At this year's RMT AGM, I spoke in favour of a resolution from the union's Disabled Members' Conference calling on the union to carry out an accessibility audit of its premises and activities. The resolution was passed unanimously. This is what I said.
- How accessible is our union?
- How easy is it for disabled members and disabled guests to get involved?
- How accessible is this AGM?
- How easy is it to get around Unity House, even when the lift is working?!
- How easy is it to read RMT News, documents etc if you have a visual impairment or are dyslexic? Are they available in other formats?
- How accessible are our events? Are they easy to follow, to move around, to contribute to?
- How accessible is RMT Education? Are we running courses about disability, equality and access in venues that are not themselves accessible?!
- And what about the atmosphere, culture and conduct within the union? Is it welcoming to disabled members? Or might it be off-putting, overwhelming or even distressing?
- Do we put accessibility information n publicity for events as a matter of course?
This resolution calls for the union to audit the accessibility of the union – to find out where we are falling short and what we can do about it. By doing this, we can make ourselves more representative, more equal, more democratic, with a larger activist base and greater capacity to fight employers and win for all workers.
I’ve been thinking about possible objections to this proposal.
Perhaps you might feel that we don’t need to make events accessible because there are no wheelchair users coming to the event? But not every impairments is as obvious as wheelchair use. Perhaps you have members who do struggle with access but don’t tell us – maybe they struggle through the event or maybe they just stay away. Maybe disabled people aren’t coming to the event because they don’t know that it’s going to be accessible.
Perhaps you might think it is enough to make a change if and when a disabled member gets involved? But that approach puts all the onus on the disabled member to declare their disability, to make an issue of it. It is better to make ourselves accessible whether or not we are aware of particular disabled members.
Another objection might be the cost of making our premises and activities accessible. I hope the General Secretary is not going to tell us that there is no magic money tree, as that line has already been taken! Some of the changes we need are low-cost; other are more expensive. This resolution doesn’t commit the union to any expenditure other than on carrying out the audit – the results of that, and any decision on spending on increasing access will go to the National Executive or to this AGM next year.
Improving access may cost, but continuing to exclude disabled members costs us too. It may not cost us money, but it costs us in terms of member involvement and activism; and it costs us credibility when we go to employers and demand action on disabled access.
So, what is this proposed audit and how will it happen?
I want to be clear for the record that it must be led by disabled people. There are advisers and professionals who can assist, and it is essential that we use one that is led by disabled people. It must involve our disabled members through our Advisory Committee. There is a longstanding slogan of the disabled people’s movement: Nothing About Us Without Us.
The audit must address not just physical access but also the sensory environment, the format of publications and event, the language that we use, and more.
A more accessible union will be a better union for everyone, not just disabled members. So let’s get our own house in order. Let’s open our doors to disabled people, and become a more democratic, inclusive and powerful union.