accessibility, diversity & virtual volunteering

One of the many things I’m proud of in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, is that it features an entire chapter on accessibility and diversity, providing detailed advice regarding:

  • the benefits of having online volunteers representing a variety of socio-economic levels, neighborhoods, ages, cultures and other demographics
  • the benefits of accommodating a diversity of volunteers (an accommodation you make for one particular group often ends up benefiting ALL volunteers)
  • how to use language in such a way as to accommodate and welcome a variety of volunteers 
  • how to adapt online tools to accommodate different online volunteers, including those that may have physical disabilities
  • how to accommodate online volunteers with learning and emotional disabilities
  • how to recruit for diversity; and
  • how to track progress regarding diversity among online volunteer ranks.

The chapter on accessibility and diversity is referenced throughout The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook , because Susan and I did not want anyone thinking it was a chapter to take or leave.

I became an advocate for accessibility and diversity in volunteering and in computer and Internet use in October 1994 when I attended the annual meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility at UC San Diego. There was a panel discussion called “The Meanings of Access,” and remarks during that talk, particularly by Deborah Kaplan, then of the World Institute on Disability, changed my life forever. I came to a realization of two things I’d never had before: accessibility is a human right, and accessibility brings me in contact with awesome people I would never meet or work with otherwise. I became an advocate right then and there.

In 1997, I got funding from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for the Virtual Volunteering Project to explore how to make online volunteering as accessible as possible, and that same year, blew my mouth off at a conference in Austin, Texas about how disappointed I was that the panelists I’d just listened to, talking about the digital divide, never once mentioned people with disabilities, resulting in one of the greatest personal and professional relationships of my life, with Sharron Rush, who was also in the audience and later formed Knowbility, a nonprofit that promotes accessibility in technology tools and technology careers.

In 2008, I read “InVolving LGBT Volunteers,” published by The Consortium of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered voluntary and community organisations, based in London, the United Kingdom, and that solidified my understanding that making accessibility and diversity a priority in any program is about benefits for everyone in that program, not just people with disabilities or people who are from minority or under-represented groups. This publication is referenced in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and remains one I return to frequently when preparing lectures or workshops about volunteer recruitment.

I have tried to put into practice all that I’ve heard about regarding virtual volunteering, including accommodations for a variety of people as volunteers and recruiting specifically to create a diverse volunteer pool. I won’t say I’m always successful, and I won’t say trying the methods we promote in the book is always easy, but I will say that it’s made my work experience oh-so-much richer and interesting, and it’s always been worth trying.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc

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