This is a ‘how to recruit, manage and support volunteers’ guide produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Digital Volunteering programme.
The Heritage Access 2022 project looked at accessibility and inclusion across museums and cultural heritage sites in the UK. It is crucial that heritage organisations offer detailed, accessible, and comprehensive access information for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent visitors in order to support and encourage them to visit and enjoy their experience. It is important to promote this focus as research completed in this project shows that venues frequently fail to anticipate the range of barriers that their venues present, and in doing so continue to disempower disabled visitors, excluding them from visiting and enjoying UK heritage.
The report and benchmark are the result of six months of work by a team of 61 digital volunteer researchers, who were recruited as widely as possible from across the UK; the team included people living in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and every region of England. We actively sought people with personal experience of access barriers, and the volunteers’ experience played a key role in the design of the project checklist and report guidelines, through collaborative workshops with the project partner team.
The volunteers received training in heritage and digital accessibility before going on to assess the websites of over 3,000 museum and heritage sites, checking both the accessibility of the site and the access information that each provides to support and enable visits to their venue by D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people.
Heritage Access 2022 was managed by VocalEyes’s Chief Executive and Project and Volunteer Engagement Manager (PVEM). The project delivery partners included the Centre for Accessible Environments and Autism in Museums; and the project advisory board members included representation from Stagetext, Wellcome Collection, AbilityNet and National Trust.
- Adults (18+) who identified as disabled and/or d/Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, and/or blind or visually impaired, and/or neurodivergent and/or had experienced access barriers when enjoying heritage (i.e. carer) and had an interest in UK heritage and had a certain level of digital confidence in using browsers and online forms.
- Adults (18+) who were from underrepresented* regions of the UK (*from which we received <4 applicants) and had an interest in UK heritage and had a reasonable level of digital confidence in internet browsing and using online forms.
Methods for recruiting digital volunteers
- Posts about the opportunity on online volunteering boards and forums (regional volunteering groups, NCVO)
- Open call on VocalEyes’ and project partners’ social media channels
- Posts with information on sector mailing lists (e.g. Group for Education in Museums, Arts Council newsletter, Heritage Alliance newsletter, University of Leicester Museums jobs board)
- Proactive outreach to relevant organisations for internal and external circulation, including arts and heritage organisations (Museums Association, National Trust), disability access (RNIB, Sense, Scope) and disability arts organisations (Shape Arts, Dash Arts, Outside In, Disability Arts Online)
- Five-part training/onboarding programme separated into 2 key sections: Heritage access (accessing a venue in person) and online access information. VocalEyes held two focus groups, two sessions on the checklist, and one final briefing with compulsory volunteer attendance
- Weekly virtual office hours with the PVEM, with 30-minute slots available for all volunteers
- Fortnightly email newsletter with project updates and reminders of upcoming events
- Virtual support sessions with guest speakers from project advisory board
- Encouraged email and/or phone outreach
- Access to Basecamp as a chatroom space for connecting with other volunteers and the project team
- Guidebook for completing the checklist
- Volunteer document library (hosted on Basecamp)
1. Staff and volunteer recruitment and training
Recruitment of PVEM, establishing project steering group, designing and implementing onboarding materials, training volunteers, drafting volunteer documents and policy.
2. Venue list creation
Using 2018 survey list, and working with data analyst, to create venue list of 3,000-3,500 venues.
3. Survey design and sign-off
Co-design of the survey with volunteers and project team, designing accompanying Google Sheets with personal venue list for each volunteer, uploading content to Google Forms and testing technology.
4. Data collection and digital volunteer management
Supporting volunteers in collecting data on heritage and museum website access information.
5. Data analysis and report writing
Analysing data collected and finalising Heritage Access 2022 report.
6. Creating and publishing benchmark guide
Working with web developers to create benchmark showcasing ‘scores’ attributed to each venue.
7. Report publication and dissemination
Publishing report online, leading workshops and online sessions for relevant organisations and groups.
When recruiting, think outside of your usual channels, and seek out local volunteering groups, and organisations specifically representing under-represented groups. For Heritage Access 2022, local CVS (Community Voluntary Services) groups and Community First groups were contacted and the team used NCVO recommended volunteer boards, and its ‘Find a Volunteer Centre’ tool. Actively state that you are keen to encourage people with lived experience, and offer applicants alternative ways to express interest, such as video, voice memo or phone call. Think about people’s motivations for volunteering and consider whether the language and content you use for your advertisement could tap into these. Finally, make sure to keep the position advertisement and application as simple as possible and avoid using technical jargon.
Provide a named individual contact for application queries
Make it clear that this person will respond to applicants in a timely manner and that questions are welcomed through your preferred contact method (email, phone, or virtual call). Host drop-in open sessions online so people can find out more about the project before committing.
Design a thorough and engaging onboarding programme that reaffirms the importance of the volunteers’ role in the project, and where possible involve volunteers and encourage their input into the role. For example, the onboarding programme for Heritage Access 2022 volunteers involved two focus groups that allowed volunteers to share their own experiences of access barriers and share what they wanted to get out of volunteering with VocalEyes.
Ensure all communications and documentation is accessible
Make sure all documents and communications use inclusive language and are accessible: including using structured headings, and alt-text for images. If employing a new technology, work with an access organisation or specialist to test the technology’s accessibility.
Build accessibility into your onboarding plan from conception onwards
Upon application, give volunteers an opportunity to describe any access adjustments they may require and follow up with them prior to onboarding. These adjustments could include speech to text reporting (this is where a captioner provides live captions) or British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation. Make sure to allow for access services in your training budget in order to provide these services. Speech to text reporting services are offered by a number of different organisations such as Stagetext, and BSL interpreters can be found through National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).
Be flexible and take time to understand volunteers’ preferred communication methods
For example, some neurodivergent volunteers may not feel comfortable communicating in a group Zoom call, so use break-out rooms or a live anonymous feedback tool such as Sli.do or Poll Everywhere. Offer volunteers space to communicate their preferences, and to feed back after a session if they prefer.
Volunteers feeling excluded due to miscommunication / lack of access provision
An organisation needs to be prepared to adapt its processes to best suit their volunteers. In creating and disseminating feedback forms after onboarding sessions, you can alter your access provisions (e.g. speed of talking, use of BSL interpreters, breaks in session) to reflect volunteer experiences mid-way through the programme.
Misunderstandings regarding access between volunteers themselves, or volunteers and the project team, or conflicting access provisions
Both ahead of and during the onboarding, communicate clearly, the access provisions that have been put in place and remind volunteers to be sensitive when interacting with other volunteers. Explain why the provisions are important and reaffirm your commitment to inclusivity.
Volunteers disengage from the project due to project duration and large scope of work
It is crucial to communicate the project’s flexibility and adaptability when onboarding volunteers, focusing on the importance of them designing their own schedule. This creates an inclusive environment that puts the volunteer first and makes them feel appreciated. Reservists or early completers can help you meet targets, if still needed.
The project has not received enough suitable applications
Make sure to utilise existing relationships with project partners and advisory board members, as well as pursuing new avenues for applicants. Consider restructuring your application form/expression of interest form if necessary.
There aren’t an even amount of candidates from all regions of the UK
Geographical diversity can be difficult to achieve in a national digital project, but it is important to reach out to local groups to encourage applicants from underrepresented areas. When shortlisting applicants, consider their relationship to the key elements of the project (e.g. access) and their geographical location, and consider how these may provide a more diverse volunteer pool.
Digital volunteers are dropping out after being onboarded
Communication with your volunteers is the key to recruiting and retaining a committed and diverse group. Make sure to use your onboarding to set a realistic expectation of required commitment (quantify this, using time measurements (40 hours over a 6 month period, or amount of work (30 venues to be surveyed)) and if a volunteer begins to be disengaged with their work, communicate any flexibility you may have on reducing workload. Check-in with your volunteers as opposed to waiting for them come to you.
- Heritage Access 2022 report(pdf)
- Heritage Access 2022 report (audio production)
- Heritage Access 2022 benchmark tool an online search and map interface where you can find the benchmark score for the access information provided by the UK museums and heritage sites covered by the project.
- Recording of Heritage Access 2022’s Digital Volunteering Forum (February 2023)
- Ten ways to encourage deaf, disabled and neurodivergent visitors to your site, VocalEyes and The Heritage Alliance:
- Stagetext website
- The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people (NRCPD) website
- NCVO’s Find a Volunteer Centre resource
Browse related resources by smart tags:
Access Accessibility Digital volunteers Volunteers Website accessibility
Please attribute as: "Using volunteers to improve digital accessibility practices (2023) by VocalEyes supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0