Accommodations and Inclusivity When Volunteering

Volunteering is when a person or group gives away their time to help another individual, group or organization. There are benefits for people who volunteer as well as the community or the individual they are volunteering for. Community-based volunteer work or community service refers to people who work to improve their local community which occurs through non-profit organizations, local governments or even churches, for example.

Some proven benefits of community-based volunteer work or community service include improving teamwork and relationship skills, reducing stereotypes, deepening one’s appreciation of different cultures, and allowing people to find individuals they relate to. There have also been both positive effects on academic and personal skills.

Everyone can choose to volunteer if she, him, they, ze or zie chooses to do so. But unfortunately, not every individual, group or organization offers the same chances for people who want to volunteer. People who have disabilities or face barriers when volunteering need accommodations and inclusivity in order to participate. For example, I have chosen to volunteer from a young age. I have volunteered with numerous organizations, individuals and even groups. While most of my experiences are positive, I have had several times where due to my disability or the barriers I faced, I was not welcomed to volunteer with the organization. I was asked to leave, and it was made known that I was not welcomed to volunteer there anymore, rather than the organization asking how they could accommodate me.

While looking for new and exciting opportunities to volunteer for me, I came across Chantiers jeunesse. The organization works to help people reach their full potential and that of the community it works with through volunteering. It combines volunteerism and the developments of the local community while bringing together youth from around the world with a common cause, which in turn brings together work and fun.

With the barriers I have faced in the past, I was nervous when I applied to volunteer with Chantiers jeunesse. But I was met with open arms, inclusivity and accommodations so that I would feel welcomed and included. During my two-week volunteer project at Saint-Prosper, accommodations were made so that I was able to do work. It may not be the same as the rest of the participants, but I was still able to help. Also, it was made known that not all participants had the same physical capabilities as everyone else and that we had to keep that in mind when planning activities. I was used to being left out when it came to planning. I would let other people decide what they wanted to do and just find a way to include myself while not stopping others from doing what they wanted.

Furthermore, when the participants attended the Volunteers Meetup weekend in Plein Air Ville-Joie, that place was accommodating so all volunteers from all programs were able to attend. They were able to stay at the camp, volunteer, and interact and spend time with the rest of the participants. Some of the volunteers with physical disabilities planned several different activities which helped non-disabled volunteers see a small proportion of what these different individuals face every day. For example, some volunteers wore googles or even blindfolds, which reduced their vision. Others had one of their hands tied behind their back or wore gloves so they had a reduction in their dexterity. Some even had ear protection, which reduced their hearing. Upon participating myself and seeing other people doing so well, I realized how I took things for granted. Some volunteers faced different barriers than myself, and I never fully realized it before.

Also, despite these people being differently abled, I saw how they were still able to volunteer. With Chantiers jeunesse making the event inclusive for everyone, it made it more enjoyable. I, myself, was able to meet more people. I believe that everyone brings something different to events and has something to offer. So, with events being inclusive for everyone, people are able to learn more and gain a greater understanding of individual differences. Also, despite the barriers people face, they are still able to make a difference in the world. They can volunteer and help different individuals, groups or organizations. Accommodations need to be made, but it is still possible for them to be included, which helps people grow and increase their self-value or belief in themselves.

I enjoyed volunteering with Chantiers jeunesse because they are an organization that includes everyone. They made my volunteer experience so much more positive, and I learned so much more from it than the negative experiences I had in the past. Volunteering with Chantiers jeunesse made me believe in myself more, feel better about myself and want to continue to volunteer. Furthermore, it made me realize that when everyone is included, it is a more positive environment and we are able to work together to get things done.

Individuals, groups and organizations that offer and advertise volunteering need to offer accommodations and inclusivity so that everyone is able to volunteer for them. Make it feel welcoming so that everyone, regardless of the barriers they face, can volunteer. Also, individuals, groups and organizations need to make it known that they offer accommodations—because, unfortunately, not everyone does—so that people can choose to volunteer.

Individuals, groups and organizations should accept all potential volunteers and the diversity which each volunteer brings. The individuals, groups and organizations, should provide training and support to help volunteers with disabilities so that they are able to participate fully. Also, these individuals, groups and organizations need to be aware of what accessibility and inclusion mean so that they can identify and remove barriers. They need to make it known that they are inclusive of everyone and that accommodations can be made as well. For example, do not assume that someone can or cannot do a task. It is best to ask if they are able to do it or how it could be modified so that they could do it.

Additionally, if some volunteers face barriers, the individual, group or organization for whom they are volunteering can help them look for solutions so they can participate fully. Lastly, staff and volunteers should be provided with disability confidence and training in how to improve or promote inclusion.

By sharing this text, I hope to educate individuals, groups and organizations about the importance of being inclusive to everyone when it comes to volunteering and in everyday life. I also hope to remind everyone that despite the barriers people face, we all have something to offer and we can help change things one small step at a time.

Nicole Dyer, CJ ambassador