Kathleen came to live with us, we learned a lot quickly and she, you know, she was nonverbal, uh, but she did some sign, mostly.
Uh, we used to call them KK signs because they were her own creation. They were shorthand for the real ESL. But she taught us a lot, to be honest, I just don’t think her, um, there was a lot expected of her. And so they listed her as a very low functioning individual, but a boy when she got home that she functioned on a high level, uh, where she taught us things that, uh, were instrumental in terms of understanding how to navigate life with people with disabilities.
And so anyway, she lived with us for. Five and a half, six years we started, uh, our family back up again. I was still Pat and I saved my marriage, but after the two boys, we took some time off and then decided that was fine. Let’s do this again then. So we had two more boys, the first one, Nathan. Came along in 1989.
And then about the time Kathleen was getting situated in her group home, and she had gotten a job in a sheltered workshop, which was the way we did things. Back then we found out that we were pregnant with boy number four, and that was Blake. And it wasn’t until he was born, we realized that he was going to be a child with down syndrome.
And so he was a big surprise, but. I felt like there was a sense that, okay, we’ve been prepared for this. This is not anything. All that new or different, it will be a different kid and it’ll look a little different because he’ll be, uh, doing things on his own, uh, his own timetable. But, uh, Kathleen definitely prepared us in a lot of ways.
One way in particular is the Teflon side. And so that was how we communicated with her. We use that sign to be able to talk to her, actually to yell at our typical sip. Typical children when they were getting into stuff they shouldn’t, we would say stop that now, you know, signing, you know, a hand across the open Palm or a no more, you know, where we, you say the, the no sign and then put your hands together for more.
So we could yell at our kids across the room at gatherings and that sort of thing, but we didn’t realize how instrumental sign was going to be with Blake. Blake spent the first year in the, in the hospital. Basically he had a heart issue. It was in there about six or seven times, and I had several surgeries, but at the end of the year, he came out and it hasn’t had to go back for any more surgeries since, but we started signing with him right out of the shoot.
And didn’t realize that most of the speech pathologist at that time would have said. Oh, you shouldn’t do that because you’ll make him dependent upon you’re the sign and he won’t develop natural speech. Well, what actually happened was he did develop natural speech and we can’t shut him up. Now he’s into drama and all kinds of other things, but, uh, the signing helped get over a period that I think.
From my experience. There’s a lot of kids with Down’s who go through this where they’re frustrated because they can’t make themselves understood. They have things that they want to say and they can’t get it out. Or the people around them canceling to understand it. Blake always had that sign, uh, to fall back on and.
Well, he, he made him himself. He made his intentions and his will known were using sign when he couldn’t do the speech. And we never really had a period of frustration. I think he gets more frustrated now that I’m losing my hearing and he can’t make himself understood, but he hasn’t picked sign back up yet.
But in the early years it was a very smooth transition to his own natural speech.
David Hirsch: No, I love that story. And it sounds like Kathleen was the foreshadowing. Your experience with Kathleen for the brief period of time, the five or six years that she lived with you was the foreshadowing for, you know, what to do with a son, Blake who was born with down syndrome.
And, um, it’s just a remarkable story. And I’m wondering if there was some advice you got early on, uh, around the time that Blake was born, you’d mentioned he was in the hospital. On and off for the better part of a year. Was there any important advice that you can remember getting that helped you sort of navigate the fulltime world of down syndrome?
Ben Satterfield: Yeah. Um, that’s an excellent question because I think that’s a big moment for any parents who are naturally. You know, naturally encounter disability. There were a lot of people who came up to us and said, well, you got this, you know, you’ve had Kathleen and it wasn’t quite that simple, but same token. Uh, there were things that people pointed out over and over again that we knew, and we knew we knew, but we’ve forgotten.
But I think one of the best pieces of advice was from a friend who at our church, who said, you really need to let Blake. Try what he can try to do. Don’t try to limit him by your preconceived notions of what he’s going to be capable of doing. And don’t let what your experience with Kathleen was be a limitation on him, see what he can do and try to turn him loose or give him the freedom to try stuff and let him find his own level.
And, uh, so I, I think that’s kind of what. What happened? We try to give him every opportunity to develop his articulation skills. He’s been working with speech pathologists from the age, as soon as he got out of the hospital until he was 22. You know, we put him in a public school when that didn’t work. We put him in a private school.
When that didn’t work, we put him in homeschool, but we always were trying to see Blake. What, what else can you do here? You know, what, what more would you like to try to do. One of the things he wanted to do was to be an actor and to get involved in theater. And, uh, you know, he had several people shaking their heads when he made that suggestion, but, uh, it was a great thing for him.
One of his challenges with, uh, articulation was, uh, projecting and the acting roles that he got actually, uh, helped him work on. On that, uh, he’s been in a number of different community theater plays. And when he finished, uh, public high school and was actually part of the drama club there. I think he got the general award for the year as best supporting after.
David Hirsch: Oh, well,
Ben Satterfield: yeah, he was in a couple of different roles and, uh, always was, uh, you know, an encourager, but, uh, he was, he was one of the city fathers in the wizard of Oz at the Jewish community theater, the bimah, uh, theater in Atlanta. He’s been part of a troupe called acting up. Theater and he’s had several parts there.
One of the most recent ones was in, uh, the importance of being earnest. Uh, he was, uh, the Butler. He’s had several speaking parts and learned to project, and I think he’s enjoyed that thoroughly.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So thank you for sharing. So he’s 29 now, does he still live with you and Pat, or does he live independently?
What, what is he actually doing?
Ben Satterfield: Yeah. So this is a really good question because he’s, he’s in between those two, he’s living with us, but he wants to be independent. Now I should tell you that he spent a year and a half. At college, he went to Georgia Southern university and that’s another one of those situations that it’s a God thing.
He had applied to some other inclusion programs around the state of Georgia. We have like six or seven and he, he did not get into any of the others. And so Pat and I, you know, we, we didn’t see college coming, you know, for Blake, so we didn’t have a college fund. So this was all going to be, uh, okay. Like, we’ll do it best we can.
So, uh, we, we happened to be doing some consulting at Georgia Southern down in Statesboro, Georgia, which is on the way to the, to the beach near Savannah and, uh, While we were there, Blake connects with the lady who’s in charge of the, uh, inclusion program. She takes him on a little golf cart tour while mom and dad are working.
And, uh, by the time she comes back, she says, you know what, this kid, this kid could come to our school and we have an opening. So we didn’t see that coming. So Blake got this opportunity to go for three semesters to Georgia Southern of course the last semester got cut a little short with all this 19 business and he was having some, uh, health issues.
So we, we had brought him home a little earlier anyway, but he got three semesters out in, uh, in Statesboro and, uh, you know, Pat and I were like, okay, like you tried, you didn’t get accepted at these other schools. So. That just may be the end of it. Blake was saying, no, I believe I’m going to do this. And somehow, somewhere I’m going to, I’m going to get a chance to go to college.
And there it was. So once again, We’ve learned not to underestimate what this kid can do. So getting back to your question, we are in the process of building an apartment in the basement for Blake, and he is directing the, uh, he’s the, the construction manager of the project. And he’s been supervising housing, the building of the wall that we’re building into a sort of separate his room is going.
So we’re definitely in the middle of that. Independence move to independence piece.
David Hirsch: Awesome. I’m thrilled to hear that. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but I want to make sure that we’re looking at this objectively. I’m wondering, in addition to the health issues that he had as a newborn, and maybe some of the health issues that you were just making reference to, I’m wondering what some of the bigger challenges have been for you and Pat?
Ben Satterfield: Well, that’s an excellent question. We’ve been involved in our business, in the schools for most of our professional lives. And so we had relationships with the schools that Blake was going to. Go to, and so we felt kind of constrained in some ways, but we observe not just for Blake, but for all the kids with disabilities, it’s really a challenge to find the right combination of instruction and support for kids with disabilities.
I think one of the things that happens is that we, we do a disservice by assuming that they can’t learn certain things. I know we don’t use the R word very much anymore, or we shouldn’t, but the, in the French, that word or the expression, all retard means to be late or to come to the party a little bit after it started.
And what I think that really is saying is that right, Blake, Kathleen. But sometimes it’s not at the same pace and speed. And sometimes what they need is a little. We call it scaffolding. There’ll be doing okay with aspects of learning, but there’ll be one place where it’s, there’s something that gets stuck on and they need some help over that point.
And if we can build a little scaffold at that point, right. Kind of support it. And sometimes it’s a piece of assistive technology. Sometimes it’s a strategy that we use. Sometimes it’s a. Backing up and rephrasing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing a task analysis of what we’re asking the kid to do, and then taking it in just little chunks, little steps, but we found that, um, one of the hardest things to find is the right landing spot in a school system where you get all of those things.
There’s some good hearted people who are teaching and working with our kids. Many of them are trying to be as creative as they can be, but sometimes they don’t have all the tools. And one of the things that got us out of dunemas and into what we’re doing now was the need to go consultant to help train teachers, to use the tools that they’ve got and the strategies to build a complete network, to support kids as they’re, as they’re teaching them.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love the. Visual image of scaffolding, right. And that extra support that we can all benefit from right. At certain points in our lives. And, uh, you know, I think that, uh, the R word is sort of politically incorrect, but I appreciate you bringing to our listeners attention that, uh, You know, it’s, it probably has a, more of a negative connotation than it ought to.
Right. And that we all learn at different levels. We’re all different types of learners for that matter. That’s true. And I think it’s important to recognize that and maybe discern as parents, you know, you don’t want to have a one size fits all approach to parenting because each one of our kids is different.
They each have their own strengths and weaknesses things that they Excel at things that they’re average at. And maybe some things that hold them back. And, um, you know, if we’re doing our jobs as parents or leaders, you know, and businesses for profit or not for profit businesses, you know, you know, we need to make those adjustments or help, uh, Support individuals to reach their full potential.
Is that sort of what I heard you say?
Ben Satterfield: That’s true. My research role now at Georgia tech, I’m focused more on applying assistive technology, both in K-12, but also in, in, in the employment arena. And I think there’s, there’s a lot of similar challenges in the workplace. I know employers have lots going on and gosh, today.
They really do. And we, you know, we hope and pray that everybody who’s struggled with this COVID-19 business can get their business back up and running and get their employees back in the, in the groove. And everybody come out on top on this, but I think. The history has been, that people with disabilities are often viewed as being limited in the kinds of things that they can do.
And I think we need to take a different perspective on how to organize the workplace and where individuals with disabilities might fit in. For instance, Blake, uh, has worked in a couple of different places. One of which was at the, uh, hospital system, uh, Gwinette. A hospital in our County, he worked in the HR department and he did some jobs for the HR department, some tasks that had normally been done by other typical employees, but they realize I can do this stuff and he does it well, he likes it.
And it was boring. This other lady to tears. Uh, she did it because we didn’t have it, anybody else to do it, but Blake is, you know, he he’s coming in as, uh, a hero in this situation and he’s doing something that everybody is grateful for him doing. He loves it. And so this other lady, who’s got a lot of other things she can do was freed up to be able to work on other things.
So I think sometimes if we can construct the workplace, we can view the workplace creatively, we’ll see opportunities where an individual with a disability, maybe it’s somebody, you know, or maybe it’s somebody who’s recommended from one of the local school systems. Uh, you know, you may find a place where individuals with disabilities can work in, um, A typical work setting, but what they’re doing will be something that works for them, helps the team, so to speak and frees people up to do more productive things that they’re capable of doing.
David Hirsch: I love it. Thank you for sharing. Let’s use this as a way to segue to the work that you’re doing currently at Georgia tech. And what is it? That you’re doing. And, um, how does that apply to the
Ben Satterfield: workplace? Okay, well, uh, I have been in a transition mode. I’ve been working for them at an agency. That’s affiliated with Georgia tech called tools for life, and it’s the tech act agency for the state of Georgia.
And it is charged with helping people with disabilities, all ages, all disabilities. All over Georgia, learn about assistive technology and the reduce the barriers to their access to it. And so we’ve done a bunch of different projects to not only train people, but also work with agencies to try to help people actually acquire assistive technology and train them in how to use it.
It’s for work it’s for recreation, it’s for learning and just connecting to the community. So, uh, we’ve been doing that for awhile and then the opportunity came to be able to work in research at Georgia tech. And I’m now part of the center for inclusive design and innovation. See I D I, and we range of different things.
We have a braille shop. We have a closed captioning team. We have a loan library, you have assistive technology tools, but we also do research and I’m part of that research team. And we’ve been doing research on assistive technology as it applies to K-12. But we’re shifting now over in the direction of the workplace.
And so one of the projects I’m working on is a project to create a online or a mobile tool to help employers and HR people. Uh, figure out workplaces adaptations for individuals with disabilities. How can assistive technology help an individual who’s having trouble, uh, understanding some of the, the instructions that he’s being given or how can an individual who is not easily understood in the workplace become more?
Articulate for it. How can we help them be better? Understood. And it’s a combination of strategies and technology, but we’re hoping that we can make this simple enough so that when an issue pops up, it won’t be one of those things that makes an employer say, Oh, why did I hire this person? Rather, it’s an empowering thing that says, Oh, we can address that.
And after all, I think that’s the spirit of ADA and the. American spirit in terms of we can do this. So we’re trying to empower people who are dealing with those kinds of challenges to make, um, you know, really smart decisions, uh, informed decisions and point them to the technology that will help make it work.
David Hirsch: excellent. So I’m wondering what type of companies it is that you’re working with this. So I have a better understanding of these small mom and pop type businesses. Large businesses are sort of across the board.
Ben Satterfield: Um, I worked for 28 years of my own company, which was a small business. And so a lot of those things that I was sharing with you, uh, evolve from our experiences working there.
We have worked with a number of small businesses, but we’ve also got some large ones that we work with. This particular project is called work access and access is an acronym that talks about this tool. So we’re, we’re looking at a range of different companies. We’re focusing right now on office type situations, as opposed to warehouse or assembly line type of things.
I think one of the next things that we’re going to be working on is remote work, because that’s so timely. It’s interesting that we have observed how kids with disabilities are right in. They’re able to learn at a distance as well. That was watching my son, Blake. He takes a fitness class and he meets with other people who are in this fitness class on Saturday morning.
And when I take him physically to the class, he sits in the back row and nods off to sleep. Cause he didn’t get enough sleep before, you know, he’s, he’s bored. He’s looking at the backs of people’s heads, but the first time we did this online, And he’s sitting there in front of the other kids in the group and he sees 20 faces.
It looks like the Brady bunch, you know, uh, display on this zoom, uh, conference call, but he seeing okay. All their faces and it’s amazing how engaged and riveted and when it was over, he was talking about what was discussed and, Oh, I didn’t realize, you know, Susie has this thing going on and boy, didn’t Tommy.
We have a cooking part of it. Didn’t Tommy come up with an interesting way to handle that. You know, cooking problem he had, I mean, he’s much more engaged and I think we’ll be surprised if we just give him some space and explore and experiment a little bit. We’ll find that there’s a lot that kids, uh, that we might not have expected to learn at a distance will be able to learn.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s very encouraging. Um, I know that, uh, My observation about what the COVID virus, these shelter in place orders that are in place all over the country, varying degrees based on state to state policies is that it’s really accelerating. Thanks. Right. It’s a sadly writing the death of retail.
As we know it, maybe another nail or two in the copper and a little bit sooner than it would be otherwise. And then there’s these other opportunities, like the one you were just describing where, you know, we’re being. Pushed in the future, like by year or years, and we’re going to be discovering things that might’ve taken us a lot longer to come across.
Um, just because, you know, we’re doing things in a way that, you know, we weren’t planning on doing them. And it’s just great to hear about these, what I think of as silver linings and maybe the storm that’s passing over society today, you know, with the virus and all the uncertainty that is going on.
Ben Satterfield: Yeah.
Well, I also think there’s an opportunity for, um, W we call it sort of a micro industries. It’s sort of, of a work designed around what an individual is particularly interested in and good at. One of the things we talked about with Blake was the possibility of him being involved in theater management, and trying to carve out a little niche for him to be involved in some of the, uh, the back office stuff that, uh, his community theater is involved in.
I think if we’re creative, we’ll think of lots of different opportunities for some of our kids. I think sometimes we’re trapped in the way it has been in the past. And bagging groceries is great. And I, I think the social opportunities there are wonderful, but they may, that may not be what we get to do in the future.
But I think some of these, uh, customized employment opportunities may be a part of the answer.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love to circle back with you. Uh, You’re a couple of years down the road and have another conversation just to follow up on how things have transpired. It’s very, uh, very inspiring. So I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Ben Satterfield: Wow. Well, I made enough mistakes. If I can, someone else avoid this, or once I made that would be great, but I also learned a lot from people. I learned a lot from markets and, uh, I think the, the kinds of, uh, guidance that we received was so valuable. Um, I’ve only talked about a few of them that I think there are a lot of others.
If we spent time here, we could unearth. I think sometimes families needs someone to talk to as they’re going through this. I mean, if there’s always the, is this normal, what should I do about this? But I think there’s often just the sharing of, uh, The, the frustration or the, uh, concern and having somebody who, you know, is been there, uh, understands and can, can listen with a sympathetic ear, but also can speak words of encouragement.
I think that’s probably the motivating factor.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re thrilled to have you thank you for being involved and, um, as it relates to mistakes, the way I like to think about it is that. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn vicariously through other people’s mistakes, as opposed to making those mistakes ourselves.
Ben Satterfield: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So let’s give a special shout out to Michael Kohler. Podcast number 77, uh, at Special Kneads and Treats Bakery there in Lawrenceville, Georgia for helping connect.
Ben Satterfield: Uh, Blake worked for him for two or three years. Was one of the first to graduate from there and go on to something else. So we owe a great debt of gratitude and appreciation to Michael and his wife, uh, tempo and the, all the work that they’ve done was for so many kids with disabilities in their shop.
David Hirsch: Yep. Well, it’s a amazing story. Their story is as well. And I’m just thrilled that, uh, Michael took the time to introduce the two of us. So if somebody wants to learn about adaptive technology or the work that you’re doing or contact you for that matter, how would they go about doing that then?
Ben Satterfield: Well, I think emailing me would probably be the simplest thing.
Um, I will give you a quick email. Uh, Ben, firstname.lastname@example.org and Georgiatoolsforlife.org. And that’s an agency that I’m still connected with and get that email and I’d be happy to respond to questions, challenges, anything we can do to help.
David Hirsch: That’s. Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing.
I’ll be sure to put those in the show notes. Ben thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Ben is just one of the dads. Who’s part of the special fathers network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the most recent episode of the Special Fathers Network, dad to dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know. The 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free.
To all concerned, please consider making a tax deductible donation. I would really appreciate your support. Please also post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with family and friends and subscribe. So you’ll get a reminder when each new episode is produced. Ben, thanks again.
Ben Satterfield: Our pleasure.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast. Presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
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The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.