In the Vol’Go project our aim is to highlight young people’s own voice as experts by experience and create materials together with them that lower the threshold for participation in accessible volunteering, also on an international level. In our “Learning, teaching, training” -event in Tampere we asked youngsters currently participating in inclusive volunteering about their thoughts on what creates accessibility in volunteering programs and community spaces that offer peer activities. The goal was not only to collect information but also to understand possible experienced barriers to inclusion. The answers have also been presented (in Finnish) in a webinar about accessibility in volunteering, organized by the Citizen Forum and the Accessible Volunteering Valikko -network on March 21, 2023. (https://kansalaisareena.fi/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Puheenvuoro-2-ruudunlukijalle.pdf )
The young volunteers were asked a simple question: What is accessibility?
The answers showed that accessibility is not only a physical aspect, mental accessibility is sometimes even more important when organizing inclusive activities for youngsters. Both aspects are needed when organizing truly accessible, safe and inclusive environment.
The following bullet points are direct quotes from the young volunteers themselves, in their own words (translated from Finnish). Accessibility is e.g.:
- “Visibility on social media marketing and well-thought-out visuals and campaigns to attract the target group, in this case young people. “
- “User-friendly websites – clear info about opening hours, contact information and operating instructions easily accessible and up-to-date, picture instructions.”
- “Professionals visiting youth houses and other spaces where young people spend time and sharing information there instead of waiting for the youth to show up in their office.”
First encounter and the role of the professional
- “Genuine presence and interest of the employees in the young person’s ideas and feelings.”
- “Organizers ask what the volunteer is interested in and don’t assume anything.”
- “You don’t have to immediately know what you want to do, the versatility of the possibilities stays open.”
- “There is someone there to advise, help and support, which is also openly noted and communicated.
- “Atmosphere where one can be an important volunteer even if they themselves need support in some other areas of life.”
- “Accessibility means e.g. that you can try and try again, and if you can’t do something, it doesn’t matter, you can stop or try once again.”
- “Meaningful tasks awake interest and commitment in volunteers. One can be scared, excited and overwhelmed, but the motivation helps to overcome the negative feelings which can be barriers to participation.”
- “Equality towards all volunteers, also when there are different individual tasks with different requirement level.”
- “Peer support: to meet others who are ”in the same mess”, mentor-volunteers and a feeling of figuring things out together.”
- “Central location and good public transport connections.”
- “The activity is free of charge.”
- “Accessibility, comfortability, cleanliness and clarity of the premises.”
- “Clear signs outside the community spaces.”
- “A non-judgmental, discrimination-free zone. Safe space, an open but reliable atmosphere.”
- “Next steps and expectations are clear for the young volunteer and keeping in contact is not depending on the young volunteer’s own activity.”