One of the things I hated doing the most in middle and high school was peer editing. I hated it, I didn’t want my peers reading my writing and I hated correcting other people’s work. “Peer” was attached to another word to create a very important term in the academic world “peer review;” this is something that is vital if you want to become a published academic. Years after graduate school I learned yet another term that involved the word “peer:” peer support. This is something that, after working with a Center for Independent Living (CIL) as a board member and later as a staff member I would come to see as very valuable.
Peer support is part of the foundation of every CIL and I absolutely see why. Having someone to talk to who has faced the same or similar barriers is wonderful. Finally, you have someone who can understand what it’s like fighting for accommodations, struggling to get somewhere via mass transit or facing the attitudes of society (paternalistic attitudes and speech). I often see, and have written, that “the support and advice of a peer can be more meaningful than that of a medical professional.” This rings true on so many levels. Don’t get me wrong, a doctor’s advice can be useful, but they tend to have a very narrow focus, they don’t always offer all options. Some of this might be because of time restraints, the doctor’s attitude or the creeping spectre of the “medical model” [insert thunder, lightning and a scream of terror]. Finding a doctor that you can trust and will take time with you is very important, as is finding a peer supporter (whether a friend or someone arranged through a CIL) to share strategies and ideas.
Recently, I became more involved with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Atlanta and the atmosphere is simply wonderful. It’s a room full of people who see blindness as just another trait. You get this feeling with other peer run organizations as well, whether they’re specific to a disability (Peer Support and Wellness Center, Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association, NFB) or cross-disability and open to all (People 1st, CILs, ADAPT). If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit a center or become involved with a peer run organization I highly recommend it. It’s empowering and a great way of getting in touch with the disability/advocacy community.