Woman and her personal assistant during the Freedom Drive march

Peer support is one of the pillars of Independent Living and an essential element for the self-determination of disabled people.

Peer support is the term used to describe the help and support that people with lived experience are able to give to another individual in a similar situation. For example, it can refer to support provided by someone using personal assistance (PA) to another person using a PA. Or, to somebody who has lived in an institution in the past to other people still living in institutions. This support may be social, emotional or practical (or all of these).

Peer support has and continues to be fundamental to the philosophy and practice of independent living organisations in the empowerment of disabled people, because it is based on lived experience and facilitates a grassroots process.

The development of peer support and peer advocacy began in the mental health field in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, when people began to move from institutions into the community. The Independent Living Movement and disabled people’s organisations continue to view peer support as an essential element in the bridging between dependency and independent living. Peer support is based on the knowledge that disabled people are experts in recognising the barriers they face and the means in which those barriers can be tackled.

What is ENIL doing on this topic?

Over the years, ENIL implemented a number of activities on Peer Support.

For example, in 2012, we organised a training on Peer Counseling in Tartu, Estonia. In 2014, we developed the “Peer Support for Independent Living, A Training Manual”, which came out of the Peer Support Training in Sofia, Bulgaria, organised by ENIL and CIL Sofia. One more such training followed in 2016. The same year, we also published the findings and recommendations from the Peer Support Survey. In 2020, in the middle of pandemic, the ENIL Youth Network organised a webinar on Peer Support in times of crisis.

Finally, in 2022, we launched PAUC – a Personal Assistance Users’ Club. PAUC will meet on a monthly basis, for four months (starting in April) and will provide an opportunity for PA users to share experiences, challenges and solutions related to employing personal assistants. PAUC is open to PA users from any country. More information can be found under Events.

Some of our members have been very active in using peer support in the transition from institutional care to community living. For example, the Centre for Independent Living Sofia launched a project to support young disabled people living in group homes in Bulgaria. This project aimed for Peer Support to be the bridging element between dependency and independent living. It involved working with young disabled people from three small group homes, providing the peer support they need in order to live independently.

Useful links:

  1. Peer Support for Independent Living: A Training Manual (2014)
  2. Peer Support Survey – Summary of the Findings and Recommendations (2016)
  3. Independent Living Heroes: Past, Present and Future (2017)
  4. Peer Support in Times of Crisis (2020) – A webinar by the ENIL Youth Network