It is worthwhile to consider our attitudes and feelings about disability. If we are motivated to work with people with a disability, it is important to understand our motivations to work in this area and to be honest with ourselves deciding whether it is appropriate for us to do so. Our attitudes have been formed through a community that used to believe people with disabilities should live in a segregated community. In the past, people with disabilities were institutionalized or kept at home behind closed doors. Some parents were even ashamed of their children with disabilities and kept them away from community resources.

People have been over-protective of people with disabilities, concerned with their limitations, rather than their potential to learn and grow. It is worthwhile to consider our attitudes and feelings about disability, particularly if we are motivated to work with people with disabilities. By understanding our attitudes and how we feel, we can develop strategies that will enable us to work effectively and to provide the greatest support.

Our attitudes have been formed by our experiences and community perceptions. It is not surprising that we may have arranged of apprehensions and misconceptions when it comes to working with people with disabilities. We can prepare ourselves by considering the simple things that can make a huge difference in assisting a person with advisability to feel accepted, encouraged and valued.

People may have a range of reasons for becoming involved as either a volunteer or paid staff leader in sport and active recreation programs. These reasons vary considerably and may include: wanting to-do some good, wanting to help, being sympathetic, and feeling sorry for people with disabilities, enjoying sport and active recreation experiences, recognizing the personal contribution that can be made and enjoying an inclusive sport or recreation experience. It is important to be aware of our motivation and evaluate its validity in regard to the concept of Universal Design principles.

When we first meet a person with advisability, it is understandable that we may feel awkward and unsure of what to-do. Remember that the person may also be apprehensive and nervous about meeting you. We usually respond in a way of considering 'What can I do to help?'Often this may be counter-productive to the goals of encouraging a person to develop skills of independence. We are usually very concerned about appearing to be seen to be doing the 'right' thing.

It is useful to talk to others about your feelings and concerns with regard to people with disabilities. It is often useful to hear yourself say things that you may be feeling. It is the expression of these feelings that will assist you to come to terms with your own attitudes and motivations.

Taking the time to read relevant sections of this resource kit is a good starting point. Talking to other staff and volunteers will help you to understand that you are not the only one who feels the way you do and will enable you to explore with them ways of confronting attitudes and dealing with new situations.

Additionally, sport and active recreation organizations can also engage with disabled volunteers who are able and willing to become leaders also. There are many ways that we can engage with disabled volunteers. The approach is likely to vary depending on the nature and size of the organization along with its function and culture. Such approaches may include :

    • A casual approach where volunteers are welcomed and included in the organization where possible;
    • Actively recruiting disabled volunteers to perform specific tasks;
    • Incorporating disabled volunteers as they come forward within an organization;
    • Offering a structured programme incorporating disabled volunteers for a period of time;
    • Offering disabled volunteers specific training in a volunteer role with the expectation that, once qualified, disabled individuals could then continue to undertake that role on their own.


It is important that you be yourself. This is the greatest attribute that you have to share with someone. Be a real person; do not put on a false facade.

Treat people according to their age. We often make the mistake of assuming that a person with a disability is at an immature intellectual level. It is important not to trivialize, to talk down or to play games. Your initial interaction with a person will give you a cue to the person’s level of understanding.

Talk directly to the person in preference to talking through a third person. For example, even when the third person may assist with sign language, look directly at the person with a disability you are talking to.

If you do not understand what a person is saying ask the person to repeat what was said. Never pretend to understand. Some people may use communication boards or other aids that assist in communication.

Ask if you can be of assistance before jumping in and performing a task. The person may be developing independence in doing the task.

Encourage independence by not offering to help all the time. Allow mistakes to be made, as these are great learning tools.

If you are not sure of what to do when your assistance is requested, ask the person you are helping to tell you. Avoid making assumptions.

Only talk about a person’s disability when it comes up naturally. Be guided by the person’s wishes to do so.

Appreciate a person's ability and what they can do. A person's difficulties may stem more from society's attitudes than from their disability.

Be considerate of the extra time it may take for the person to say or do things. Let the person set the pace in walking or talking.

Be encouraging in your approach rather than correcting.

If necessary, ask questions that require short answers or a body gesture such as a nod.

When talking to a hearing impaired person, speak slowly and clearly and stand directly in front of the person. Use body gestures to aid communication.

Neale Cousland /