During the last couple of months, we have been promoting our VIVA project, being very excited and pleased that we have had our contract extended until 2019. This means we can continue to offer support to individuals with disabilities to access volunteering activities.
I have been working on my own case load at long last and am really enjoying getting out of the office and meeting people who have been referred. I get to know what their struggles are, what they enjoy doing, their passions and aspirations, and importantly for me, what makes them laugh.
People with disabilities can often face a lot of barriers to participation in volunteering. We encounter people from charities who feel that their volunteering opportunity could not be filled by a disabled person or that accommodating a disabled volunteer would be too difficult, or a drain on resources for the support that would be required. To ensure a positive experience for both the organisation and the disabled volunteer, we work closely with all parties in identifying specific barriers and developing strategies to address them. During the discussion we may consider simple adjustments which may be needed, e.g. transport arrangements or specialist equipment, and flexible working arrangements. Often it is just a small thing that can make all the difference, along with having a clear role rather than feeling like a ‘spare part.’
Another barrier can be a person’s own perception; that they believe a role may be too challenging, and they don’t want to be a hindrance or offered a role out of charity. Health conditions affecting their reliability is another common concern.
I met a lovely gentleman not long ago who is recovering from a stroke; he struggles to walk, and has aphasia, experiencing difficulties with talking, reading, telling the time and remembering things. He was an active person before his stroke and is very keen to volunteer and ‘start getting his life back’. He has lost his confidence and isn’t sure what he could do or offer.
It took a short while to encourage and help him identify positive things he can bring to a voluntary role. He has a passion for talking to the elderly – and loves learning about their life and local history. He is also interested in sports, having previously been part of a football team and involved in martial arts.
I have, hopefully, reassured him that he has lots to offer and in a couple of weeks’ time we are meeting with an organisation who provide gentle chair exercises for older people and a social group. The initial conversation with the manager was very positive; talking about how he can get involved with supporting the class and offering companionship and expressing a desire to accommodate him and help reduce any barriers to enable him to volunteer.
My hope is that over the next couple of months, he’ll be able to meet new people and fill his time constructively while helping others. Perhaps it’ll be the first step in a long term involvement in volunteering, perhaps it’ll be a way of regaining confidence and ‘getting his life back.’ It’s impossible to tell up front what difference volunteering might make to someone’s life but the Viva project exists because we think everyone should have a fair chance at finding out what volunteering could do for them.