Subject Guide - Involving Volunteers with a Disability - Online Resource
Aimed primarily at managers of volunteers and not-for-profit organisations, this guide contains online resources to help you involve people with a disability in your volunteering program. All resources within this guide can be accessed free of charge.
While all sections of this guide will be valuable and are designed to meet readers' different needs, we recommend you don't miss Section 4, which can be downloaded as a PDF - Involving Volunteers with a Disability - Take a Closer Look (see contents item 4 below to download). The aim of this section is to build on the knowledge which already exists in the sector and provide practical advice, making connections across the collection of resources as a whole.
Help keep this guide current
We know there are many other relevant resources available, so please let us know if you have any resources to recommend for inclusion in future editions of this guide. Email us your suggestions and please report any broken links.
1: Fast facts - Gain an understanding of disability-related issues
2: Training materials - Build your skills and knowledge and train others in your organisation
3: Research findings, reports and journal articles - Extend your understanding of this subject
4: Involving Volunteers with a Disability - Take a Closer Look - Key issues that managers of volunteers and not-for-profit organisations need to address to successfully involve volunteers with a disability
Recognising that people with a disability can contribute
Traditionally, people with a disability have been seen as being on the receiving end of community services only. The challenge that many organisations face is to recognise that people with a disability have much to contribute, to look at ways of demystifying disability, and to break down preconceptions about the difficulties of involving people with a disability.
The 2003 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that 20% of the Australian population has a disability. While the number of people with a disability who volunteer is under-researched, anecdotal feedback from volunteer-involving organisations and volunteer resource centres suggests that an increasing number of people with a disability are looking at ways to engage with their communities and become more socially active.
Organisations need to remember that people with a disability share the same motivations for volunteering as anyone else they volunteer to learn new skills, to meet new people, to contribute to their community, and to build self-confidence.
There are many benefits to organisations which involve people with a disability in their volunteering programs. These include:
- the new perspectives that people with a disability can offer;
- the creation of an accessible and inclusive volunteer program that reflects the diversity of the community;
- increased awareness of disability and its implications, leading to improvements in communication and project and program design.
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1: Fast facts
Resources that will help you to quickly gain an understanding of disability-related issues and give you a good starting point for building your knowledge.
Facts and Figures about People with Disabilities in Australia
This information sheet provides a statistical snapshot of the number of people with a disability in Australia. (Also available to download in PDF)
Copyright owner/publisher: Commonwealth Disability Strategy, Commonwealth of Australia
This web article provides tips for communicating with students with disabilities such as vision impairment, hearing impairment, mental health conditions and physical disabilities. While the information is aimed at communication with students the tips are relevant for other groups.
Copyright owner/publisher: Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training
For more detailed information on effective communication, see also A way with words: Guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability and Communicating with people with disabilities (description below in Section 2,Training Materials).
What is a Disability?
This information sheet provides a good, basic introduction to the different types of disability, and provides some starting points for organisations looking at the accessibility of their organisation. (Also available to download in PDF)
Copyright owner/publisher: Commonwealth Disability Strategy, Commonwealth of Australia
We can help too
This is a brochure with tips for involving people with disabilities as volunteers. Copyright owner/publisher: focus Individualised Support Services
Making information about your program and services accessible to all Australians
Providing information in a range of formats is a key part of ensuring that information about your service is accessible to the whole of the community. This information sheet lists some alternative formats that organisations can consider using.
Copyright owner/publisher: Commonwealth Disability Strategy, Commonwealth of Australia
Engaging People with Disabilities in Volunteering
This is a concise, easy-to-read fact sheet with a number of good tips on how to effectively involve people with a disability in volunteering. It is easy to digest and will appeal to managers of volunteers with limited experience in working with people with a disability.
Copyright owner/publisher: Office for Volunteers, Government of South Australia
List of Peak Disability Organisations Building relationships with key organisations in the disability services sector is a good way for volunteer-involving organisations to develop their awareness and understanding of disability issues. The listed organisations may be able to help you identify local disability service providers, possible options for partnerships, and strategies for making your programs more accessible to people with a disability.
Copyright owner/publisher: list of organisations compiled by Volunteering Australia
Testimonials from volunteers with a disability and organisations which have involved volunteers with a disability
These testimonials are from volunteer-involving organisations and volunteers with a disability. While acknowledging that there can be initial challenges to face, their stories highlight that volunteering is a rewarding and enriching experience for everyone involved.
Download individuals' testimonials (Word doc)
Download organisation's testimonial (Word doc)
Copyright owner/publisher: testimonials compiled by Volunteering Australia and published with the permission of the authors.
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2: Training materials
Resources aimed at assisting managers of volunteers, not-for-profit organisations and staff and volunteers to develop their understanding of disability issues.
When you are involving people with a disability in your volunteer programs, it is important for people in your organisation to:
- understand what a disability is;
- know how to use appropriate language to communicate effectively with people with a disability;
- develop an awareness of physical barriers. This involves looking at accessibility to and within the building, and the possible need for adaptive equipment (e.g. large computer screen monitors, ergonomic chairs etc.).
These resources have been chosen as they are available free of charge, are able to be used independently as self-paced learning, and can also form the basis of training delivered to a group of people.
Can Do! Volunteering: a guide to involving young disabled people as volunteers
This online guide looks at how organisations can involve young people with a disability (aged 1625) in volunteering. Developed by two of the largest charities in the United Kingdom, the guide will be of interest to managers of volunteers and other staff in volunteer-involving organisations.
While some sections of the guide are specific to organisations in the United Kingdom only (e.g. additional contact details), the information presented still has value to an Australian audience, especially the sections on organisational buy-in and advertising for volunteers.
The guide also includes two case studies which will be of interest for managers of volunteers. These case studies show how two organisations went about making their volunteering opportunities more accessible, and what their efforts have achieved. (Also available to download in PDF)
Copyright owner/publisher: Leonard Cheshire Foundation, Scope (UK)
Side by Side
This is a comprehensive kit, designed as a program to link people with a disability to volunteering opportunities through the support of a mentor. It was developed by the Disability Information Advocacy Service Inc (DIAS) for Volunteering Central West, and funded by the NSW Premiers Department.
Information is presented in 3 sections in a clear and user-friendly format, and the kit can be used as a whole package or as individual components.
Containing handbooks, resource materials, facilitators guidelines and training materials, the kit is an excellent resource for people with a disability who are volunteering, for their mentors and not-for-profit organisations.
Download PDF Section 1
Download PDF Section 2
Download PDF Section 3
Copyright owner/publisher: Disability Information Advocacy Service Inc; Volunteering Central West
No Limits Involving people with a disability in your sport
Primarily aimed at increasing the participation in sport of people with a disability, this guide contains information that can be applied more broadly, and would be of assistance to managers of volunteers and not-for-profit organisations that are keen to raise their awareness of disability.
Information is presented in a simple and easy-to-understand format. Areas that may be of particular interest to the volunteer sector include:
- an accessibility checklist template;
- a list of useful contacts;
- a section on the importance of gaining the support of management.
Copyright owner/publisher: NSW Sport and Recreation 2004
A way with words: Guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability
Portraying people with a disability in a fair and accurate way, without negative stereotyping, is vital if our communities and places of work are to be inclusive. This booklet provides suggestions and guidelines for using appropriate language when interacting with and talking about people with a disability. While primarily written for the media, it is a useful reference for anyone who wishes to raise their own awareness. The information in the booklet is presented in a clear and easy-to-read format, and includes a section on interviewing techniques that managers of volunteers may find particularly helpful.
Copyright owner/publisher: The State of Queensland (Disability Services Queensland) 2005
Volunteer Connections: Creating an accessible and inclusive environment
Developed by Volunteer Canada, this manual is designed to assist managers of volunteers and not-for-profit organisations to involve volunteers with a disability in their programs.
Although written from a Canadian perspective, the manual contains information that can be applied in the Australian context. Managers of volunteers may find the section on Readying your organisation and its people of particular benefit. A number of questions are recommended for organisations to consider. Another area of interest will be the hints listed in the section on interviewing, which will be useful to organisations developing their internal policies and procedures.
Copyright owner/publisher: Volunteer Canada 2001
Communicating with People with Disabilities
Many volunteer-involving organisations have had limited experience in working alongside people with a disability, and not knowing how to communicate appropriately is often seen as one of the key barriers to involvement. This resource presents practical and easy-to-implement strategies in simple language, and raises awareness about a number of specific disabilities. It also contains a range of tips to consider in effectively communicating with people with a disability. While aimed at paid employees, the information presented in this resource is applicable to anyone interested in, and involved in supporting a person with a disability.
Copyright owner/publisher: Maroondah City Council; MetroAccess
Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans A Guide for Non-Government Organisations
Developed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), this is a valuable resource for CEOs and managers of volunteers who are committed to ensuring the inclusiveness of their organisation.
Written in clear, easy-to-understand language, the resource highlights the importance and benefits of developing and implementing a Disability Discrimination Action Plan, and explains that by doing so, organisations can benefit not only people with a disability, but other groups as well, including the aged, and people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.
Components of the guide that may be particularly helpful include:
- the use of case studies that show organisations what is achievable;
- the section on action plans and employment which can be applied in the volunteer context, and contains points that are in line with the National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not-for-Profit Organisations; and
- the How To section on developing action plans, which provides an easy-to-follow framework for organisations.
Copyright owner/publisher: Australian Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission 2001-2006
Contribute to Positive Learning
This learning guide looks at how to enhance and maintain the skills of people with disabilities and has been developed in line with national competency standards for disability services. It will be of particular interest to people working within the community services or health sectors who are looking to increase their awareness of disability issues.
The resource includes a number of activities that will build the learners knowledge in how to support, motivate and encourage people with a disability.
Copyright owner/publisher: Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) 1997
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3. Research findings, reports and articles
Research into volunteers with a disability is a growing area. While feedback from volunteer resource centres and volunteer-involving organisations indicates that the number of prospective volunteers who identify as having a disability is increasing, this information is largely anecdotal.
As new research resources are identified, they will be added to this section.
Volunteering and Disability: Experiences and perceptions of volunteering from disabled people and organisation
Reporting on the findings of a research project into volunteers with a disability, this resource extends our knowledge of volunteering by looking at the experiences and perceptions of people with a disability in relation to their voluntary activities. The resource also includes responses from volunteer-involving organisations and provides recommendations for consideration by organisations that are looking at extending their volunteer programs to be more inclusive of people with a disability.
One important finding of the research relates to the amount of structural change that organisations may need to undertake to effectively engage and support volunteers with a disability. In many cases, structural changes to surroundings are either not required, or minimal.
The feedback received from people with a disability shows that they often have a fear that organisations and the wider community have a low understanding and awareness of disability issues, and that this was a key barrier to volunteering for them.
Although there are some differences in the use of language (i.e. disabled people as opposed to people with a disability), the recommendations are in keeping with the principles of, and best practice in, volunteering in an Australian context.
Copyright owner/publisher: Volunteer Development Scotland
Volunteering for Mental Health
Summarising the findings of a survey on volunteering by people with a mental illness, this paper presents the views of people with a mental illness and their experiences of volunteering.
Published by the National Centre for Volunteering (2003), a companion publication called You cannot be serious! Involving volunteers with mental health problems is available to order from Volunteering England.
Copyright owner/publisher: Institute of Volunteering Research
Volunteers with Disabilities: Mapping Report
This report presents the findings of a survey (carried out by Active Communities) of the level of participation of people with a disability who volunteer in Victoria. The aim of the report (p.4) was to map the current situation with regard to participation rates, the roles that volunteers with a disability undertake and the support they receive in their roles, from both the disability day service and volunteer organisation perspective.
Sections of the report that managers of volunteers may find particularly interesting include the perceived barriers identified by organisations, as well as the volunteer roles undertaken by people who attend disability day centres, and the levels and kinds of support that volunteers with a disability may require.
Copyright owner/publisher: Activate Communities Scope (VIC) Ltd.
Volunteering for All? Exploring the link between volunteering and social exclusion
Summarising research findings undertaken by the Institute for Volunteering Research, United Kingdom, this report explores the question of whether volunteering is inclusive and looks at the role volunteering can play in reducing social exclusion.
People with a disability are one group that this research focuses on, along with people from a minority ethnic group and people with a criminal record. The report details the barriers to formal volunteering experienced by these groups, who have all been identified as being under-represented in formal volunteering.
Managers of volunteers may find the information in Chapter Four Making it work: How organisations have worked towards overcoming the barriers particularly useful as it highlights what other organisations have done to overcome barriers, and the benefits gained.
A four-page summary of the report can also be downloaded from the Institute for Volunteering Research
Copyright owner/publisher: Institute for Volunteering Research
Involvement of people with disabilities: Myth versus reality
M. Simpson in Australian Journal on Volunteering, vol. 6 no. 2, 2001, pp. 7072
This article aims to dispel the common perception that people with a disability are on the receiving end only of volunteer effort, and highlights the contributions that people with a disability can and do make.
The examples provided in the article will be useful for managers of volunteers when looking at identifying and creating volunteer positions within their organisations that are inclusive of people with a disability.
Copyright owner/publisher: Volunteering Australia
Count me in: people with a disability keen to volunteer
L. Bruce in Australian Journal on Volunteering, vol. 11 no 1, 2006, pp.5964
This article looks at the barriers that are often experienced by people with a disability who are seeking to volunteer. Aimed at volunteer-involving organisations, the article presents the views of people with a disability, and raises a number of issues for organisations to consider in making their volunteer programs more inclusive. These include the need for organisations to raise their awareness of people with a disability, and to consider how accessible and inclusive they are as an organisation, and in their volunteer programs.
Copyright owner/publisher: Volunteering Australia 2006
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4: Involving Volunteers with a Disability - Take a Closer Look
Download the report.
Aimed primarily at managers of volunteers and not-for-profit organisations, this guide canvasses key issues to consider when designing or reviewing your volunteer program in order to involve people with a disability, and provides practical advice about:
- challenging stereotypes and overcoming barriers,
- laying the foundation of an inclusive volunteer program,
- taking the next steps - recruitment and support,
- sharing knowledge.
To find out about current research projects and emerging trends, and to make contact with researchers on volunteering, visit our researchers database. The database can be searched by state, sector, research theme and demographics.
Acknowledgements: Volunteering Australia would like to thank all organisations and authors who have given us permission to include their resources free of charge in this Subject Guide. We also acknowledge and thank members of the reference group who contributed to the reviewing and evaluating of materials for this guide: Evan Bichara, Megan Salisbury, Jenny Morley, Miriam McDonough, and Michelle Marsiglia.