Peer Advocacy


A Unique Bullying Prevention Model for Students with Disabilities

Did you know that students with disabilities are bullied at a rate of 2 to 3 times more than their nondisabled peers? It’s true. Statistics show that bullying happens to almost 75% of students with disabilities.

Many students with disabilities have few or no friends, and it makes it easier for someone to bully another student who is all alone or who doesn’t have someone looking out for them.

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What is a “Peer Advocate?”

A student who looks out for other students who are being bullied or who are isolated from other students and helps them out by making sure that they are included and protected from harm.

Most students don’t like to see bullying, but they may not know what to do when it happens. Peer advocacy—speaking out on the behalf of others — is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying. It works for two reasons: Students are more likely than adults to see what is happening with their peers, and peer influence is powerful. A student telling someone to stop bullying has much more impact than an adult giving that same advice.

“I learned that even though I am only one person I can change society.”

“Being a peer advocate makes me more aware when someone is not being included and it is a lot easier to include them and still have them feel comfortable. I have learned that there is so much more to me than just who I was before.”

Interview on Peer Advocacy — A Look Back

In this interview, Anna, a college sophomore in the fall of 2016, reflects back on her involvement during middle school in the innovative “Peer Advocacy” project. The project was designed to connect students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers in meaningful ways to help them navigate bullying situations.

Download the Interview

What can I do?

Be a friend! Watch out for those students, with and without disabilities, who might need your help and have their backs. To be a friend, you can:

  • Sit by them at lunch
  • Talk with them in the hallway
  • Include them in group activities
  • Invite them to spend time with you
  • Listen to their concerns
  • Provide advice and support

If you know that someone is being teased, hurt, or harmed in any manner, you can:

  • Get them away from the situation.
  • Ask the person bullying to leave them alone (only if it feels safe to say something)
  • Let them know that everyone deserves to be safe.
  • Help them talk with adult.
  • Report it to an adult.

Students who have been peer advocates said, “when I saw bullying happen, I…”

  • took action, instead of just doing nothing
  • told them to stop being so mean
  • told someone saying “that’s so retarded” hurts people with disabilities and is not acceptable
  • stepped in and told them to stop
  • privately told the person bullying that what they did wasn’t cool
  • told our mentor, who helped me know what to do the next time
  • stood up for myself when it was me who was bullied

What Should You Do? Peer Advocacy | PACERTalks About Bullying Episode 24

Insights and advice from students as they think through how to respond to real life bullying situations. In this video middle school students from a “peer advocacy” group explore how to handle a scenario in which a student with down syndrome is being bullied.

How do I get my school involved?

Encourage the adults in your school, such as your principal, school counselor, or teacher to consider a “Peer Advocacy” project at school.

Determine the participants: In exploring a peer advocacy model in your school, consider who the adult leader should be, often it’s a teacher who has a relationship with students in the special education setting. Then, define which students with disabilities could benefit from peer intervention and inclusive practices. The next step is invite students to be peer advocates. When recruiting, its encouraged to look across the school environment and be sure to have representation from a diverse group of individuals.

Provide education: The peer advocates should be educated on:

  • dynamics of bullying behavior
  • characteristics, traits, and circumstances of the students for whom they are advocating
  • options of how to intervene

Talk about appropriate actions to intervene: Intervention strategies can be tailored for each situation, student, and advocate. Some advocates will feel comfortable with direct interventions, such as telling the person bullying to stop. Others may want to approach indirectly, such as supporting the person after an incident or reporting it to the adult leader. Encourage students to explore their own strengths. Help them with identify the intervention or action steps they would be most comfortable with implementing.

Benefits to students: The benefits of peer advocacy include not only having a strategy to keep students with disabilities safe, but also providing opportunities for social inclusion. Student advocates also benefit from learning skills such as empathy, inclusion, leadership, and acceptance.

Helpful resources include:

Peer Advocacy Guide

Download the 32-page step-by-step booklet that looks at how to address bullying of students with disabilities by engaging, educating, and empowering their peers with advocacy skills.

“Before I saw people give the kids with disabilities bad looks and didn’t stand up for them, now I will stand up for them.”

“Before Peer Advocacy, kids were eating alone, now we are sitting with them and hanging out.”

“Peer advocates should spread around the world.”

“Later in life I’ll be able to say I was a peer advocate, I made a difference! Will you?”

“I love being a Peer Advocate, it’s so much fun. I love it and am happy I joined. Before it was not as fun being in nothing then I heard about Peer Advocates and then that inspired me and I did it for the kids with disabilities and they rock!!”

“I think it’s important to be a Peer Advocate to let kids know they’re not alone and that others really do have their back. Even through some treat them differently, they are just like everyone else. They should be treated the same too. From this experience I learned all that. I think others should consider this too.”