The Right to Volunteer

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago entitled ‘What Makes A Volunteering Role Suitable’, highlighting the need to change our attitudes towards the ‘suitability’ of a candidate for a particular volunteering role. I asserted that ‘those who claim to have individual support needs should be taken on their individual merits, not as part of a category [automatically] labelled “disabled” or “unsuited” to the job.’ But what does this mean coming from me? I am not an expert in disability, I do not have a shining record of campaigning for disability awareness, and nor have I or my close friends and family ever been what we would conventionally call “disabled”. It therefore seems that, before taking the aforementioned blog as gospel, you and I should both hear from those in the know.

Sharon Daniels of the Judith Trust highlights popular misconceptions of disability

Sharon Daniels of the Judith Trust highlights popular misconceptions of disability

This week, at the bi-annual JVN Volunteer Management Seminar, several volunteer managers and I were fortunately given that opportunity. The aptly-named Valentine’s Day seminar, ‘Love Conquers All’, covered the theme of volunteering and disability. The first part of the session was conducted by Sharon Daniels of the Judith Trust, which currently runs its Inclusion Campaign, and considered the common misconceptions about disabled people and those with mental ill health in terms of what their conditions entail and what they can and cannot do. There were then example scenarios when the discussion was open to the floor about how to resolve the problems presented.

However, the truly unique part of the event came next. Two volunteers with disabilities were invited to present their views on their volunteering experience and on the wider issue of inclusive volunteering. First, Billie Brazil, who is a wheelchair user with learning difficulties, discussed her volunteering position at the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) – helping with their weekly mail-shots – and how her job in a special needs school was perfect for her as she could bring her personal experience of disability to the role. Second, Simon Davies, who has cerebral palsy and volunteers full time as a member of the Jewish Care fundraising team, was interviewed by a Jewish Care trainer. The audience was also treated to a specially made video about Simon, which challenged the narrow view that many people may see of him: Simon uses a wheelchair. In fact, he is a hugely important member of the Jewish Care workforce, despite his severely restricted speech and mobility, and he has raised over £20,000 for Jewish Care through his own online greeting cards company.

Simon Davies discusses his volunteering role

Simon Davies discusses his volunteering role

Simon and Billie’s revelation – that they were not restricted and were possibility even helped in their volunteering roles by their disabilities – emphasised what they called their “right to volunteer”. And it is clear that those at the seminar were hugely affected. Jamie Field of Jewish Care said, “It was a privilege to listen to articulate and thoughtful presentations from people that our community may have misconceptions about.” Rebecca Brookman of the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade (JLGB) said it was “really useful to hear from charities who embrace volunteers with disabilities”, and Lee Wax of Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) said it “raised issues I didn’t even know were issues.”

Billie Brazil asserts her "right to volunteer"

Billie Brazil asserts her “right to volunteer”

Hopefully we can all take on board the message – that disabled people and those with mental ill health have just as much right and ability to volunteer as anyone else. Charities should sit up and take notice of disabled people and what they can offer to their cause. And with any luck we will see the outcome of the JVN Volunteer Management Seminar, which Sharon Daniels called “A big step forward for inclusive volunteering in the Jewish community,” spread to wider society.

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Categories: JVN Events, Volunteering, Volunteering Issues, Volunteering Perspectives, Volunteering Profiles

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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