It’s Volunteers’ Week 2022, a celebration that marks the contribution that volunteers make to lives of people in this country and beyond. On Sunday, Spirit of 2012 joined #CheersForVolunteers, a social media campaign organised by the Together Coalition as part of Thank You Day.

This year Spirit of 2012 said a big thank you to everyone who has worked to improve the volunteering experience for disabled people, enabling them to give their time alongside their non-disabled peers.

New research published by Spirit of 2012 and undertaken by Kim Donahue Consultants showed that disabled and non-disabled people are just as likely to volunteer. Launched in the run up to Volunteers’ Week, the research analysed the Understanding Society survey of 40,000 UK households in order to profile disabled and non-disabled volunteers. Disabled and non-disabled volunteers have many similarities, but disabled volunteers offer their time more frequently and give more hours than non-disabled volunteers. They also tend to be more interested in politics and more likely to give to charitable causes than non-disabled volunteers.

Average rates of volunteering mask the diversity within different groups of disabled (and non-disabled) adults. People with more than one disability, mobility or learning difficulties are less likely to volunteer. But overall predictors of volunteering are similar for disabled and non-disabled people − those from higher socio-economic groups and with higher levels of education are more likely to offer their time.

Eight out of ten disabled volunteers have access to a car, with access to transport a barrier to volunteering for many disabled people.  Another significant finding is that internet use is strongly associated with volunteering among disabled people, but not for those who are not disabled.

The researchers also interviewed staff and volunteers in six case-study organisations. Both the survey and case studies highlighted the complex relationship between volunteering and employment. If volunteers are supported, volunteering can help people gain new skills and move into employment. But some disabled volunteers who were interviewed felt that their willingness to give their time was taken for granted and that without support, volunteering had become a replacement for paid employment.  The report calls for better clarification and training for job centres about how volunteering affects disability benefits.

Disabled volunteers were predominantly positive about their volunteering experience, especially if they feel well supported, useful and valued. Issues around the application process, transport, digital exclusion and welfare benefits were frequently mentioned as barriers to volunteering. Some disabled volunteers also talked about the negative assumptions and stereotypes held by those around them as an additional barrier to volunteering.

The researchers made practical proposals to reduce barriers to volunteering and to make sure that all disabled volunteers have positive experiences. Organisations who work with volunteers need to listen to people’s lived experience. Many organisations do not know if their volunteers are disabled, with the report calling for better data collection.

An Access to Volunteering Fund could increase the power of inclusive volunteering by reimbursing organisations for the cost of providing volunteers with specialist equipment. The Government’s National Disability Strategy is also an opportunity to address the inequalities faced by disabled people.

Spirit of 2012 will be continuing to support inclusive volunteering projects with three further grants:  Swim England’s Ripple Effect and the Volunteer Centre Dorset who are looking to increase volunteering opportunities in the heritage sector. We have also given a small grant to the Shaping the Future With Volunteering coalition, who are bringing together best practice examples from some of the country’s largest volunteering organisations. We will continue to celebrate the contribution that disabled volunteers have made to the organisations we have funded, including through initiatives such as Volunteers’ Week and #CheersForVolunteers.

The research and these funded projects will help organisations better understand the background and needs of disabled people, open up positive volunteering opportunities for disabled people and address stereotypes and disparities. These are issues that need to be tackled if disabled people are to participate on equal terms in society.

Download Volunteering Together: Inclusive Volunteering and Disabled People