Sarah’s disability meant that she needed volunteering as much as volunteering needed her. But the Pandemic changed everything.
Despite being blind, in chronic pain, and with limited mobility, Sarah became a volunteer for an audiobooks charity. The Charity, Listening Books, in turn, became a lifeline taking Sarah out of semi-isolation and opening her up to a brave new world of technology and digital accessibility, such as screen readers.
With a renewed sense of independence and self-esteem, Sarah relished her weekly taxi drive to Listening Books where she became an integral member of the charity’s team.
Enter the pandemic, and everything changed. “The office closed and so did my son’s school, and so home schooling became my main focus. It meant that I was not able to help Listening Books as I usually would,” Sarah reflected.
Then, when lockdown restrictions eventually lifted, so did Sarah’s confidence and skillset as she once again became immersed in her volunteer role. But this time, it was all done remotely. Whilst she missed her taxi rides and social interaction, Sarah found herself surprisingly, like millions of others, “adapting well to working remotely”. In the space of months in lockdown, the charity’s technology had evolved and new, innovative website functionality needed testing. “Using screen readers on my laptop and phone, I fed back to the team about the accessibility issues I encountered.”
Sarah now enjoys the website’s progressive features that allowed members to review books and get involved in reading challenges. She was particularly thrilled with “the new capability” of reading thousands of magazines and newspapers through Press Reader, “It was so freeing to be able to dip into articles in a way I had really missed since losing my sight….. as I have always loved magazines and previously worked on events within the industry.”
Then in June, a knock at Sarah’s door produced a surprise delivery of brownies from the charity’s team. “We had a virtual coffee morning, and it was so nice to reconnect with colleagues and meet the other volunteers. It gave us all a much needed boost,” she said.
Sarah loves the sense of belonging, camaraderie and collective goals of the charity, and of “the feeling of community based around a shared love of reading.” Whilst the role has given her so much value, and volunteering alone is a “wonderful experience that encourages me to go beyond my comfort zone” – she has shown the importance globally of charities like Listening Books.
She cannot over-emphasise the importance of reading, and her job within the charity. “It’s so rewarding to help Listening Books get books to people who find reading difficult due to a physical or mental illness, disability or learning difficulty.”
Reading, or words, in whatever form, whether on a page or audibly, remains, “a universally acknowledged” joy that we should never take for granted.