Gaining Volunteer Experience As a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

A woman and a visually impaired young man working with an ipad

Gaining volunteer experience is one way to develop some job skills, make new contacts and help to fine tune your work ethic. There are many options for volunteering, and most will provide you with a chance to help develop skills that can be transferred to a real job setting. The one thing volunteering will not provide you with is a paycheck. Therefore, I do think that volunteering can provide you with many benefits, but I think that it should be used sparingly and not as a replacement for paid employment.

According to Employment First, an organization that advocates for paid employment for individuals with disabilities, employment is the first priority and preferred outcome of people with disabilities. They indicate statistics that show that the number one predictor of gaining a paid job after high school graduation is to have paid work during high school. Students who have one or more paid jobs during high school are twice as likely to get a paid job after high school than those who have not worked a paid job. Those who have had two or more paid jobs during high school are three times more likely to find a paid job compared to those who did not have one during high school. With these statistics in mind along with the fact that there is a 70 percent unemployment rate for working age blind, I feel that it is extremely important for students who are blind and visually impaired to have a paid job during high school. For various reasons though, I feel that students who are blind and visually impaired get far less paid jobs during high school than their sighted peers. Some reasons for this may include less free time due to a more demanding schedule to provide instruction in the elements of the expanded core curriculum, lower expectations by self, parents and educators, lack of adequate transportation services, negative attitudes of employers and lack of job skills, confidence or motivation by the students themselves. My advice then is to start with volunteering at an early age and then once you turn 16, aim for a paid job.

Any sizable community will have lots of volunteer opportunities available. Some may require you to be a certain age or possibly require you to be accompanied by an adult. There are typically volunteer positions at hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers, humane societies, zoos, parks, childcare agencies and many nonprofit agencies. Also, a lot of special events utilize volunteers, such as local runs, farmers markets, festivals, etc. Volunteer tasks may involve anything from putting together mailings, handing out brochures at an information booth, sorting and filling orders at a food pantry, to refurbishing used computers or building homes with Habitat for Humanity. There are also opportunities for assisting the elderly with home chores, editing new letters and running fitness programs at community centers. I have volunteered for some events that allow you to sign up with another person, where I was able to sign up with a friend and then have natural supports with visual tasks. This included handing out water to participants in a portage and paddle event and handing out glasses and programs at a wine and cheese tasting fund raiser. An added benefit of volunteering at the latter was free admission to the event once our volunteer shift was finished.

Generally when you volunteer, you need to complete a brief application. For positions such as those in childcare or in a hospital, for example, you may be required to complete a background check. Often larger organizations will have applications online, whereas with smaller agencies, you will need to complete a paper application. Some organizations require all volunteers to complete a training, which will give you important information about the particular agency and what procedures to follow. Many larger organizations such as hospitals will have a volunteer coordinator. A good place to start for finding volunteer opportunities is a website called Volunteering and Civic Life in America.You can begin by typing in your area of interest and your zip code, and it will give you options.

A great advantage of volunteering may include the chance to meet people who do the hiring for a particular agency. I have heard that over 50 percent of job openings are never advertised, so you may get a chance to get information about job openings by those in the know. Volunteering also allows you to develop good people and job skills that can then be transferred to that much desired paid job. I recommend using your volunteer positions to develop your resume. This would include a resume entry listing the volunteer position, the agency you volunteered for and some accomplishments. In addition to showing a potential employer that you are active and involved, who knows, he or she may have an association with a particular agency that triggers fond memories which may lead to a foot in the door. So get out there, find some volunteer opportunities meet some new people and develop some job skills, and soon enough you will be ready for paid work.

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