Joanna Wootten's first contact with the charity Stagetext was as an enthusiastic theatre-goer and an appreciative beneficiary. The charity provides captioning and live subtitles for theatre performances and cultural events such as museum tours, making them accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Wootten, who was born deaf, says it made a big difference to her experience of the theatre. "Before Stagetext existed, I couldn't see a play unless I'd prearranged to get a copy of the script," she says.
Stagetext asked her to join the board in 2005 – she became vice-chair in 2013 – because it wanted user representation and she had a lot of sector experience. She trained as a solicitor, but instead followed a career in the charity sector: her jobs have included deputy chief executive for SignHealth, the healthcare charity for deaf people, and a director at the Business Disability Forum. She is now a consultant, focusing on disability and inclusion.
"I have an understanding of the sector and management issues, which is useful," she says. "But it goes both ways – being a trustee allows you to develop strategic thinking and decision-making skills."
A passion for the cause is undoubtedly useful for a trustee, she says; but one should weigh that against what one can contribute. "You are a volunteer, so it's worth thinking about whether your skills will actually help the charity," she says. "You should also consider whether you have the right temperament. Not everyone is suited to the role. If you like attending meetings, great – but you might prefer more hands-on activities, in which case it might not be quite right."
A number of the charity's trustees are deaf or hard of hearing, she says: "However, I'm the only one who can sign, so I provide a voice on the board for British Sign Language users."