Supporting disabled volunteers
The Citizens Advice service prides itself on creating a supportive and welcoming working environment. We have a diverse and inclusive workforce and offer a range of support services to meet the needs of our disabled volunteers.
What our volunteers say
Kate Oakes, who is blind, was looking for opportunities to build up the skills she needed to move to a job in the advice sector. When she joined Salford CAB as a volunteer in 2009, she was delighted with the support she received, including the specific IT help she needed. She says:
“I found that everyone at Salford CAB was very open and welcoming. My blindness was not an issue at all and everyone had a very “can do” attitude. This made a refreshing change from many of the organisations I’d previously approached.”
“There’s lots of practical support available, for example the staff intranet is accessible to screen readers and IT support at Citizens Advice provided me with this software for use on one of their computers. All of the adviser training materials are in accessible format in Word documents and my tutors sent me electronic files in advance so I was able to have them on my laptop during the course.
“While volunteering, the advice session managers arranged for me to have longer appointment times where needed, to have access to the same computer at all times and for other volunteers to help me when clients needed assistance with form-filling or reading documents. Everyone was incredibly supportive as I moved through the organisation, from giving general advice, to casework, to becoming Advice Service Manager. I can’t fault the fantastic support I’ve had - it’s made it easy for me to get involved, feel that I was making a valuable contribution to the service and ultimately helped me move into a job that I really enjoy.”
Patrick Scanlan, who is visually impaired, became a volunteer with Wavertree Citizens Advice Bureau in September 2003. He says:
“Over the years I’ve been contacted by a number of bureaux and visually impaired workers wanting advice or support. With the help and support of my manager, Heather Brent, we arranged a meeting and set up a group called ‘Visually Impaired in the CAB’ (VICAB).
“This group is open to anyone who is, or works with, someone who is visually impaired. The aim is for people to support each other and to work with Citizens Advice to improve accessibility. There has been much progress over the past few years and we’re continuing to make improvements all the time. I couldn’t have done this without the support of my manager, the staff and volunteers at Wavertree CAB, those within Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust and the Institute of Money Advisers who have all worked with me on accessibility issues.
“When I first began to volunteer, I was supported by experienced advisers who assisted me with the clients’ paperwork and as I became more experienced I was able to pass on experience to new volunteers myself. I took the opportunity to go on a paid training programme and when, a year later, the opportunity arose for me to apply for one of the financial inclusion fund posts as a money adviser , I was successful in becoming the Disability Debt Worker at Wavertree CAB. Since then I’ve continued to develop my role in the CAB and kept my knowledge up-to-date with ongoing training.”
Jennifer McIntosh, who has cerebral palsy, studied psychology at York St John University and joined Leeds CAB after her post-graduate research funding came to an end. Keen to give something back as well as gain in confidence, Jennifer had a long history of volunteering before she joined CAB and feels safer and more appreciated volunteering than when she’s doing paid work. She says:
“People welcome whatever I do and I can work more on my own terms. I can select what I do and what I don’t do, and I can have a day off if I’m not feeling up to it. It’s also helped me find opportunities to play to my skills.”
When Jennifer went to volunteer at Leeds CAB, she didn’t make a big thing of her disability. She found that during training sessions she was keeping up with everyone else, but it took all her concentration and she had little time for anything else in her life. She regrets not asking for help, and says:
“I’d just graduated and thought there was no way the training could be as hard as that. I was wrong – it was.”
When she talked to the bureau staff about her cerebral palsy, she found them helpful in a number of practical ways. For example, to help take the pressure off her, they limited her to carrying out a maximum of two interviews per day and encouraged her not to volunteer on consecutive days. She finds that the people around her at the CAB are helpful, not because she’s asked for special treatment or adjustments but because the culture there is one of care and respect for everyone.
She says she enjoys working at the CAB because
“I’m more respected there and feel more confident that I’m supported to do a good job. I would encourage any disabled person thinking about volunteering to give the CAB a try – there’s lots of support available.”
Support is on hand from Citizens Advice
The Citizens Advice service practices and promotes equality of opportunity in volunteering. That means we make sure that all potential volunteers, whatever they have to offer, will be welcomed. The selection process is undertaken by staff who have been trained in equality and diversity. It is 100 per cent focused on finding a match between the volunteer roles available and the applicant’s skills, qualities and interests.
We regularly review the effect of our volunteer recruitment practices to make sure that they accord with our equality and diversity policy.
To ensure that volunteers have a positive experience and get the most out of volunteering, detailed guidance for bureaux on how to recruit and retain volunteers can be found on the Citizens Advice intranet. In particular, staff can find advice on how to make their bureaux more accessible. This includes advice on how to obtain the services of an Accredited Access Auditor, who can give professional advice on a range of access issues.
Our values, culture and commitment to you
Valuing diversity, promoting equality and challenging discrimination are enshrined in the principles of the service.
Standing at 76 per cent of the total workforce, our 19,813 volunteers contribute significantly to the diversity of our service. Citizens Advice Bureaux work hard to create a working environment that is fair and inclusive, supportive and welcoming. All staff and volunteers are encouraged to respect each other’s individuality and value each other’s contributions.
What you can expect from us
We strive to meet the additional needs of disabled staff, arising either directly or indirectly out of their volunteer work. Our aim is to enable all our volunteers to make their distinctive contribution to the benefit of our clients.
Disabled volunteers are given full and fair consideration in all available training and networking opportunities relating to their role. Its important that all our staff and volunteers are able to take part in any relevant learning and development activities they choose. To make sure this happens, managers in our network of local offices work with individual volunteers to ensure that their individual needs are met, with support from the central Learning and Development team.
The computer systems we use have high levels of disability access, such as compatibility with screen readers, and can be used as they are by many disabled volunteers. If further adaptions are needed the Citizens Advice ICT Service Desk has specially trained accessibility assessors who are on hand to provide support and advice.
National Disabled Workers Group
Citizens Advice also provides support and networking through our Self Organised Netwroek Group - the National Disabled Workers Group (NDWG). This provides a voice for disabled people within the service and acts as a resource for disability-related issues, providing information, training and support.
NDWG is politically impartial and independent. They work to improve the service for our disabled clients and colleagues alike. Group meeting are held at least twice a year, where members and supporters come together to network and share common experiences. NDWG strives to ensure the service in inclusive, diverse and delivers on its commitment to equality - both nationally and locally
For information about joining the group, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your next step?
Could you join us? Search for volunteering opportunities with us.