Emma Walton has Cerebral Palsy and volunteered in the UK with CSV (Community Service Volunteers)
My disability and how it affects my everyday life
Due to deprivation of oxygen after being born 3 months premature, I have a form of Cerebral Palsy known as Diaplegia. This is a neurological condition that causes tightness in my muscles and affects my balance and mobility. My walking is slower than average and I get tired more quickly. Certain conditions can be tricky such as snow / steep hills or up and down stairs without a handrail.
Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
I had done some short term volunteering before with learning disabilities and a communication group for stroke survivors. I found it rewarding and a good learning experience for the type of therapeutic support work that I wanted to do after my Psychology degree. After graduating, I realised that some longer term work experience would be valuable, and would contribute towards securing a full-time job.
The story of my gap year
A few weeks after my final exams I filled in the online application form for CSV and was invited to an Open Day. Here I found out about the range of full-time UK-based projects and had an informal interview so that my interests and skills could be matched with suitable projects. I was sent information about potential placements by email but there was no pressure to accept one straight away.
From applying online to being placed on a project took less than a month. I worked in a residential property as part of Haringey Young Adults Team (Social Services), supporting young people to gain independent living skills, and preparing them for leaving care and moving to their own accommodation. I lived with the young people and supported them with issues such as getting back into education or learning to cook and manage their money. I was also responsible for maintaining the house, dealing with repairs, testing fire alarms, encouraging cleaning and doing room checks. When I wasn’t at the house I spent time at the team office updating paperwork, doing admin or helping colleagues organise events.
I found this very challenging as it was a completely new role in an unfamiliar location. I had a lot of responsibility living on my own with the young people. However, everyone I worked with was friendly and supportive. CSV provided regular review meetings and were a helpful mediator if I had problems to discuss before approaching my Manager. I came away with a lot of experiences that have helped me apply for jobs, and the opportunity to live in London for a year.
The way my disability was treated on the project
CSV were helpful in taking on board my goals and anything I might find difficult such as providing personal care for others. My Manager was understanding about aspects of the role I might struggle with, such as helping young people move their things into their room or changing a high light bulb.
I didn’t feel the young people treated me differently because of my disability. I experienced the same positive and negative reactions that any social worker would have to deal with as part of their job. I was able to get their help if I needed to move something heavy (usually with the reaction that a nagging parent might receive). I saw this as a pretty good sign that they were aware of my disability but equally aware of my job role!
Advice to other people with disabilities
Have confidence in your ability to achieve your goals and don’t be afraid to try something new and challenging. It can be daunting at first but you’ll be amazed at the things you can learn and experience. Don’t be afraid to discuss alternative ways of doing things with others, especially if it means you can be confident in what you are doing.
We were unable to obtain photographs of Emma Walton’s own gap year project. These are from other people working with Community Service Volunteers (CSV).
Note: Community Service Volunteers (CSV) has recently changed its name to ‘Volunteering Matters’.