By Kimberly Miller, Pam Scoglio and Stuart Schleien, International Journal of Volunteer Administration, July 2010
While volunteering has many advantages for the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, community and the volunteers themselves, it may emphasise social divides, as volunteers are typically people with higher income, higher education and social resources providing support for those in need. It is important to acknowledge the social risks involved and strive for inclusive volunteering.
As Miller and her colleagues explain, inclusive volunteering seeks to capture and capitalise on the contribution that comes from those in our community who are rarely viewed as assets and it represents a potent strategy for building the capacity of individuals, NFPs and the community. In particular, the authors discuss the inclusion of people with diverse abilities, not just as recipients of services but also as providers.
Volunteering can offer individuals with disabilities myriad benefits such as raised levels of maturity and responsibility, improved socialisation, relationship skills and development of social networks, increased sensitivity to the needs of others, increased self-confidence, a sense of empowerment and vocational skills development. However, there are some challenges involved in including such volunteers: negative attitudes among staff and consumers, inaccessible settings, and perceived skill deficits of individuals with disabilities. The authors cite studies showing that more than two-thirds of volunteer managers who engaged volunteers with disabilities believed the resulting benefits far outweighed the barriers.
Based on a community initiative in the US to include persons with diverse abilities as volunteers, the authors offer six suggestions on how to increase the likelihood of success of inclusive volunteering. These suggestions include: reaching out proactively to individuals with disabilities and the agencies that serve them to offer them volunteering opportunities; taking a positive asset-based approach; making a careful match between individuals’ strengths and agencies’ needs; and providing disability awareness and etiquette training to staff and volunteers.
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Further information about involving volunteers with a disability can be found in guidelines from Volunteering Australia: www.volunteeringaustralia.org/html/s02_article/article_view.asp?id=2303&nav_cat_id=255&nav_top_id=57