At this time of year summer seems far away; but it is not too early to start thinking about ETFO’s annual meeting. Next summer between August 16 and 19,over 500 delegates will gather in Toronto to make the decisions that will guide the organization for the following year. Most of these delegates are selected by their locals in the spring.
In the past few years, many unions have paid increasing attention to making their functions accessible to members with disabilities. ETFO, for example, has published a comprehensive guide called Access Without Borders: Planning Accessible Meetings in the Local. Ideally, in an accessible meeting space the principles of universal design have been incorporated into the construction. Examples include doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, sinks that use levers instead of hard-to-turn handles, and equipment and other objects placed so that they can be accessed whether standing or seated. Unfortunately, few existing meeting spaces, especially those that can house a large number of participants, have been constructed according to the principles of universal design. However, often work-arounds can be implemented.
In the room where ETFO holds its annual meetings, seating is arranged in a way that allows space to manoeuvre for those using scooters or other mobility devices. A microphone is adjusted to wheelchair height. To accommodate members who lipread, delegates are reminded at the start of every meeting to keep their faces free of obstructions so that they can be clearly seen. This advice is also incorporated into the training new delegates receive. In addition to these broad measures, the delegate registration form contains a space where members can indicate accommodations they may require in order to be able to participate fully in the meeting. The internal process for providing accommodations is straightforward. Whenever a request comes in, provincial staff work with the member to try to meet the member’s needs. An individual accommodation measure (whether in the workplace or in union meetings) can often be met in more than one way.
What kinds of accommodations have been implemented in past annual meetings? A small refrigerator might be provided in the room of a delegate whose medications are perishable. A delegate with a leg or foot injury, or a vascular condition, might receive a stool as a footrest. A delegate with a hearing impairment might be given headphones that provide a feed from the microphones, and a printed copy of a speech. A delegate with a back injury might be given a special chair.
If you are an ETFO member with a disability, you may have thought about trying to become a delegate to the annual meeting, but have been worried about potential barriers to your participation: many members have been facing barriers in their own workplaces for years. But your union takes every request for accommodation very seriously, as it should. The annual meeting is union democracy in action, and the choice is yours.