Training Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities (TOPSIDE)

November 2011 - October 2013

Inclusion Europe started a new project together with six other European organizations, members of IE, including Foundation “Pentru Voi”. The project Training Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities (TOPSIDE) will develop peer support and peer training as a new component in informal adult education.

Financer: Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter CRPD), ratified by most EU Member States and the European Union, has created new opportunities for people with disabilities. Among others, it recognizes the right of all people with disabilities to take control over their own lives. To realize this right, people with intellectual disabilities need adequate support and appropriate training to develop relevant skills needed to make own decisions and lead an independent life.

The project Topside aims to tackle this challenge by advancing the concept of peer training and peer support in Europe. It is undertaken in partnership with disability organizations in Finland (KVTL), Romania (Pentru Voi), Scotland (ENABLE), Catalonia (Dincat), the Czech Republic (SPMP) and the Netherlands (Perspectief).

Peer training should provide people with intellectual disabilities with the skills and qualifications necessary for decision-making. These include communication skills (expressing opinions, holding and defending positions), communication methods (interaction with others, alternative communication methods), understanding relationships, taking the initiative (looking for help and advice, problem-solving), basic social and civic skills (respect, politeness, requesting information, a meeting or an interview), learning to use informal training material and information resources.

With this in mind, the project partnership will create and test a training curriculum for people with intellectual disabilities to train and support their peers. It will consist of various modules covering different areas of necessary expertise and experience. Most of them will be common modules applicable in all European countries, adapted to the national context, culture and background of each country.

To facilitate the use of the curriculum in practice, the project will consequently develop a set of methodological guidelines for trainers who will be preparing a team of self-advocates as peer supporters. The guidelines will rely on a variety of methods and exercises such as role play, site visits, theatre plays, videos or peer exercises.

The peer supporters will then be provided with a set of accessible and user-friendly teaching materials to train and support their peers to take their own decisions in life. The material will contain easy to understand questions, words, pictograms and symbols to help the supporter to communicate with people with intellectual disabilities and keep record of the exchanges and answers.

In order to ensure a truly European approach to peer training, the project will seek the recognition of leading organizations of and for people with intellectual disabilities across Europe. The possibilities of transferring the results to other non-project countries and official certification of the training will also be examined.

The new role of Peer Supporter will develop self-confidence, empowerment as well as a variety of important skills, and may even provide additional employment or volunteering opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to reinforce their active citizenship through the recognition of their skills.