Debbie's story 'Volunteering serendipity'
"When I started to work as a volunteer at RNIB Bookshare two years ago I had no idea that the organisation could play an important part in my daughter's life...
My paid job is currently in grant administration, which I fell into after spending over two decades in education. One of those 'right place, right time' sort of jobs. It is online, working from home, part-time and autonomous. Sounds like a dream, right? Yes, to a certain extent it is, but, having my spent my career thus far talking and communicating daily, face to face, with large groups of children and adults, it was a dramatic change to work alone. I needed more structure in my life and having done unpaid jobs all my life in the church community, it was a natural step to look around for similar opportunities elsewhere. At RNIB Bookshare I found a volunteering role which used my administration and computer skills, and was close to my heart, facilitating education for all.
At RNIB Bookshare we serve print-disabled learners of all ages who have a wide range of reading disabilities, not just sight loss which RNIB is best known for. We work with publishers to provide learners with accessible curriculum texts and other reading materials free of charge, opening up the world of equal educational opportunities, enrichment through leisure reading, and giving them the confidence to push themselves to fulfil their aspirations.
My daughter, who has dyslexia, struggled throughout school and college with minimal support, leaving education at eighteen with no intention of returning. A couple of years ago she found a fully online university level certificate course in a subject she was interested in. This course has given her the confidence to believe that she is capable of doing an honours degree and as a result she is off to university in September at the age of twenty-four. Her latest dyslexia assessment has shown that, whilst her understanding is well above average, her reading and processing speeds are less than half that required for a typical undergraduate level course. This is where RNIB Bookshare comes in. Alongside a raft of assistive technology tailored to her individual needs, she will be able to access digital text books throughout her course. This will mean that she can keep pace with her peers. Although learners with a print disability will always have to work that bit harder than others, access to digital text books undoubtedly plays an enormous part in helping them reach their full potential.
I'm very proud of my daughter's determination to follow her dream and I'm equally proud of RNIB Bookshare, which is leading the way in encouraging publisher engagement with the accessibility agenda.
Are you considering entering the world of volunteering? Whatever your personal reasons for doing it, you need find a role that you believe in, one that you can give a regular committment to and treat with the same seriousness as paid employment. That could be helping to run a charity shop, working one-to-one with an individual, organising a fundraising event, raising awareness through social media, gardening, training a puppy to be a working dog or overseeing a charity's accounts, to name but a few. You also need to be realistic about your time committment. Maybe you can give full-time equivalent hours or maybe just a few hours a month on top of your full-time paid job. Research has shown that giving your time to help others has enormous personal well-being benefits. More importantly, you can be sure that giving your time will enrich another person's life in ways that you cannot fully imagine."