Online community for learning disabilities

When Emma Sterland’s brother Ben was born, 57 years ago, the world was quite a different place for a baby born with Down’s syndrome.

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The NHS was then in its infancy too, and Emma describes the difficulties her mother had in raising Ben with a huge sense of ‘doing it alone, in a vacuum’.

Fast forward to today. Technology and the internet have had a tremendous impact on the way that people with learning disabilities, and the people who look after them, receive information, care and support.

One way the internet is helping people to help each other is Netbuddy, the website that Emma now works for as website and community manager.

Netbuddy is a free, online advice and tip-sharing community for anyone connected with special needs and learning disabilities. Launched in September 2010, it plays host to a growing online network of parents, carers, health workers, occupational therapists, teachers and NHS professionals who are all contributing to help people to help each other.

A problem shared

Netbuddy director Deborah Gundle, whose son has learning disabilities, said the idea for the website came about when her son was small and she felt she was spending too much time and energy solving day-to-day problems that she was sure others had overcome before her.

“Then, one day it came to me – I should start writing down my ideas for other people to use, and encourage them to share their own,” she says.

Deborah’s original plan was to write a "special needs handbook". But as she started collecting tips, the idea evolved into an interactive website: one where people could add suggestions and help create the resource themselves.

"People come to Netbuddy for practical suggestions, but they can talk to other people on the interactive forum and they can share their own breakthroughs within a community that understands and appreciates the hard work that has gone into those successes," Deborah says.

The idea of an online forum is nothing new. But Netbuddy is different, according to Emma, because it focuses on sharing practical advice and tips and solving problems.

“Forums can be difficult because something might be talked about and a tip shared or discussed, but then it’s often lost to the internet, leaving it up to individuals to mine through conversations for information,” she says.

“We categorise and keep tips and advice, and make them easily searchable. We understand there’s no one-size-fits-all approach – we’re not just a chat room, we’re collecting and creating resources.”

Taking the net to the community

Beyond the website, Netbuddy has a team of "site champions" who visit events to promote the team in the community. There’s also a team of "site experts", who are health professionals who see the value of what Netbuddy does and actively seek to be a part of it, submitting their own tips and advice.

Learning disability nurse Andy James says that as a professional working with families he is always looking for new ideas and ways of support.

“It’s incredibly useful to have found Netbuddy. Not only is it a useful resource for me, it is somewhere I can direct the families I work with too,” he says.

Emma says that when she thinks now about her mum’s experience in raising her brother, she really feels for her.

“Had Ben been born 60 years later, it would have been a very different experience for her,” she says. “Back then, she had to teach him everything on her own, the very basics, even how to play.

“All the practical tips and advice and that are available now, mum had to come up with by herself." She’s now 82 and is online herself, and she thinks Netbuddy is fantastic."

Page last reviewed: 01/07/2013

Next review due: 01/07/2015

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Media last reviewed: 11/06/2014

Next review due: 11/06/2016