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Q We are a reasonably small gallery that does a lot of education work, and we rely heavily on volunteers. At the moment, we don’t have any disabled volunteers and would like to change this. What is the best way to get it right?
A It’s fantastic that you want to change the situation and even better that you want to get it right. Volunteering is a great way to build skills and confidence for anyone, including disabled people. Many disabled people on benefits find volunteering a good way to keep the positive impacts of working, whilst avoiding the financial issues of paid work. The first thing to check is whether you already have more disabled volunteers than you imagine. Remember, many disabled people have hidden impairments and 70% of 70 year-olds could be classed as disabled people – they just may not use the word. I wouldn’t jump in cold and start asking “are you a disabled person?” though, as some people can find this quite intrusive.
Next time you gather your volunteers together, why not ask what access requirements their friends and families have? This might encourage people to come forward about their own access requirements. To find disabled people who might be interested in volunteering, check out your local disability forum or advisory group; see if any impairment-specific organisations can help – deaf clubs or groups for visually impaired people for example; try advertising in hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ surgeries (not all disabled people use such services regularly, but some do); and talk to a disability employment advisor at JobCentrePlus and explain what you want to achieve. They should have links that will help you reach people. Remember to budget to meet the access costs of disabled volunteers. Although disabled workers can get Access to Work support through JobCentrePlus, this is not available for volunteers. Shape also has a fantastic Top Tips sheet on working with disabled volunteers, which will help you to understand both the benefits and barriers, while encouraging you to be inviting, clear and supportive.
This week’s question was answered by Jo Verrent, who is Director of ‘ADA inc’ and runs Sync, a leadership development programme for disabled people in the cultural sector for the Cultural Leadership Programme.
w http://www.adainc.org; www.syncleadership.co.uk;
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