Think about a person with a disability who you know personally, such as a friend or relative. Especially if you have known this person for a long time, you probably see this person as an individual rather than as a person with a disability, and you have some understanding of what he or she can or cannot do. You recognize that you are more alike than different. Those who do not have close contact with a person with a disability may not be able to relate to this, and may wonder if they will do and say the right things. Group discussions using the activities we've suggested previously will give you greater confidence about facing new situations.
If you are uncertain about the wants or needs of a volunteer with a disability, ASK! Don't assume a person wants your help, or that you know what is best for him or her. If you want to know whether to help an individual whom you think experiences limitations caused by the disability, simply ask, “May I be of assistance?" or "Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?" This will break the ice and allow the individual to tell you what, if anything, is needed.
If the youth has visual limitations, or is blind, identify yourself and shake hands. ff the young person is alone and needs to get to another location, offer him or her the option of taking your arm for direction. Let the person feel the back of the chair where he or she is to sit. Be sensitive and never assume anything. Once you get to know this youth better, you'll feel more comfortable about how to communicate. Knowing what to do and say will come naturally.
If the youth has a hearing impairment, or is deaf and you do not know sign language, look directly at the youth, speak in your normal tone of voice, and be prepared to correspond in writing. Have notepads and pencils available. Offer the services of an interpreter, if necessary. Contact your local resources for assistance in this matter. If the youth is accompanied by an assistant or an interpreter, talk directly to the youth, not the interpreter. The interpreter may ask to sit next to you to handle the communication process more smoothly.
If the youth has a cognitive disability, there is no need to "talk down." Greet him or her as you would any other volunteer and use the vocabulary common to the program and the CSP. T'hrough experience you will discover how to successfully communicate on an ongoing basis.
In the process of signing up for volunteer projects or during the interview process that many YVC sites conduct, youth volunteers have an opportunity to discuss their likes and dislikes, strengths and challenges, and indicate the kinds of projects they might be interested in or may have done in the past. After this basic introduction, you might want to ask "How would you perform the tasks required by the project and what kinds of accommodations, if any, would be needed?" More than likely, this young person knows better than anyone else what he or she needs to overcome any obstacles or limitations.