TOPSIDE

Summary

TOPSIDE is an Inclusion Europe project aiming to develop peer support and peer training as a new component in informal adult education for people with intellectual disabilities. TOPSIDE developed a training curriculum for adult peer supporters that enables people with intellectual disabilities to formally train and provide support to their peers.

Issue addressed

The TOPSIDE training programme offers an inclusive and flexible curriculum to train people with intellectual disabilities to become peer trainers and share their experiences with others. However, TOPSIDE allows every person with an intellectual disability to become a peer supporter, because everybody has experiences to share.

Background information

In light of Article 12 of the CRPD, support for people with disabilities in the exercise of their legal capacity should encompass formal and informal support. People with intellectual disabilities often have fewer social contacts and opportunities to participate in society. They sometimes may miss some life experiences such as working, living independently or forming relationships. In order to support a person to be able to decide, people need support from others who understand them well and have similar life experiences. This is why the role of peer supporters is so important for people with disabilities. Peer support is a natural process between people, which allows them to provide informal support in different areas of life and within different types of relationships. The peer supporter better understands the needs of other people with similar experiences. This is how the project TOPSIDE was developed.

Description of practice

The TOPSIDE project offers an innovative resource through a curriculum with concrete exercises, detailed guidelines for trainers, inspiring guidelines for mentors, and other ideas and tips to create a training for peer supporters from their own experiences. Work, Leisure, Home, Relationships, Health and well-being, Education and learning, Citizenship, Rights and Support are all topics within the curriculum intended to support people to have a better life.

Skills that the peer supporter will learn include how to improve their communication, how to support someone appropriately and how to empathise with others. The peer supporter will learn to relate their own life experiences and use these examples and their own learning to support others.

The training will also look at different values that the peer supporter can adopt such as inclusion, person-centred thinking, participation in society and being a good citizen in their community.

In order to use the training material in the most effective way, each trainer will learn how to work with a co-trainer with an intellectual disability. He or she will play a key role in the development and adaptation of the training in partnership with the trainer and will advise them on its relevance for the group of people they are working with.

The training material includes topics that are based on everyday life experiences. Each topic can be covered separately if desired. All the exercises are concrete and based on the everyday life of the participants.

Analysis

The Topside project is not a supported decision-making model in itself but one of the informal mechanism which can facilitate decision making processes and support the autonomy of people with intellectual disabilities when they are confronted with smaller or bigger decisions. The TOPSIDE training course creates pools of peer supporters, who then are able to listen, react with empathy and support their peers by relating their own and others’ life experiences. This process and the work as peer supporter is very enriching, empowering and gives everyone a role, as everyone has something to share from his or her life.

A positive aspect of the project and the training is that a peer trainer helps prepare a course that is particularly adapted for a certain group. He/she is essential in the development of the training course, making it accessible and relevant to the participants.
However, creating a training course of at least 40 hours, the minimum necessary to cover basic skills, requires some time investment and reaches only a small group of people with disabilities, those who can take part in the course directly. The crucial aspect of the training is what role will be given to the newly trained peer supporters.

Newly trained peer supporters could, for example:

  • Become employed (evaluator, or to give feedback on quality of life)
  • Provide training and support for self-advocacy groups
  • Get volunteering opportunities
  • Become a member of a circle of support (for example for persons who are excluded, or have been living in institutions)
  • Become a person-centered planning peer supporter
  • Provide natural support to other persons with disabilities

It is key to make sure that this course is planned and offered with a clear vision of what will happen after it finishes. Having a clear goal in mind is of utmost importance for the development of the course, helping to make sure that the content of the training is concrete and relevant. It it also important in order to ensure that the participants have a clear objective at the end of the training.

To ensure the sustainability of the project, the TOPSIDE partners have developed the concept of the mentor. When someone needs help and the peer supporter does not know where to find it, he/she can contact his/her mentor, who should facilitate support. While the peers may feel the need to simply have their learning endorsed by someone they trust and respect, it is important that the peer supporter is comfortable with their mentor.

More information

The TOPSIDE training is now available in Catalan, Czech, Dutch, English, Finnish, Spanish and Romanian. Thanks to the newly started TOPSIDE + project, the results will be adapted and further developed in French, German, Lithuanian and Portuguese.

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