On Peer Support and Platform Nine and Three Quarters

"Where is this school, anyway?"  

 "I don't know," said Harry, realizing this for the first time. He pulled the ticket Hagrid had given him out of his pocket.  "I just take the train from platform nine and three-quarters at eleven o'clock," he read.  

 His aunt and uncle stared.  

 "Platform what?"  

 "Nine and three-quarters."

  "Don't talk rubbish," said Uncle Vernon. "There is no platform nine and three-quarters."

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll remember this quote from ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. Platform Nine and Three Quarters is a platform at King’s Cross Station in London. It’s magically concealed behind the barrier between Muggle Platform Nine and Platform Ten, the place where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry students board the Hogwarts Express in order to attend school.

To get onto the platform, you have to walk directly at the apparently solid metal ticketing box, and you’ll disappear into the wall.

I was thinking about the quote yesterday, and how Harry worked out how to get onto the Platform. He didn't get the advice from a Muggle. He got it from a peer.

In the disability sector, people are often given ‘Muggle advice’ – advice from people who do not ‘live the life’. They’re often highly trained professionals and sometimes their advice is really useful.

Often, it is not.

That is where peer support comes in.

Peer support happens when people provide knowledge, experience, emotional, social or practical help to each other. If you’re a peer, you’re an equal – you don’t have a power relationship, or a paid relationship – you’re just another person who can offer support by virtue of relevant experience.

Been there, done that.

That’s what Harry did. When he got to the station, he didn’t ask a person who was ‘in charge’ – nor did he google ‘Platform Nine and Three Quarters’. He didn’t contact the architect or the head of King’s Cross Train Station. He watched someone doing it, and asked for help. Read on.

‘What looked like the oldest boy marched toward platforms nine and ten. Harry watched, careful not to blink in case he missed it -- but just as the boy reached the dividing barrier between the two platforms, a large crowd of tourists came swarming in front of him and by the time the last backpack had cleared away, the boy had vanished.

"Fred, you next," the plump woman said.

"I'm not Fred, I'm George," said the boy. "Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"

 "Sorry, George, dear."

"Only joking, I am Fred," said the boy, and off he went. His twin called after him to hurry up, and he must have done so, because a second later, he had gone -- but how had he done it?

Now the third brother was walking briskly toward the barrier he was almost there -- and then, quite suddenly, he wasn't anywhere.

There was nothing else for it.

"Excuse me," Harry said to the plump woman.

"Hello, dear," she said. "First time at Hogwarts? Ron's new, too."

  She pointed at the last and youngest of her sons. He was tall, thin, and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose.  

 "Yes," said Harry. "The thing is -- the thing is, I don't know how to --"  

 "How to get onto the platform?" she said kindly, and Harry nodded.  

 "Not to worry," she said. "All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous. Go on, go now before Ron."

Peer support. You watch others do it, and you think about doing it yourself. You wonder if you can do it, and then you ask others how you can do it. They support you, give you encouragement – and when you run at the Platform you might be scared to death, but you know you’ll be okay.

Then why don’t we pay more attention to it?

There’s a new scheme in Australia called the ‘National Disability Insurance Scheme’. I’ve been asking a lot of people where the gaps are, what is needed. And I hear over and over again – information, advocacy – and peer support.

There are pockets of peer support cropping up, but it’s a bit hit and miss. And rarely funded, and rarely designed and run by people with disability themselves. It’s a bit like having a bunch of Muggles sitting in the National Rail office, talking vaguely about the need for more information around Platform Nine and Three Quarters without actually having a great idea about how it works on the ground.

Muggle advice. Under the rules of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, my 22 year old city based physiotherapist can become a planner, but I cannot. Call me sceptical, but I don’t think she knows a lot about equipment, support, Scouting, living in the country, parenting – let alone planning. She knows a LOT about physiotherapy. On the other hand, most people with disability spend their lives planning – so why is an allied health qualification important when it comes to being an NDIA Planner?

Disabled people consistently choose cheaper and more effective options if they are allowed to make their own choices and support each other to do so. Recognising that disabled people are the experts in their own lives doesn’t mean just paying lip service to the idea – it means funding and implementing and supporting real peer support networks, with actual involvement at every step of the way.

I’m dreaming of a time when governments and powerbrokers recognise that and move forward with the idea. I wonder what would be possible if we were supported to work out how to crash through the barriers that we face every day - with each other, not people who insist on doing things 'to' or 'for' us instead of 'with' us.

A world where people with disability could share and support and do things for themselves and each other. It would be – well, magic.

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