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Happy International Day for Disabled People 🙂
December 3rd, 2019
It is with pleasure that I write this short blog today on December 3, a day that the International Day for Disabled People is celebrated, an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. The United Nations proclaimed this as a recognised day for the celebration of the achievements of people living with disabilities across the world. It is also a day upon which to promote awareness of the challenges faced by over 1 billion people living with disabilities, and the role communities and societies play in accelerating the eradication of barriers to social inclusion, equity, participation and citizenship.
Here in the UK, there are around 13.3 million disabled people (almost one in five of the population), many of who continue to face multiple, stubborn barriers to fully participate, equally, as active citizens in our society. Whilst these stubborn barriers remain for people with disabilities, it is refreshing to share that volunteering is proving more popular than ever as an appealing and meaningful solution in breaking down those barriers.
Each year, a unique theme is assigned to this day in order to further the conversation on a particular topic and this year’s focus is on ‘The future is accessible’
The future of volunteering is becoming more accessible.
Listening to the lived experiences of our volunteers who have disabilities, combined with our extensive experience, knowledge and learning over the years, tell us that volunteering is becoming more accessible to people with a disability. In our own way, Volunteering Matters plays its part in breaking down those barriers faced by disabled people, celebrating their achievements as volunteers, beneficiaries and society as a whole through the provision of life-changing opportunities across a number of our projects and programmes. One of our most notable projects over the past three years has been our involvement as a national partner in a project called Get Out Get Active (GOGA) a fully inclusive sport, active recreation and volunteering project funded by Spirit of 2012
Volunteering has played an integral role in the huge success of GOGA, and its incredibly inclusive nature continues to appeal to people with a disability who volunteer in all sorts of roles. Roles that are helping people with a disability acquire the skills, confidence and a sense of connectedness that empowers them to be active contributors to society.
What I love about GOGA is that it’s the first approach of its kind on such a large scale to support disabled & non-disabled people to get out get active together in some of our least active communities across the UK. It’s unique in that it very much feels more like an approach than a traditional programme, and is values led with fun, enjoyment and active inclusion at its heart. But more importantly, it is powered by inclusive volunteering with disabled and non-disabled people volunteering alongside each other. Having had the absolute pleasure and experience in my career and personal life to identify, co-develop and implement inclusive volunteering-led solutions with disabled people, I know that it is only together that we can continue removing the barriers faced by disabled people.
Together, we are doing this at Volunteering Matters, where celebrating the success, and awareness of, people with a disability is not kept to just a single day, it is seamlessly, proudly and inclusively promoted throughout all our projects and programmes. We celebrate the shared impact of volunteering when disabled people and non-disabled people volunteer together, further challenging misconceptions around disability. This is evident in our engagement with GOGA that has seen the development of our interactive volunteering management toolkit. Here, we receive the fantastic stories of GOGA volunteers up and down the country, providing an accessible platform for others outside the GOGA family to take learning and inspiration to provide meaningful volunteering opportunities for people with disabilities.
Positively influencing perceptions of disability home and abroad.
One remarkable project that Volunteering Matters deliver is Match and Mentor a project supporting people with a learning disability or additional support needs to become actively involved in their community by volunteering or other activities in Norfolk. People with learning disabilities often face multiple barriers, mostly attitudinal barriers, but Match and Mentor volunteers see the person and the ability. This inclusive mindset of the volunteers provides people with learning disabilities the confidence and trust to grasp the opportunity to access new environments and activities they may not have previously done so. This supports individuals to be more independent and to integrate into the community as active, equal citizens.
I feel that when we celebrate the success and achievements of people with disabilities, it is equally important to recognise those fantastic, inclusively minded non-disabled people who volunteer alongside disabled people to together shift those attitudinal barriers faced by disabled people.
Whilst the Match and Mentor project runs in Norfolk, not only does it recruit local people to act as support volunteers, but international people are also recruited from another of Volunteering Matters unique programmes Full Time Volunteering FTV Bringing in volunteers who are on placement for one year into a project like Match and Mentor is a wonderful opportunity to further raise awareness of disability and celebrate the ability of people with disability internationally. Spreading that awareness beyond our shores can no doubt positively influence perceptions of disability amongst our international volunteers and also that of our international partners volunteering projects.
Volunteering transforms lives at any age.
How about this for a lovely story from one of my colleagues at Volunteering Matters…. A 93 year old lady, who lives alone, broke her femur last year. Initially isolated and unable to access services independently, she was matched with a mentee that has supported her to attend the hairdresser every week, digitally connect with her brother in Florida, sit, chat and enjoy have tea. As a result of this supported volunteering and mentoring, she is confident, happier and enjoying her new found independence to access the everyday things that are meaningful to her, including a chat and a cuppa. In particular, her mastery of digital inclusion skills to use Siri as she prefers communicating through voice commands has enabled her to use FaceTime to connect with her brother on the other side of the world.
There is so much more that could be written here to celebrate the achievements of disabled volunteers, beneficiaries and society as a whole through the life-changing opportunities provided by Volunteering Matters and our partners. But I hope this short blog has provided a bitesize of some of our projects, raised awareness of the transformative power of inclusive volunteering for disabled people and how that, together, we can get more disabled people volunteering to reap the benefits of that transformational power. If you, or someone you are supporting, would like to know more about our work please check out our website volunteeringmatters.org.uk and get in touch.
14th November 2019
Aqua Mitts making a splash at GOGA in Fife improvers session!
By Richard Brickley OBE MBE: Aqua Mitts Fife
11th November 2019
GOGA Pembrokeshire transforming lives through the Power of Sport.
Read how here: GOGA Pembs
2nd October 2019
New funding will broaden Get Out Get Active impact
Read the announcement here: New funding will broaden impact of GOGA
2nd October 2019
Deaflympian, Lucy Walkup, harnessing the power of volunteering alongside teaching aspirations.
Read Lucy’s story here: Deaflympian’s volunteer journey
23rd September, 2019
Peer Mentor Volunteers feeling ‘job ready’ on their GOGA volunteer journeys!
Read their story here: GOGA in Fife Peer Mentors
20th September, 2019
Blog: GOGA approach to volunteering is appealing to those who have most to gain…
By Darren Wyn Jones
The Get Out Get Active (GOGA) programme, supported by Spirit of 2012, inspires disabled and non-disabled people to be active together, aiming to get some of the UK’s least active people across 18 localities moving more through fun, inclusive active recreation and volunteering. When it comes to volunteering, GOGA’s approach is truly values driven with inclusion at its heart, enabling disabled people in particular to feel like they’re changing their own lives, the lives of others, feeling part of the community, feeling like they’re doing something that really matters – and that’s really worth it!
The benefits of sport and physical activity for disabled people is well documented but there remains some gap in knowledge around the benefits and experiences of volunteering in sport and physical activity for disabled people, particularly for people with autism and/or learning disabilities. That said, recent research by Activity Alliance titled ‘Encouraging more disabled people to volunteer in sport’ sport’ released in late 2017 has started to plug this gap when they explored the barriers to volunteering and the drivers that could improve its appeal. Encouragingly, their findings reinforces some of the learning we at Volunteering Matters a national partner of GOGA, are capturing from disabled people volunteering through GOGA, particularly through the Peer Mentor volunteer role.
Whilst this blog won’t address the gap in knowledge that remains, I hope it will add something to the existing knowledge on the back of Activity Alliance research. I also want to briefly shed some light on the power of offering the opportunity to volunteer alongside participation, in what has emerged as the ‘dual-role’ in sport and physical activity, to encourage more disabled people to get active through volunteering.
The emergence of the dual-role
One of the captivating themes from GOGA has been the organic emergence of what we have dubbed the ‘dual-role’ where disabled people in particular are taking up volunteering alongside their physical participation in GOGA activity. This dual-role is especially appealing for people with autism and/or learning disabilities. Having had the absolute pleasure to meet with some of the amazing people who are excelling in these roles, I wanted to better understand, from their perspective, why?
Well, having asked the question of a few GOGA volunteers in Fife and Rochdale who are all on the autism spectrum and involved in GOGA for at least 18 months, the collective answer is simply ‘I was offered the chance to volunteer!’ When each volunteer expanded on their reasons for taking the chance to volunteer alongside their participation, each felt by doing so they were ‘helping others to benefit from physical activity whilst helping myself at the same time, doing both makes me feel like I have more time!’
But don’t disabled people have time to commit to volunteering long term?
To a large extent yes, with 59% of disabled people compared with 53% of non-disabled people unable to commit to volunteering long-term according to Activity Alliance research. However, they acknowledge that their sampling by impairment groups were not equally representative with only 24 of the 551 disabled people who completed the quantitative study with a learning impairment. So it is quite revealing that volunteering in GOGA among disabled people, when combined with participation, is challenging this perceived barrier to volunteering among disabled people, especially those with autism and/or a learning disability.
So how is the GOGA approach breaking down this perceived barrier to volunteering for disabled people, especially for people with autism and/or learning disability? What’s the key learning?
The GOGA offer is proving that with the right opportunity, at the right time, at the right place and by co-creating the role with the volunteer to meet their specific needs, experiences and lifestyle you give yourself a better chance of providing a rewarding volunteering experience. This co-creation can bring solutions to your inclusive volunteering practices and wellbeing inequalities faced by people with autism and/or learning disability. Flexibility, ongoing support and opportunity for progression is absolutely crucial to this.
This is where the expertise, experience and know-how of Volunteering Matters has played a crucial part in supporting GOGA to create flexible, meaningful and progressive volunteer roles that have appealed to disabled people. For us, the role that is having the greatest impact on disabled people is the Peer Mentor volunteer role that was produced with Disability Rights UK, also a proud national partner of GOGA. Instead of going into the Peer Mentor volunteer role in this article, I would encourage you to read about the Peer Mentor volunteer role in practice in GOGA Fife’s case-study available here
Our learning from the GOGA approach is this; volunteering is as much of a key driver to the wider determinants of one’s wellbeing as physical activity itself. Any organisation, in any sector, who are looking to engage the least active in physical activity through their service delivery need to place equal value on their volunteering offer too. Even better, if your volunteering offer is co-created with potential volunteers themselves or existing participants, especially those with knowledge derived through their personal experience of a particular situation, you are much more likely to successfully engage with your target audience. In doing so, you are giving yourself a powerful ‘hook’ to engage people with, and without, a disability who haven’t traditionally thought of physical activity being for them. So a strong, flexible and inclusive volunteering offer can provide the meaningful entry point into eventual physical activity for those people who have most to gain.
To get you thinking inclusively watch Activity Alliance’ fantastic ‘Talk to Me’ 10 principles that can help sport providers to deliver more appealing and inclusive opportunities for disabled people. Our learning has proven that these principles can certainly be applied to volunteering in the sport and physical activity sector, with many of them also applicable cross-sector to engage volunteers with meaningful opportunities that appeal to them. Watch and listen to Activity Alliance ‘Talk to Me’ video here
If you are serious about engaging the least active into sustained physical activity in your communities, make an inclusive volunteer programme a top priority. Our Online Toolkit is an excellent place to start.