Research shows that disabled people are less likely to volunteer than non-disabled people. According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 35% of people with a disability or long-term limiting illness participate in formal volunteering, compared to 42% with no disability. Disabled people are also less likely to participate in sport.
Under the Equality Act 2010, you’re disabled ‘if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’ The term disabled covers a range of impairments, not all of which are physical and many of which are invisible to others. Alongside those who qualify as disabled, there are also people who have long-term health conditions. These people may not be considered disabled if the management of their condition enables them to do daily activities normally, although they may have important health considerations to make before they do certain activities.
Disabled people face barriers to participation in all aspects of life and sports volunteering is no exception. Barriers start with people’s attitudes: non-disabled people may believe that a volunteering opportunity could not be filled by a disabled person or that accommodating a disabled volunteer would be too difficult. In many cases this isn’t actually true, this is merely an assumption and likely to exist because of a lack of awareness and training.
Disabled people may also be less likely to put themselves forward to volunteer because they’re used to encountering resistance from others. They may also be unable to find out about volunteering opportunities because of a communication barrier: if someone is blind or needs extra help and support with reading for instance, they may be unaware of the volunteering opportunities you have posted online.
Encouraging disabled people to volunteer at your club or group is really worthwhile, and not just for the volunteers. It sends a strong message out to your members that your club is an inclusive place where everyone is welcome. This is particularly important if children and young people are members at your club, as it will give them a positive attitude towards disability. If you have disabled people taking part in your sport, disabled volunteers and coaches will be powerful role models for them too. Disabled people can also make excellent coaches for others with disabilities because they have a personal understanding of the impact of an impairment and how to deal with it as a sports participant.
The good news is there are lots of resources out there which can help you find and include disabled people as volunteers at your club.
The English Federation of Disability Sport’s Inclusion Club Hub will help you to include more disabled people in all of your club’s activities, including volunteering:
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has some useful information on developing an inclusive volunteering scheme.
The NCVO site also features a case study of how one organisation supported volunteering opportunities for adults with disabilities.
Get more information on good practice in involving disabled people below.