Volunteering Abroad With a Disability

a woman smiling
Curated by
Kristen Sachs
Content via Disability Horizons
Disability Horizons
Curated by
Kristen Sachs

Martyn Sibley has seemingly done it all. Martyn has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which doesn’t slow him down one bit. In his own words, here’s a short list of his accomplishments: “Getting through childhood, gaining my Master’s degree, managing full-time work, starting up my own business, my hectic social life and love of travel, all alongside my disability, refinance of technology and personal care assistance.”

As fulfilling as these endeavors have been, Martyn still felt something was missing in his life in terms of travel. Rather than simply visiting places he wanted to travel someplace for a longer period of time.

man with sma pulls a suitcase with his wheelchair


“For me, to truly learn the language you need to immerse yourself with native speakers. You have to get under the skin of a place.”


On the suggestion of a friend, Martyn looked into the European Volunteer Service (EVS) that helps individuals apply for funding to have your flights, accommodations, food, and a small living budget covered in order to volunteer on a variety of social projects. Martyn decided he would like to volunteer someplace warm – the south of France Portugal, Greece, and Italy were all on his wish list, but at the end he decided that Spain was where he really wanted to go.

When searching the EVS projects database, he was not only looking for cool projects but someplace that would be accessible. After inquiring about accessibility at a number of places and not getting a response or getting the response that accessibility was an issue, a breakthrough came when he was put in touch with Chris Fisher from Leonard Cheshire’s “Can Do” volunteering project.

“He came to visit me where we discussed Spain, my needs, and an action plan. A couple of weeks later he had contacted all of the Spanish agencies on my behalf. Very helpful.”

However, when some weeks passed with negative responses, Martyn almost gave up on the idea that his dream would happen. But after a number of months, Martyn received an email from a woman who remembered his query. She project manages Europe Aqua which runs in Spain. The organization had recently relocated to accessible premises and felt they could accommodate Martyn’s needs. The plan was to try out an initial period of 2 months, and if all goes well, to extend another 10 months.

It took more than a year from the initial application and lots and lots of puzzle pieces to come together for Martyn to receive news that he would indeed be going to Spain on an extended volunteer opportunity. “My main tasks will be to teach basic English classes, promote EVS to Spanish people, promote my experiences of living abroad and carry out some disability awareness training to local organizations,” shares Martyn “I will also live with 4 other volunteers, learn more Spanish and grow as a person. It will not always be easy, like with anybody away from home, but that is the adventure.”

Despite the hard work and long wait to make this dream happen, Martyn’s attitude has not wavered.

 “Do not let your disability, or indeed any other reason in life, stop you from living the dream! I have not, am not, and will not. It takes vision, research, graft and resilience, but trust me it is all worth it.”

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