Peer Networks are Great!
Are you part of a peer network? A peer network is a group of people who come together as equals for a common goal. These goals vary from group to group, depending on what the members have in common. It could be their life circumstances, hobbies, interests, or anything else. According to Peer Connect, a website that offers resources on how to set up and facilitate peer networks, “There is evidence that peer support can help people feel more confident, knowledgeable, capable, and less isolated.”
That has certainly been the case for Maria, Isabella and Ian. They all belong to different peer networks for people living with disability. They explain what they get out of belonging to a peer network.
Maria – Disability Elders of All Ages
Disability Elders of All Ages is a peer network for anyone who lives with physical disability. For Maria, being a member has been invaluable. “I think it’s important to be part of a group that has similar needs and interests and know that you’re not the only one out there,” Maria explains. “There’s not many areas where you can get that anymore as a person with a disability.”
Disability Elders of All Ages prefers to call themselves a catch-up group because really, they are all just friends, catching up for a chat. Maria says, “It’s like going to the pub without the alcohol, really. And it’s not so noisy so we can all talk over a cup of tea, which is nicer.”
They often use their catch ups to help each other work through issues that arise in their lives. When you have a problem, it’s extremely efficient and effective to tap into the strong collective wisdom of the group to find a solution, but Maria finds the act of giving help is as beneficial as receiving help. “It helps me speak up more,” she affirms. “I feel needed.”
The group also uses their meetings to voice their opinions on issues that matter most to them. They campaign for accessibility, support each other and participate in research and focus groups. “We’re able to give our opinions and put our experiences of life to use in a really positive way. As elders with disability, in the past we haven’t always been asked for our opinions and now we are so we give it. And we’re happy when we’re asked.”
Isabella – Julia Farr Youth Peer Support Network
Julia Farr Youth Peer Support Network is a peer network for people living with disability aged 18 – 30. Many of the members remain good friends, even after they surpass the age limit and move on from the network.
Isabella, who is 19, feels she’s grown more sure of herself since joining the group about a year ago. In the beginning, it was a nerve wracking experience. “When I went to my first peer support meeting I was a little bit anxious.” But now, she says she is much more confident and her conversational skills have really improved.
One of the ways new members can grow their confidence and skills is through working with a mentor. These mentors are also young people who live with disability and together, they navigate many areas of life. Isabella has been paired up with Madde and says that working with her mentor is her favourite part of the peer network. “She spends time with me; teaches me how to do different things.”
JFY Peer Support Network focuses a lot on personal development. Since Isabella joined and started working with a peer mentor, she has made some major changes to her life. She started a Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Practices at TAFE this year and is working towards a career in the food industry. She confidently catches public transport and is becoming much more independent. This independence and confidence allows her to participate in her community more regularly.
Ian – Our Voice SA
Our Voice SA is a peer network for people living with intellectual or learning disability. Their common goal is advocacy. They work together to solve the problems faced by their members. Ian is one of the founding members of the group, and the current chair. He makes sure that Our Voice SA members have a safe space where they can have their voices heard, without having to worry about repercussions.
“If you’ve got intellectual disability people don’t want to listen to you,” Ian declares. “It’s about making sure everyone has a voice. I’m happy to let people with disability say their piece. Normally when you say too much you get yourself in trouble. When they come, they say what they want to say. They can’t get in trouble.”
Right now, one of the projects they are working on is a conference for people living with intellectual disability. This conference will help people overcome barriers when navigating the NDIS. Ian explains, “When it first came out it was all on computer. Not everyone’s got a computer. Not everybody can read.” The aim is to give attendees the information and resources to manage the support provided through the NDIS so they can gain as much as possible from their plan.
Ian emphasises that learning about self-advocacy and being supported in standing up for their rights has been invaluable for Our Voice SA members. “Without Our Voice SA, people with disability haven’t got a voice at all. For so long, people taught us, when you’ve got a disability, you don’t have rights. Now we’ve got rights like anybody else has. We don’t answer to anybody.”
How to join a peer network
If Maria, Isabella or Ian’s insights on peer networks appeal to you, maybe you should consider experiencing the power of a peer network for yourself. There are peer networks for people living with disability all over Australia that you can join, or you can start your own. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at this list on the Peer Connect website.
Disability Elders of All Ages, JFY Peer Support Network and Our Voice SA are all supported by JFA Purple Orange. If you are interested in joining one of the peer networks we support, you can find out more by going to www.purpleorange.org.au/contact-us or calling us on 8373 8333.
If you would like to know more about how you can start or facilitate a peer network, please visit www.peerconnect.org.au