Inclusive Online Volunteering for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Our aim is to guide volunteering organisations and services in implementing exceptional inclusive practices online and provide greater opportunity for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for volunteer engagement and participation.
What is ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of conditions characterised by repetitive patterns of behaviour, difficulties in social behaviour, communication and language and often sensory sensitivities (1). Signs and symptoms of ASD begin in childhood and tend to continue into adulthood, with the potential to affect daily functioning (2).
What is online volunteering?
Online volunteering refers to participating in volunteering activities on the internet that serves to benefit groups or individuals (3). Online volunteering has been needed in response to COVID-19, however also offers a strategy to keep up with the evolving technological changes in society. Volunteering online is beneficial due to flexibility in location and time, greater relevance to individual motivations, being able to participate in a role they desire and provides opportunity for development of particular skills. Benefits can be seen locally or around the globe (3).
Web accessibility and usability
We have created a set of guidelines that focus on web accessibility and usability for individuals with ASD to participate in online volunteering. Usability refers to the easiness or effectiveness of the design to be used by a specific population for a certain goal, and accessibility refers to the ability of a service or tool to be used by anyone, particularly individuals with a disability (4). When this is achieved this is inextricably linked with inclusion by creating a universal design (5), which is ultimately the goal for individuals with ASD to participate in online volunteering.
Importance of social interaction
Individuals with ASD can have difficulties with social interaction and peer relations, including challenges picking up on social cues (6). It is common for individuals with ASD to become socially isolated, as this difficulty with social interaction can also be impacted by problems with emotional regulation and matching emotions to certain social situations (6). Consequently, it is imperative that online volunteering can provide various social opportunities to promote positive social interactions. When interacting with others online this could potentially prevent barriers prevalent in typical social environments. Communication achieved through online volunteering may be beneficial to form friendships and social relations through coming together because of common interests and goals (7).
Benefits of Inclusive Online Volunteering
Firstly, inclusive online volunteering will serve a benefit to overall wellbeing and confidence of people living with ASD (8). It will also be of benefit to people with ASD because it will allow greater flexibility in location and time and provide opportunity for greater relevance to their motivations (9). Inclusive online volunteering provides more opportunities for people living with ASD to participate in their valued occupations and create a pathway to participation in the community (8). Inclusive online volunteering will also act as a pathway into the paid workforce because the opportunity seeks to overcome barriers and encourage the development of new or particular skill sets and abilities (8).
By making online volunteering accessible to individuals with ASD, this increases the number of people assisting in these organisations, producing greater outcomes for society. Additionally, by making online volunteering accessible this increases the number of avenues for people to volunteer in. This also allows volunteer organisations to become more inclusive, and still increase participation rates during times of hardship like COVID-19. This has the potential benefit to increase diversity and openness of organisations and services and increased accessibility to specialised skills (9).
Volunteering benefits the community because it involves people coming together to enact change (10). It often includes the provision of goods, serving a beneficial purpose to the population. These benefits may be to provide information/ knowledge services such as providing educational resources or provide support to individuals and groups. Additionally, resources and information can be readily available and accessed at any time on an online platform, by the community. This can help to bring communities together through compassion and a common goal of providing benefit to others, particularly vulnerable populations (3).