Overview

Impact Feature Issue on Paraeducators Supporting Students with Disabilities and At-Risk

Finding a Good Match: Questions for Volunteers and Organizations to Ask

Author(s)

Jill Murray is the Coordinator for Self-Advocates as Leaders, an Oregon coalition supported by the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities and Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland.

People who have disability labels have skills, perspectives, and experience that they can use to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities through volunteering. For volunteering to be a positive experience, there must be a good match between the person and the volunteer position. Below are some questions that individuals with disabilities can ask themselves and the organizations as they search for the right volunteer activities for them, and questions that organizations can ask as they assess their own response to a volunteer with a disability.

Questions for Volunteers to Ask Themselves

  • Do I want to volunteer for something that I am already interested in? Or do I want to learn something new?
  • Do I believe my work has value?
  • Will I be able to make a meaningful contribution through this volunteer work? Will it be recognized?
  • Why do I want to volunteer my time instead of getting paid?
  • Do I have time to offer? What is the time commitment and what is the length of service?
  • Do I support the organization’s goals?
  • Do I want to volunteer with this organization because it is doing great things? Or because I want to change it? 
  • What will I learn through this volunteer experience? 
  • Do I want to volunteer with a disability-related agency?
  • Do I want to work where I can educate others about issues of people with disabilities?
  • Do I want to find a place that will link me to a new area or group?
  • Does the organization ever hire anyone with a developmental disability for paid employment? 

Questions for Volunteers to Ask Organizations

  • Will you tell me what to expect in this volunteer position?
  • Is this real work, with responsibilities and accountability?
  • Does your staff believe I am a valuable member of their team? 
  • What experience does your staff have working with people with support needs? 
  • If I have problems with my duties, my supervisor, or support issues, who is my contact?
  • Who would listen to me if I had ideas or shared perspectives on how the organization could improve?
  • Will you give me the supports I need to do the job you expect? 
  • Have others with disabilities volunteered here before? 
  • Can I call a past volunteer to get a reference? 
  • If this position is not the best match for me, how should I tell you?
  • If you think I could do a better job, how will you tell me?

Questions for Organizations to Ask Themselves

  • Why are we accepting this person as a volunteer?
  • Do we truly believe this person has something to offer?
  • How will we train this person and set up clear expectations for their work? 
  • Is the staff that will be the main contact prepared to respect this individual’s unique support needs, including alternative communication, transportation, mobility, coaching, and personal assistance needs?
  • How will we respond if this volunteer does not fulfill the responsibilities of the position?
  • How will we set up communication between staff about support needs of the individual?
  • Are we willing to problem-solve with the volunteer in an honest manner?
  • If this volunteer turns out to be productive and effective, are there any options to hire them? 

Hopefully, asking these questions will help create environments where individuals with disabilities who wish to volunteer can follow the advice of self-advocates from Oregon: “Find out what is out there to get involved in. Then pick something you really believe in and give it all you have.”

References

  • Duncan, C., Executive Director, Majors-Thrash, B., Council Staff, Davis, D., SAAL Chair, & et al. (2000). Mentoring new council members. Salem, OR: Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities.

  • Flynn, J., & Powers, I. (1999). Supporting individuals with developmental disabilities and family members on governance boards: Strategies for making it work. Salem: The Oregon Self-Determination Project.

  • Gobel, S., & Flynn, J. (1995). Not another board meeting: Guides to building inclusive decision-making groups. Salem, OR: Oregon Developmental Disabilities Council.