As a volunteer with San Diego Pride, interacting with people with disabilities is bound to happen, especially if you are working on the Accessibility Team. While each situation is unique, there are some basic guidelines you should keep in mind that will aid you when such interactions arise.
The world is not designed with people with disabilities in mind and often event planning follows similar lines. So, when a person with a disability comes to an event, they are unable to be involved in the same ways most people take for granted. Sometimes there are hills too steep to propel one’s wheelchair up. Other times the language being used is auditory while the person speaks a visual language. Directions might be given on signs or on printed maps, but the individual does not process visual input. There are even times when the noise and throngs of people provide so much stimulation that finding one’s way is not possible.
In all those cases, by providing specific accommodations, the person is then able to participate fully and have fun. Someone is able to help push a wheelchair to the top of an incline, an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter can turn the auditory into visual words, Braille maps or a person to read print information transforms the visual into auditory and a companion guide can sort out a river of stimuli into the essential parts. Instead of leaving people with disabilities out of community life, with appropriate accommodations they can be included like any other person.
As a volunteer, your role is to provide the accommodation that eliminates the barrier to full inclusion. While specific training might be necessary in some cases, typically following a few principles will allow the average person to provide what is necessary.
ASSUME NOTHING: Nobody can read another person’s mind and guessing what a person with a disability wants or needs can be disastrous. As a person without a disability, you are the ignorant individual in the situation. Before you do anything else, educate yourself by asking the expert – the person with the disability.
ASK QUESTIONS: When it comes to people with disabilities, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Admitting your ignorance and asking what you need to know is the best way to ensure you provide the needed help.
BE PROACTIVE: You may possess knowledge the person with a disability needs to make an informed choice. Communicate that information clearly and concisely. For example, when assisting a person with a sight impairment, you may be able to read a posted menu and know all the food options. Pass that information along to the person with a sight impairment. If the menu is long, give broad categories and ask if the person wants greater detail. Similarly, if you know a Deaf person had their back to someone who was speaking, get the Deaf person’s attention and let them know about it.
If you assume nothing, ask questions and are proactive about communicating information, it will go a long way to making your encounter with a person with a disability easy for you and helpful for them.
Nobody is expected to help another person when doing so makes them feel truly uncomfortable. Please know that San Diego Pride does not wish our volunteers to take on tasks that make them feel distress.
The job of a volunteer is to help make the outside world accessible to a person with a disability – to provide modifications and assistance to optimize participation. What happens within the person’s body or personal space is not the purview of a volunteer unless they have specialized medical training.
We suggest people do not do the following:
-Handle or administer medication
-Have contact with another person’s money, unless a third party is present and observing
-Assist with bodily functions such as using the rest room or eating
-Move an individual in or out of a wheelchair
If you are asked to do something beyond your skill set, it is acceptable and appropriate to politely refuse. Then, direct that person to someone else who can better meet their needs. (In the case of the Pride Festival, that would be the Information Booth or, in some instances, the Medical tent.)
Again, we strongly encourage volunteers to not do something they feel is outside of their abilities.