Peer Modelling, written by Bernd Sass from Disability Rights UK

‘Peer modelling’ comes out of creating environments that are conducive to people taking self-initiative and supporting each other. This can be by modelling and picking up such thoughts, ideas and behaviours which are successful in managing crises and everyday life with a long-term condition.  

In whatever context – employment or health for example – ‘resilience’, choice & control and working together with disabled people are the bedrocks of any ‘theory of change’. For instance, investing in information and choice & control (as part of any care and support model or policy) could be seen as at least as important as housing – choice & control are the basics for any improvement. Peer modelling is a way of making sure that dynamic options to choose from are permanently nurtured and kept alive.

We don’t just need ‘values’ and policies but policies and values in action. The way we do things is inextricably linked to the outcomes we achieve so we should apply co-production from purpose-setting to lasting high impact of services. There is a kind of a leadership role for the disability movement in that it has paved the way for users of any kind of public services to become confident and engaged critical partners of service providers – ‘user-led’ going way beyond just disability towards real win-win situations. For example, the NHS Five Year Forward View calls for ‘peer-led communities to emerge’, and real devolution would be a huge opportunity to move beyond traditional service provision by tapping into and using lived experience.

We can and should support people to look to ‘disability as an asset’ (DAA) as we do with ICanMakeIt   and user-driven commissioning www.disabilityrightsuk/user-driven-commissioning but also explore further within this project on ‘Getting Things Changed’.

In the NHS we support staff to explore and build on lived experience when supporting patients. This is part of the delivery of the NHS Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) , whereby we place great emphasis on creating environments that are conducive to people taking self-initiative and supporting each other: building up trust and rapport and connecting in new ways with patients. The first step is that disabled NHS staff have coherent support in place for themselves from occupational health to reasonable adjustments and disability-related absence policies right through to fair and effective staff appraisals which don’t disregard but build on ‘disability as an asset’. Once all this is established, disabled staff groups often find the second step very natural, i.e. to look outwards to create the right parameters for peer modelling –train people, create supportive environments and co-produce boundary guidelines for disabled staff – patient encounters. Peer modelling then often just happens (e.g. when conveying a serious diagnosis) by modelling and picking up thoughts, ideas and behaviours which are successful in managing crises and long-term conditions on a day-to-day basis.

Seeing things through – from peer modelling as a patient into a paid job

There are important links between obtaining work and health outcomes as emphasised by the Joint Work & Health Unit – not just for disabled people but for everyone, and peer modelling can kick-start new perspectives on employment. No doubt, managing crises and everyday life with a long-term condition mirror a lot of what a busy office and project management or a frontline hands-on support are about. With some facilitation, people often develop a natural grasp of what skill sets they already have or can easily stretch to – yet, the one bedrock that the best training and support cannot bring out is ‘values’: disabled people are in a good position to have the values needed to believe, hope and make things happen because they already know what life is like as a ‘disabled’ person and can share knowledge and experience with peers.

Conversely, from an employer’s perspective, encouraging disabled people to apply for roles (ensuring the right support is in place) will help maximise recruitment and retention objectives and hit far wider strategic goals as long as some myths are addressed :

Actively targeting and recruiting disabled people will:

– increase the quality of applicants with lived experience an organisation can build on

– promote diversity in the workplace

– improve and innovate services for and with disabled staff, consumers and patients

– lead to workplaces that better reflect the communities served.


Disabled people have invented ‘peer support’ by supporting each other across impairments – if an employer manages to reinvigorate some of that team spirit together with service users, this may be beneficial to the whole organisation. Peer modelling takes this a step further by focusing on creating the right environments for self-initiative to model and pick up such thoughts, ideas and behaviours from peers which are successful in managing crises and everyday life with a long-term condition.  


“Disabled people have the passion and empathy to support others and have learned to come up with creative solutions to the difficulties of everyday life. They see what and how things could improve.’ If only my employer had known /copyright Disability Rights UK, 2012


If you want to pursue peer-modelling in any context further, please contact


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