The professionalisation of empowerment
- The professionalisation of empowerment
- Office of the Upper Austrian Provincial Government, Department of Social Affairs
- Country of Implementation
- Upper Austria, Austria
- First published
“Disability-specific Peer Counselling should be developed, professionally used and recognized worldwide!” Wolfgang Glaser, Director, Empowerment Centre, Independent Living Centre, Upper Austria
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. HISTORY: 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. This has also been the case 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 professionalisation of what has fuelled the disability rights movement since the ‘70s. SUMMARY: 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. With the help of the regional Independent Living Centre, 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 similarly affected people, in order to enable them to take control of their lives in their homes, communities and employment.
Solution, Innovation and Impact
PRINCIPLES: Disability: An asset Providing a role model, a Peer Counsellor has attained disability-related experiences, knowledge and coping skills, in order to give advice to other persons with disabilities (peers). Tailored to type of disability Upper Austria is the first region to offer disability-specific qualifications to people with physical, psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. Support to find solutions A Peer Counsellor does not solve the problems for others, but provides support so that a person can find the right solutions on her or his own. Empowerment Peer Counselling empowers persons with disabilities to lead an independent life with dignity, equality and self-responsibility, and to participate in social life and employment. KEY FEATURES: 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 a Peer Counsellor 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 Centre. 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, 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. Since 2009, Upper Austria has organised disability-specific qualification courses (psychosocial, physical and intellectual disabilities) which certified about 40 professionals. Currently, 54 Peer Counsellors are offering about 750 to 1,000 hours of counselling per week, frequently tailored to different types of disabilities. 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 interest in introducing such a policy.
Funding, Outlook and Transferability
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.