One of the big motivators to “finish” while working on my Ph.D., was simply knowing I would again have time in my schedule to do some volunteer work. I suppose it makes sense that many people believe that folks with disabilities or chronic illness are unable to participate in volunteering, community service, and areas of ministry. It has been my experience (27+ years) that people with disability seem to know their limits better than people who are able-bodied. This isn’t always true, obviously, since many of us who identify this way HAVE signed up to do more than we are physically, emotionally, or mentally, able to do. I have, however, met more people who know their limits within the disability population, than those who are able-bodied and habitually over-extend themselves.
Imagine my disappointment and surprise when numerous pleas to allow me to be involved in “extra curricular life” activities, were shot down again and again! I tried very hard to put myself in the “shoes” of the decision-makers and could see perhaps how they might think I have limitations that may interfere with my ability to be “on time and available”. I know it has been nearly five years since I was really able to immerse myself into various community roles as a result of the time and energy required to finish my degree. Maybe it has been an “out of sight/out of mind” reaction?
Regardless, I spent a couple of miserable weeks trying to figure out why I continued to be ignored by the decision-makers in places where volunteer teachers, trainers, and workers were needed. I decided to nix that miserable feeling and look for “other” and perhaps “new” areas to spend some of my non-work hours.
I’m so glad I did.
I am gearing up to initiate on an-campus chapter of Active Minds at the community college where I work. I am very excited about it and believe students will benefit from having a chapter and student group on campus. It will take a good number of months to generate the student body support needed, but I am willing to work hard to see it happen. I would have never LOOKED for something new like this if I had not found other doors closed to me.
Can Do Attitude
Ms. Amado at the University of Minnesota explains that people with disabilities can and should seek to volunteer in their communities as they receive the same benefits other able-bodied volunteers receive. Social inclusion (community membership and friendship), contribution (happiness and satisfaction), developing marketable skills and job opportunities, networking, and status/reputation, are all benefits volunteers receive (Amado, 2001, p. 28). So why do people with disability often struggle to find volunteer opportunities?
Sue Bott, director with Disability Rights of the UK, believes some of the barriers to volunteering are false assumptions. “Rather than thinking about what they can offer, organizations tend to imagine some of the perceived problems having disabled volunteers will cause them” (Hudson, 2013). Rak and Spencer (2016) encourage organizations seeking volunteers to improve the representation of people with disabilities. “Educate stakeholders about the benefits of volunteering and being part of civic, and other community based groups in improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities” (Rak & Spencer, 2016, p. 1705).
This all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are very real barriers to people with disabilities even if they find an opportunity to be involved. Transportation can be a significant issue, as can weather-related mobility barriers. One area of need and “very accessible” opportunities, includes mentorship. The disability community has taken very real and positive steps FORWARD, as the result of mentors making a difference. The American Association of People with Disabilities explains the importance of mentors with disabilities:
- The influence of mentors. Although the family was the most commonly cited influence on employment for the participants, professionals such as college professors, service providers, and employed individuals with disabilities, including benefits planners and community leaders, were also commonly mentioned.
- The power of mentors with disabilities. The participants in this study were driven to be self-sufficient through the influence, motivation and modeling of other successful people who have disabilities. The mentoring relationship took many forms, from one of general exposure to people with similar disabilities, to a support group, to a close individual friendship. Regardless of the form of mentoring, the effect on the participants was cited as a major factor in their successful transition to work.
- Support of peers. Many of the participants attributed their drive and success to the mentors they had in their lives. In some cases, peer mentoring occurred in the form of a support group of individuals with similar disabilities.
I know mentors with disabilities that spend numerous hours online, making a difference in the lives of others by being a mentor, coach, or advocate. There are numerous ways to be involved. Even “blogging” is a significant area of service and support. Many mentors with disabilities started out by simply writing about their struggles, successes, and life as a person with disability.
Has a door of opportunity been closed to you? Look around. I guarantee that other open doors are there. We simply have to find them, and walk through! Good luck!
Amado, A. (2001). Impact: University of Minnesota. Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/142/over3.html
Hudson, S. (2013). The Guardian: Is it too difficult for people with disabilities to find volunteering roles? Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2013/aug/14/disabilities-difficult-volunteering-roles
Rak, E. C. & Spencer, L. (2016). Community participation of persons with disabilities: volunteering, donations and involvement in groups and organizations. Disability Rehabilitation, 38(17). doi: 10.3109/09638288.2015.1107643
L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.
©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal