Tools & Resources

Volunteers with Disabilities

Overview

Young people and adults with disabilities may be interested in volunteering at your library. The community as a whole benefits when the library team welcomes volunteers with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities have many of the same motivations as volunteers without disabilities: wanting to give back, build a resume, meet a community-service requirement for graduation or an organization, or just fill the hours in a day. However, be aware that people with disabilities do not necessarily have the same opportunities to volunteer because of intentional or unintentional community barriers. If you can position your library as the go-to place for potential volunteers with disabilities, you may find a substantial and consistent source of volunteers. Remember, reading, walking, talking, and so forth are not necessarily requirements for the volunteer job.

Tips

When working with volunteers with disabilities, keep these tips in mind:
  • Recruit volunteers in the disability community. People with disabilities may not necessarily think of the library as a place to volunteer.
  • Work with the volunteers to tailor the assignment to their strengths and any challenges they want to address.
  • Consider individuals’ interests. People work better when they like what they are doing and feel they are contributing.
  • Be practical: a volunteer in a wheelchair may not be able to shelve books on the top shelf; a volunteer with classic autism may not be the best greeter.
  • Ask volunteers what, if any, accommodations they might need. Prepare the staff for the volunteer by making them feel comfortable working with people with disabilities through education and conversation.
  • Integrate the volunteer into the workplace. Include him or her in your conversations, coffee breaks, parties, and staff meetings, where appropriate.
  • Respect your volunteer’s privacy. Remember that supervisors and coworkers must know the individual’s needs but can only be told the diagnosis if offered by the individual. For example, a supervisor needs to know that Mary needs frequent breaks but not that she has attention deficit disorder.
  • Ask the volunteer for contact information in case problems arise during the workday that cannot easily be addressed. For example, if a volunteer with schizophrenia is disoriented one day, whom should be called for assistance?
  • Effectively communicate with your volunteer. For example, do not use complex sentence structures when speaking with a volunteer with a developmental disability or turn away from a volunteer who is deaf while speaking to him or her.
  • Purchase assistive technologies that will make it possible for them to work in the library.
  • Be flexible. Allow someone to work with a job coach; sometimes you get twice the work. Keep in mind that the coaching may be of a professional or informal nature. For example, a wife might assist her husband with mild Alzheimer’s in reading to children, while a social-service agency might pay to have a coach teach one of its clients how to read Roman numerals.

Resources

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