Creating an inclusive volunteering environment

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Creating a more inclusive volunteer program that involves people from a range of backgrounds, including people with disability, has benefits for your existing volunteers, future volunteers and the people you are volunteering to help.

Key points

  • Diversity in a cohort of volunteers has many benefits, but not all volunteering organisations are inclusive of people with disability
  • There are steps organisations can take to ensure they are inclusive
  • Having a Disability Action Plan, thinking about how to improve communication and adapting volunteer roles are good places to start

Once you remove barriers to volunteering you will be able to welcome more volunteers, from more diverse backgrounds, bringing their own skill sets and building relationships with more people in the community.

It is important that while anyone is volunteering with your organisation they feel included and feel they are contributing to your work, so this article explains some ways you can become inclusive.

Disability Action Plans

A Disability Action Plan sets out how your organisation will address and remove discrimination against people with disability and equally protect human rights for all of your volunteers.

A plan like this can ensure volunteer managers and volunteers themselves understand how accessibility and inclusivity work in your organisation.

It can also include steps for you to transition to more inclusive practices or to improve the way you do things to better support volunteers with disability and have better recruitment processes.

Having a Disability Action Plan will ensure volunteer opportunities you have are available to people with disability and that they can have confidence they will be treated fairly and respectfully while volunteering with your organisation.

More information about creating Disability Action Plans, and how to do the consultation and review process needed to make sure the plan is an effective document, can be found on the Australian Human Rights Commission website or a template can be found on the Volunteering Hub.


Your organisation’s communication with volunteers and the community is important to how well it runs but is also vital to how inclusive it is.

Volunteer management and volunteer engagement rely heavily on good communication and this needs to take into account the best way to communicate with each individual.

For example, a volunteer might understand information better from someone explaining it to them face to face, rather than giving them a written description of a task.

Or they might need to do the task with someone supporting them to be able to completely understand.

To support the many different ways that people can communicate, an inclusive organisation should have easy read versions of all important policies – including emergency plans – and a range of other formats, such as large print or a captioned video explainer.

Some other simple practices can make your communication inclusive as well, such as giving people time to process information and briefing volunteers in a way they feel comfortable with by asking them whether they want to be in a group or one-on-one.

The most important thing to remember is that communication should go both ways – ask the volunteer how they want you to communicate with them. Ask for feedback on what you can do better and make sure that any meetings you have with them are in a setting that lets them feel comfortable enough to talk about it.

Don’t be afraid to promote the actions your organisation is taking to be inclusive.

If you believe in the social model of disability – that barriers faced by people with disability are created by society – include this in position descriptions and communications with the community. It will help build inclusivity in the broader community and encourage people with disability to apply for volunteer roles.

Share that you are willing to make adjustments to roles, provide support or undergo training to be inclusive.

Adapting roles

The tasks involved with a volunteer role may make it inaccessible for some people with disability.

Examples of this include the requirement to make phone calls for people who are Deaf, a task involving heavy lifting for people with chronic pain or limited mobility, or working in noisy environments for people with noise sensitivity.

Often these issues can easily be overcome by adapting the volunteer role to one that does suit the person.

A Deaf person might work in a team of volunteers where someone else is appointed to make all the phone calls, or you might be able to make use of assistive technology or video calls.

The heavy lifting involved in a role could also be done in a team or using safe lifting equipment such as sack trucks.

A person with noise sensitivity may be more comfortable wearing headphones while in a noisy environment or it could be arranged that their role is done in a different space on your premises, but it’s important that this doesn’t then isolate your volunteer from others or make them feel self-conscious.

The length of shifts can be a barrier to someone volunteering if they think the only option is to commit to long periods of volunteer work.

For example, if someone who needs regular breaks from standing on their feet sees a volunteer position in a warehouse that requires them to stand up for hours on end, they are likely not to consider applying for that position.

However, if the same position comes with a note that shifts can be shortened or there is the ability to take regular breaks, there is more of a chance the role will be filled.

Top tips for addressing inclusion

There are several easy ways your organisation can start to be more inclusive overnight.

Here are some examples:

  • Ask whether a volunteer needs support or adaptations – don’t assume anything
  • Review your volunteer position descriptions and add in comments about how the role might be adapted or flexible to suit the volunteer
  • Understand that every volunteer is an individual and there is no ‘one size fits all approach’
  • Consider the accessibility of the premises your organisation uses
  • Consult with your volunteers about shift length, the roles you currently have and how your rostering system operates to ask whether they think it can be improved
  • Make sure your organisation focuses on the strengths that each volunteer can bring to their role
  • Be willing to offer mentors or support groups to volunteers who would benefit from this type of support in doing their role
  • If you don’t already do trials for volunteers, start offering trial shifts or periods to volunteers that would like them

Does your volunteer organisation have inclusive practices? Tell us about them in the comments below.

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