Making ETFO’s Annual Meeting Accessible to All (Disability Issues)

Christine Brown

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.