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Maine VolunteerFare

Manager Helpline

Published January 19, 2006

Benefits of Partnering with Volunteers with Disabilities

Partnering with volunteers with disabilities is one means to meet the goals of your volunteer program and help your organization fulfill its mission.

People with disabilities represent a vast bank of untapped resources for organizations. People with disabilities have not traditionally been perceived or recognized as members of our volunteer teams. As a result, little effort has been made to recruit these individuals. Instead of competing for the same few over-committed members of your community who do not have disabilities, consider a focused outreach initiative targeted at people with disabilities.

Some individuals with disabilities have developed skills and strengths over time as they have learned to live with their disabilities. These additional skills should not be overlooked as they can add to the capacity of the organization.

Volunteers with disabilities bring a different perspective and a different collection of life experiences to our organizations. We are just beginning to explore and understand the many benefits we accrue by promoting diversity within our organizations: exposure to new and different ideas; broader perspectives; increased ability to connect with different sectors of our community; and an enhanced ability to provide service to our community, to name just a few. Partnering with volunteers with disabilities helps us build more diverse organizations.

Separating Myth from Fact

Incorporating people with disabilities into your volunteer program is compatible with a belief in the universal right of all persons to volunteer in their communities.

Fact: People with disabilities bring a wide variety of skills, interests, and expertise to their volunteer commitments, just like people without disabilities.

Fact: Volunteers with disabilities, as a group, do not necessarily demand or require more time than volunteers without disabilities.

While your organization may need to make some accommodations for volunteers with disabilities, many accommodations will not be as extensive or as costly as you may think.

Fact: Organizations are not expected or required to make extensive accommodations or physical modifications to their premises in those instances when the costs of such changes may result in undue financial hardship.

Fact: Many organizations have successfully secured one-time capital monies from their funding bodies and/or charitable donations to assist with the costs of renovations or equipment purchases.

Fact: There are no "special requirements" or "added costs" for your organization relating to insurance coverage and liability issues when partnering with volunteers with disabilities.

Implications for Volunteer Management

Managing and working with volunteers with disabilities is, in many ways, no different from managing and working with volunteers without disabilities.

Your primary responsibilities still include:

-developing and maintaining volunteer services as one strategy to fulfill your organization?s mandate

-recruiting, screening, and training volunteers

finding the best volunteer for each assignment or "matching" individuals to responsibilities

-supporting and recognizing the vital contributions volunteers make to your organization and consumers/service users

-working cooperatively with volunteers and employees to address any problems or concerns that may arise

Some of the specific tasks associated with these general responsibilities may, however, be different when working with volunteers with disabilities. The way you complete some tasks, or the methods and tools you use, may also need to be altered or adjusted to promote and ensure equal access to volunteer opportunities for persons with disabilities.

This information is taken from the Ready & Able: Including Volunteers with Disabilities Toolkit, published by the Volunteer Centre of Toronto, 2001.

Photo caption (above): Mark Honey of Ellsworth receives the Outstanding Public Sector Award at the 2004 Governor's Service Awards.