Peer-to-peer success… celebrating diversity!

26th April 2018 by Catia Neves

By Alice Speller, Jamie Crabb & Adam Hyland

Diversity and Ability

Diversity and Ability (D&A) is a social enterprise designed and led by neurodiverse adults, who are end users working to provide support, strategies, assistive technology training and shared wellbeing to others.

Understanding one’s diversity in a positive frame, sharing lived experience, especially when accompanied with the right strategies, can have a huge impact on a person’s journey to becoming a confident lifelong, independent learner/ employee/ leader. This concept underpins the work D&A does, whose team of diverse individuals facilitate authentic and enabling change for neurodiverse and disabled people up and down the UK.

How we view ourselves and the value we give to our different attributes, that make up our diversity, has a huge impact on how we experience different elements of life and how successful we are. Historically (and still to this day), learning differences, along with many other strands of diversity, have been met with discrimination and negative stigma by society. This has a detrimental effect on how people feel about their ‘diagnosis’ and how it impacts on their day- to-day lives.

A new and exciting viewpoint.

D&A’s celebratory model of diversity is an exciting and enabling viewpoint of how society should view diversity. Compared to other models where disabled people have been seen as having less ability or experiencing negative effects, D&A’s model recognises that every individual has their own way of thinking, learning, working and doing different tasks. Whilst it is important to recognise the fact that the medical model of disability is still used in terms of needing a diagnosis to get support, the celebratory model then leaves the negative diagnosis and focuses on learning from the individual in terms of the way that they learn. Whilst the celebratory model is predominantly similar to the social model of disability, the celebratory model goes further in viewing everyone as unique individuals who have their own brilliant skill set.

As with the social model, the celebratory model also believes that society puts barriers in the way of disabled people. However, the celebratory model develops this notion, arguing that we as a society need to look at everyone’s strengths and be proud and celebrate everyone’s diversity. Whilst an individual’s diversity may need strategies built around them to fully achieve their potential, it is crucial that our society makes this support available to everyone. The celebratory model is convinced that when an individual’s learning and working styles is understood and recognised every individual has the ability to reach their maximum capability.

Whilst the social model talks about removing barriers, in reality this does not go far enough. Just because the obvious barriers are removed does not mean that each individual is fully supported in terms of their diversity. The celebratory model suggests that if energy and time is put into building strategies around every individual the whole of society benefits. This could be in education, the workplace and beyond. The ability to understand one’s own way of processing and working unlocks many doors to success. Once this notion is recognised the ability to succeed becomes infinite.

In order to support the adoption of the celebratory model of diversity, society needs to move to a more open and encompassing language when it comes to this strand of diversity. There also must be recognition that diversity is not about one diagnosis and in order to reach potential, the consideration of diversity co-occurrence must take place when implementing strategies.

The celebratory model supports the idea that people experience the world differently based on the ways that their brains and environments interact. D&A embraces this movement, which does not see neurological differences as ‘disabilities’, but rather as a diverse balance of unique and equally valid skills and experiences that benefit society and deserve celebration.

Reframing the positive

In order for a person’s journey to start on a positive foot, it is crucial that the understanding of one’s diversity is reframed into a positive one. In order for this to be achieved, an understanding of one’s metacognition is key. An understanding of individual strengths is part of metacognitive thinking. In their analysis, McLoughlin and Leather (2013, p.46) argue that metacognition can, “improve performance in learning and working situations”.

Having an understanding of how one’s self thinks then enables the individual to make an informed choice in terms of strategies used. When an individual has both an understanding of how they think and the strategies available to them, one can start to unlock a positive way of thinking about one’s diversity and their ability to succeed. As Borkowski & Krause (1985) observe “general knowledge about the efficacy of strategies has been hypothesized to have motivational properties.”

D&A believes that low self- esteem often poses more of a barrier to the individual than their learning difference or disability. Positive use of metacognition and the ability to celebrate an individual’s diversity can have a huge impact on self-esteem. Jones & Idol (2013) recognise how:

General strategy knowledge, and its associated motivational factors, are bidirectionally related, each contributing to the development of the other component. High self-esteem, and internal locus of control, and the tendency to attribute success to effort are the consequences of a history of consistent, successful, strategy-based habits of responding to learning and memory tasks. Good performance following strategy use strengthens general strategic knowledge, which promotes positive self-esteem and attributions of success…..

Another crucial step in the positive reframing process and exploration into one’s metacognition is the recognition of the individuals existing strategies. For many people, recieving a ‘diagnosis’ often happens in the latter years of an individual’s educational journey, often occurring once they have entered higher education. Getting to higher education is a success in itself and this should be recognised, along with the strategies that have enabled that individual to get there.

The peer-to-peer factor

D&A are convinced that peer-to-peer empathy, respect and support delivered by people who share a lived experience can also have a positive impact on an individuals’s journey to becoming confident in their abilities and independent. For many people, there is often a feeling of isolation and believing that they are pretty much alone in the way they think and learn. However, when one is supported by someone who can relate through lived experience and have succeeded in their learning journey by understanding and celebrating their diversity, it creates an environment for the person to feel safe and more confident with their own diversity.

The ability to relate is a powerful tool when working on one’s metacognition. This process can often be an emotional journey and the need for understanding and empathy is crucial. This is why peer support can greatly aid a person’s journey in understanding and celebrating their diversity.

There is no universally accepted definition of peer support but the term generally refers to mutual support provided by people with similar life experiences as they move through difficult situations. At its most basic, the peer support ‘approach’ assumes that people who have similar experiences can better relate and can consequently offer more authentic empathy and validation, (Mead & Macneil, 2004).

The Diversity and Ability approach

Diversity and Ability have been developing the celebratory model for the last five years. Diversity and Ability has supported over 10,000 individuals and the average confidence change is an increase of 127.8%. Diversity and Ability has discovered a direct correlation between the confidence of trainees using strategies and this approach. Trainees have left feedback to demonstrate their confidence before receiving support and their confidence in their own learning strategies after receiving the support. This feedback has clearly shown that using this celebratory, metacognitive, peer approach is often game changing for individuals in developing confidence and independence to pursue their chosen path.


Borkowski, J.G., and Krause, A.J. (1985) Metacognition and attributional beliefs. In Proceedings of the XXIII International Congress of Psychology. Amsterdam: Elsiver.

Jones, B. F. and Idol, L. (eds.) (2013) Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.

McLoughlin, D., and Leather, C. (2013) The dyslexic adult: Interventions and outcomes. An evidence-based approach. Chichester: BPS Blackwell.

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