And you thought you were having a hard time!

By Hazel Finney, Volunteering Adviser, Community Impact Bucks
Contact Hazel via hazel@communityimpactbucks.org.uk

Modern life can be difficult, can’t it? So much technology around to automate everyday tasks, but when it comes down to getting good old-fashioned customer service, that’s when things can start to fall apart… hanging on the phone for hours trying to get a problem fixed that was caused by your ISP or energy provider sound familiar?

But imagine if you were coping with a disability (either mental or physical), and couldn’t even find a volunteering role suited to your needs, let alone a job… that’s something to really get frustrated about. According to NCVO*, “only 38% of people with a disability or long-term limiting illness participate in formal volunteering, compared to 46% with no disability. With so many more disabled people out of employment as well, one might expect the number of disabled volunteers to be significantly higher. But, unlike in employment, the Equality Act does not apply to volunteers. Disabled volunteers have no formal protection under the law. Similarly, there is no permanent equivalent to the Access to Work fund for volunteers.”

Disability Volunteer Charter – let’s make ourselves accountable

In December 2014, Community Impact Bucks played a pivotal role promoting and supporting the national launch of the pioneering Disability Volunteer Charter developed by the Disability Action Alliance (DAA), and the closing notes were delivered by Diane Rutter, our Services Director. The launch was hosted by Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) and the Bucks Legacy Board. The Charter’s vision is for a society in which the contribution of disabled people as volunteers is valued and volunteering opportunities are widely available on an equal and accessible basis; its aim is to increase the number, value and accessibility of opportunities for disabled people to volunteer their time, skills and experience.

This all sounds great on paper, but a little over 12 months since the launch, there are only around 100 not-for-profit organisations nationwide which have signed up to the Charter… this is extremely disappointing given the thousands and thousands of volunteer-involving groups in Britain. And the number of Buckinghamshire-based organisations that have pledged is sadly just too embarrassing to mention.

Accommodating volunteers with disabilities – Lindsey and Charles’ stories

At Community Impact Bucks, we involve several volunteers with a disability, having structured the opportunities to suit their need and abilities. As with all our volunteers, they have a named point of contact, are provided with support as necessary, and reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses; we also encourage all organisations involving volunteers to take these steps. Regular reviews are carried out with all our volunteers to support them in their role and make any necessary adjustments, and we frequently provide references on request. Read how Lindsey Chamier volunteers for us from home.

And here’s another great story from Charles Harrison, a customer service volunteer with High Wycombe Shopmobility

Charles 1

Charles had a brain haemorrhage in 1993, followed by 2 strokes, which left him with a weakness on his right hand side, epilepsy, and very poor short term memory. Manager, Claire McMackin, says that they have made various adjustments to enable Charles to volunteer:

“Charles’ disability is not visible to most people, only when you talk with him or spend time with him are you perhaps aware of his condition and his vulnerability. We have to continually remind him of certain tasks as his short term memory is very poor, he is unable to cope with certain situations within the shop, so it is agreed that he just walks away. He is very open about his conditions, and most of our customers are aware of them. He has been with us for 13 years and has worked 2300 hours for us. He is a very valued member of our team and is very popular with the team and customers.”

When I asked him how his volunteering experience makes him feel, this is what Charles had to say:
“It makes me feel good, it enables me to help less fortunate or less able-bodied people get out and about. I enjoy the socialisation and being part of a team. I feel extremely valued, and there are two mornings of the week that I look forward to, and no-one at Shopmobility takes advantage of me.”

Make your pledge today – stand up and be counted
That last sentence speaks for itself – so go on, disregard the irritations and inconveniences of 21st century life, and set some time aside in the next week to think about making your pledge to the Disability Volunteer Charter – and then go and sign up – let’s rally as a county and help boost the number of organisations that have pledged nationwide to 500 by December 2017.

I’d love to hear from you when you have – please contact me with your stories – especially if you’re already involving volunteers with disabilities in your organisation: hazel@communityimpactbucks.org.uk.

Some extra motivation and support can go a long way
Need further inspiration for your pledges? Disability Action Alliance has produced a handy publication showing how 3 not-for-profits have embraced their pledge commitments, and the positive impact that this has had.

Need further help and advice about involving volunteers with disabilities in your organisation? Please contact us on info@communityimpactbucks.org.uk or 0300 11 11250

*Or read this great article from NCVOHarnessing Disabled People’s Ability to Volunteer.

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