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If you are like most Americans, you spend at least a portion of your free time volunteering. Doing so is a way of helping others and building a strong community. It also helps you develop new skills and make social contacts.
Organizations also benefit. Many non-profits, for example, could not exist without people giving of their time and talents on a regular basis.
Despite the known benefits, people with disabilities frequently don’t have the chance to volunteer.
Recognizing this gap, Pam Kappelides and Jennifer Spoor, both of LaTrobe University in Australia, examined the benefits and barriers of volunteering for this population. They collected data from multiple sources, including volunteers with a disability, organizational staff members, and clients who received services from the volunteers.
They identified a number of benefits for the volunteers themselves, including social acceptance, greater sense of inclusion, and personal development.
Nevertheless, all parties who took part in the study pointed to barriers. Organizational decision makers sometimes hold negative attitudes toward volunteers with disabilities. The same is true for some clients and customers. Thus, a sense of inclusion and belonging wanes.In other cases, organizational factors, whether the physical layout of the space or the lack of information for volunteers, makes participation near impossible.
Based on these findings, the authors developed a number of recommendations. Organizations should create a culture where communication among all parties is enhanced. The culture should also be inclusive, ensuring that all people feel welcome and that they can thrive. Finally, volunteer training is needed, ensuring consistency of services.
Taking these steps will help remove the barriers for people with disabilities who seek to volunteer, and as a result, all parties will benefit.