Volunteering is something that people tend to avoid. Why? Some people think they don’t have time. They want to get paid. Maybe they don’t think it’s going to be helpful to them. Or, they think it’s a waste of time. Persons with disabilities, like others, may shy away from volunteering as well.
As Tony Botelho, Director of SFU Career and Volunteer Services (and former employee for SFU Centre for Students with Disabilities) states, any individual can volunteer. There shouldn’t be any limitations on whether or not you have a disability. The issue comes down to accommodation, such as wheelchair accessibility, methods for alleviating stress and distress, or software for the visually or hearing impaired.
Tony points out that yes, discrimination does exist against those with disabilities. People in society have different degrees of comfort when it comes to accommodating those with disabilities. People with disabilities, Tony states, like any other underprivileged group, have to work harder to access the same opportunities as people without disabilities.
This is where volunteering can help build essential connections and relationships.
Tony further states that if you want to volunteer, start first with what interests you. What are the issues that are of interest to you? Are there any causes that you’re passionate about? If not, then focus on your skills. What skills would you like to nurture or develop? Volunteering can help you with building your skills.
How else can volunteering help you?
Well, Tony states that it can give you some clarity. You can figure out what you want and what you don’t want, what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. Tony mentioned that people are often surprised at the range of opportunities available when it comes to volunteering and at how meaningful volunteer work can be.
Albert Fung, the Volunteer Services Coordinator for SFU Career and Volunteer Services, knows exactly how meaningful volunteering can be. Back when Albert was still a student at SFU double majoring in business and computer science, he was a volunteer for a grassroots youth organization that helped new immigrant youth to settle in Canada. He was part of a team that created, produced, and hosted a radio show on a weekly basis. He volunteered at this organization for a few years. It was also during this time that he was accepting co-op jobs working with computers and he was realizing that he did not like it, and began to have a bit of a “what am I going to do now?” crisis.
One day, an opportunity was posted at the organization Albert was volunteering for. At first, he was deterred from applying, as he did not believe that he was qualified - in his mind, he was “just a volunteer,” without formal psychology or social work training. The position, however, entailed all the same responsibilities that he had been doing as a volunteer, the only difference is that they now wanted to pay him. Albert says that’s when the light bulb came on, that even though he wasn’t being paid, his skill set was still valuable. He ended up applying for the position and getting the job. That’s how he started in the social services field. Since then, his career path has led to SFU where he has been for the last 3 years.
Volunteering helped Albert discover his passion and develop his skills. Volunteering can do the same for you.