For too long, individuals with disabilities have been viewed as recipients, not providers of service. However, many are fully capable and willing to provide service to others in their community. Their desire to become active volunteers should not be overlooked. Their involvement should not be merely as token volunteers, but as fully-participating, active, and responsible partners of the community service team.
-- from the Training Manual for Working With Youth Volunteers Who Have Disabilities, produced by Youth Volunteer Corps.
Just as building designs can help persons in wheelchairs to navigate doorways, there are ways to accommodate persons with disabilities to serve in volunteering programs. And an added bonus: making assignments accessible for people with disabilities ends up making them more accessible for everyone.
The key to making volunteering assignments accessible is to put all of the requirements for a volunteering assignment in writing, and let potential volunteers view this complete information. Potential applicants know what they can and cannot do, and most volunteers will search for opportunities based on their abilities, as well as his or her interests. If the volunteering assignment is very clear about requirements of the task, everyone -- with and without disabilities -- can self-screen for it.
Back in 2009, on UKVPMs, an online discussion group for volunteer managers in the United Kingdom that I read regularly, someone posted a message about making the volunteering opportunities at his organization more accessible for people with disabilities, childcare needs etc. GREAT IDEA! Not so great was the idea to put a symbol next to certain volunteering opportunities so that those who need certain accommodations "can easily see which opportunities they can participate in." YIKES!
Instead, a volunteer manager might want to include the accessibility symbol next to a statement before every volunteer assignment listing that says,
We strive to make our volunteering opportunities accessible to the largest number of people possible. If you have accessibility requirements that you aren't sure could be accommodated in an assignment in which you are interested, please contact us, so we can work together to accommodate you in this or another assignment.
If you want to put symbols next to, say, those assignments that require working during business hours, or that require a volunteer to use his or her own car, or assignments requiring bi-lingual speakers, that's fine. But don't brand assignments based on accessibility. Instead, keep working to make all assignments as accessible as possible.
Resources that can help you make your volunteering activities accessible:
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