Creating Peer Groups for People with Disabilities
Some congregations may find that members with disabilities would enjoy a ‘peer group’ that provides a setting where all people in the group identify as having disabilities. In such a group, people with disabilities can discuss their challenges—both congregational and disability related. It is important that the peer members have ownership of the group—that “the state of living with challenges” is the only requirement for membership, but that they can decide to invite some nondisabled person to join them to discuss a topic or provide initial help with setting up the group.
Each congregation should do an assessment and create such a group if it fits the needs, interests, affinities, and capabilities of its members. Some congregations may find that a peer group works well for some people with disabilities and not for others. Also, if there are a number of children or youth with disabilities, it might be helpful to have a special group for them.
This kind of peer group can provide a feedback mechanism for how well the congregation is doing. For example, they might issue an annual report that — coming from the group as opposed to an individual — carries more weight to have a need or issue addressed.
A peer group can also be a source of new lay leaders among those who have disabilities. For some individuals who do not have previous leadership experience, the experience of having leadership roles in the peer group, allowing individuals to grow in a safer environment, then “leave the nest and stretch their wings,” is transformative.
Some of the members of this group could be part of the congregation’s AIM Team.
Needless to say, the place where the group meets should be accessible.