The Volunteer Disability Advocacy Project (VDAP) has been a staple of TAPS since 2003. Every year, VDAP helps hundreds of clients navigate the long and arduous provincial disability application process in order to access life-changing financial and medical security. Many applicants have an understandably difficult time managing the almost 30-page disability application, and having the support of a volunteer advocate can make all the difference. Receiving provincial disability benefits can help individuals and families (re)gain income security by increasing their monthly income, giving them access to medical coverage, and providing a low-cost annual bus pass.
All volunteers take part in a rounded, engaging, and supportive training process. Volunteers attend three 2-hour training workshops spread over the span of a week. During training, volunteers learn all about TAPS, income assistance, how to fill out a disability application, file management, and client—volunteer confidentiality. Volunteers also have the opportunity to develop their interviewing skills and get a sense of the client base they will be working with through interactive, team-based role playing scenarios. Volunteers are given a training manual which includes all the information covered in training, plus all the templates volunteers will need when they begin working with clients. Training provides all the foundational information volunteers need, and after the initial six hours of workshops, volunteers have the opportunity to engage in more practical, hands-on training opportunities. They attend multiple observation sessions with experienced volunteer advocates where they have the opportunity to see disability advocacy work in action, ask questions, and receive mentorship. Volunteers can also request to have a more experienced volunteer or TAPS staff member sit in on their first client interview to provide support, guidance, and feedback. At this point, volunteers are ready to take on their own clients.
Under the guidance of the VDAP Coordinator, a newly trained volunteer can begin to meet with their own clients and help them make sense of the application process. Through an extensive interview process, the volunteer gains an understanding of the client’s disability and how it affects their life. This information is used to draft a self-report for the client’s application, which the volunteer and the client then review together. The volunteer also coordinates with physicians and reviews the client’s completed application before it is submitted in order to achieve the best possible outcome. This position gives volunteers the opportunity to support marginalized clients who are often going through a very difficult time and to make significant and long-lasting transformations in people’s lives.
In addition to being able to help create lasting change in people’s lives, there are many other benefits of volunteering with VDAP. It is rare for folks in volunteer positions to be able to work directly and independently with clients one-on-one, and so volunteers have the opportunity to develop a very solid and useful skill base. Volunteers can develop and strengthen their interviewing, writing, interpersonal, organizational, and file management skills, which are advantageous skills for all sorts of other volunteering and employment opportunities. Volunteering in this project would also look great on a resume, and the VDAP Coordinator can provide references when appropriate. I can tell you from firsthand experience that TAPS is an amazing organization to volunteer in (and did I mention there are always free cookies here?!?).
This volunteer position is open to people with all sorts of abilities, experience levels, and backgrounds; however, there are certain skills that are beneficial to have. VDAP volunteers should have proficient reading and writing skills, as writing is a large component of the position. It is also an asset to have basic computer skills. Volunteers need to be comfortable working one-on-one with vulnerable clients and have an ability to listen and to validate people’s experiences. Additionally, volunteers should be comfortable working with clients whose beliefs, actions, and lifestyle may strongly conflict with their own, without bias or judgement. TAPS strives to give all volunteer applicants the opportunity to contribute to the VDAP program, and works closely with volunteers to help them develop and expand these skills.
If you are interested in becoming a VDAP volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the office at (250) 361-3521, or fill out the online application form at http://www.tapsbc.ca/volunteer-opportunities. All applicants’ contact information is passed on to the VDAP Coordinator, who will contact all the applicants once the training dates are set. Since training happens two to three times per year, you may not be contacted immediately. All volunteers are asked to commit to at least four hours a month, bearing in mind that the office is only open for volunteers to take clients Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 4:30.