Innovative Policy 2013 on Employment

Upper Austria’s professionalisation of empowerment

Acknowledging that Peer Counselling is crucial to empower persons with disabilities, Upper Austria established, for the first time worldwide, Peer Counselling as a social profession, which values the experience of physical, psychosocial and intellectual disability as a fundamental quality.

The Social Professions Act
Founded on:2008
of origin
Upper Austria, Austria
Beneficiaries targetedPersons with disabilities
Responsible bodyDepartment for Social Affairs of the Directorate Health and Social Affairs
StakeholdersPublic and nonprofit sector


With the help of the regional Independent Living Center, in 2008, Upper Austria introduced paragraphs 45-47 in its Social Professions Act to establish Peer Counselling as a social profession. This step has, so far, been unique internationally. In addition, nowhere else is Peer Counselling based on such a comprehensive qualification, which values the experience of different types of disabilities as a fundamental quality. A Peer Counsellor has a direct experience of disability, uses active listening techniques and gives advice to equally affected people, in order to enable them to take control of their lives, in their homes, communities and employment.


  • Since 2009, 40 professionals were certified in Upper Austria after attending disability-specific qualification courses
  • Currently, about 54 Peer Councillors are offering about 750 to 1,000 hours of counselling per week
  • The high standard of Peer Counselling is promoted by the Empowerment Centre of the Independent Living Initiative of Upper Austria and the Social Affairs Department of Upper Austria
  • Other Austrian regions, as well as European countries such as Sweden, have shown interenst in introducing such a policy


Towards a right to support
The programme recognizes not only the right to meaningful work in a community-based setting, but also the receipt of long-term ongoing support in employment.

Protection under general labour law
Individuals are hired and fired according to the general labour law conditions, and paid at least the minimum wage.

Employment First approach
Job trainers are offered to the extent required, and only when the employer offers a meaningful job. Increasingly co-workers are being paid to take on the role of a job trainer.

Sustainable use of financial resources
The programme is cost-efficient, as it is cost-neutral when compared to passive support service programmes and with respect to the additional social and economic benefits.


Peer Counselling started with a series of talking and listening techniques which were developed in the early ‘70s and used by students at American universities. When persons with disabilities began to attend Berkeley University, they began to use Peer Counselling in order to share their experiences and to understand the sources of their common oppression and discrimination. Peer Counselling was crucial for the development of the Independent Living Movement which gained therefrom the determination to demand independence, a life without barriers and equal opportunities. In the ‘80s, Peer Counselling was further developed and combined with training in advice and consulting. Courses on Peer Counselling were generally offered by centres for independent living and, since the ‘90s, mostly health institutions have increasingly requested such a qualification. Similarly in Upper Austria, where, in addition, Peer Counselling was inserted amongst the services offered under the Equal Opportunities Act. It is in this context that in 2008 the regional Parliament decided to establish Peer Counselling as a social profession in the Social Profession Act. It appears to be the first step worldwide which provides for such a high standard of qualification, rights under collective agreements and a professionalization of what has fuelled the disability rights movement since the ‘70s.

«Disability-specific Peer Counselling should be developed, professionally used and recognized worldwide.»

Wolfgang Glaser, Empowerment-Center, Independent Living Centre, Upper Austria


A Peer Counsellor has attained disability-related experiences, uses active listening as well as other problem solving techniques in order to give guidance to, and assist, equally affected people. Peer Counsellors can serve as a link between the person with disabilities seeking help and the service providers or the family. However, it is not the task of Peer Counselling to solve the problems for others, but to provide support. Since 2009, qualification courses designed for different disability experiences, such as physical, intellectual and psychosocial, have been offered at the regional Independent Living Center. On the whole the qualification, which is financed by the region, comprises 240 teaching units and 80 hours of internship. Accommodations are provided. The curriculum comprises know-how for human communication, counselling, on independent living, disability-related laws and services offered to persons with disabilities in Austria. Peer Counsellors are required to complete further training to the extent of 16 hours every two years. In addition, Upper Austria undertook major steps to facilitate job opportunities and now service providers such as Social exit, pro mente, EMC, and many others are employing Peer Counsellors on a part-time basis.


Recently a professional association was established, which demands a higher job grading. A qualification in personal future planning is being developed in order to facilitate the transition to community living.


Mr. Wolfgang GLASER
Empowerment-Center, Independent Living Centre, Upper Austria
+43 73 28 90 04 61 3

Ms. Renate HACKL
Department for Social Affairs, Directorate Health and Social Affairs, Upper Austria
+43 73 27 72 01 52 16


The Social Profession Act, Upper Austria, 2008, in particular §§ 45-47, is available in German at:

Gisela Hermes, Peer Counseling – Beratung von Behinderten für Behinderte als Empowerment-Instrument, in: Psychosoziale Beratung in der Sozial- und Rehabilitationspädagogik, ed. Heike Schnoor, pp. 74-80.

Gisela Hermes, Förderung der Selbstbestimmung durch Empowerment: Erfahrungen aus der Praxis, 2010, available in German at:

Sebastian Ruppe, “Auf gleicher Augenhöhe”. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen des Peer Counseling, 2011, p. 9. Available at:

Nominated by: Mr. Mag Wolfgang GLASER, Empowerment Center