Report finds organisations need to adapt to help remove barriers faced by disabled volunteers

Categories: School of Health and Society

New research has provided recommendations on how organisations can support more inclusive volunteering opportunities for disabled adults.

The report was funded by Spirit of 2012, the London 2012 legacy funder, as part of its incubation fund to support inclusive volunteering and understand more about volunteering for disabled people.

The researchers analysed 34,318 responses to the UK Household Longitudinal Survey and found that two out of every five adults (38%) in the UK are disabled. Researchers found that disabled adults are just as likely to volunteer as non-disabled adults. 

Having gone to college or university is a significant predictor of volunteering for disabled and non-disabled volunteers alike. However, access to the internet is strongly associated with the likelihood that a disabled person will volunteer, although not for non-disabled adults.  

The benefits of volunteering for disabled people included improved health and well-being, increased social connections and networks, building confidence and self-esteem, and learning new skills for future employment. The wider community also benefited, for instance through improved understanding, support and knowledge about disabled people.

The disabled volunteers who took part in the study were predominantly positive about their volunteering experience, especially if they were well supported, useful, connected and valued. However, researchers found that they also encountered significant challenges, including practical barriers related to accessing volunteering opportunities and accessibility more broadly. Issues around the application process, transport, digital exclusion and welfare benefits were also frequently mentioned as barriers.

Other challenges related to cultural or attitudinal barriers from the public, organisations, paid staff or other volunteers. Disabled volunteers experienced stigma, stereotyping and bias from all these groups and while direct discrimination is less common, the report found it still exists.

There is still a low level of understanding about volunteering and welfare benefits among volunteers as well as Job Centre Plus staff and organisations that use volunteers. The researchers suggest this could be addressed through improving the quality and clarity of the information available.

The research recommended that organisations focus more on the support and adjustments needed rather than the impairment. This requires knowing what volunteers need in order to participate and involves asking volunteers about needs on a regular basis, as needs change over time. 

The researchers also state that contribution of disabled volunteers needs to recognised and that Volunteers’ Week – held on 1-7 June – is an opportunity to do this. 

Dr Daiga Kamerāde, Reader in Work and Well-being at the University of Salford said: “It is clear from our research that volunteering contributes to better health and well-being and builds social capital. Policy makers should consider our recommendations to make volunteering more accessible and inclusive for all.

“It is also important that the contribution of disabled volunteers is celebrated, and the stories of disabled volunteers told. There needs to be greater recognition of the value of their involvement and more awareness of their lived experiences.”

Ruth Hollis, Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012, said: “Despite the known benefits and the large numbers of disabled volunteers in the UK, there are some major gaps in what we know about their backgrounds and experiences.

“This research will help organisations better understand the background and needs of disabled people, open up positive volunteering opportunities for disabled people and address harmful stereotypes and disparities. These are the issues that need to be tackled if disabled people are to have equal terms in society.”

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