Be A Disabled Workers' Ally
I’m not a disabled member, so it’s hard to imagine just how frightening and isolating the pandemic has been for our members who live with underlying conditions, whether that’s a matter of physical health or mental health.
That’s why I think UNISON’s Year Of Disabled Workers couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I also think it is important to consider how members without disabilities can be good allies and work alongside disabled workers to ensure they enjoy equal pay, conditions, accessibility, and health and safety in the workplace.
Being an ally is an important way of working, as it does not deny the humanity or agency of disabled workers, but shows a willingness to listen to and respect what disabled workers prioritise as their needs.
We should never be in the position of telling members what they want. Too many confuse loudhailers and sloganeering with leadership, failing to understand that it is the honest work of talking wiith members and listening and working together to agree plans and objectives that is needed.
So, how do you become an ally of disabled workers?
Educating yourself is an essential first step. That doesn’t mean having to learn everything you can about disease, illness, and injury! It does mean learning about your employer’s policies and practices as regards disabled workers, and whether they meet the needs of disabled workers. If not, ensure this matter gets on the negotiating agenda.
Reaching out to disabled workers is also an essential move. If you already have a disabled members branch self-organised group, that’s great - but have you spoken with them about their needs and priorities? Can the branch do more to support the growth of the SOG? Does the branch ensure members are aware of the group’s existence and how to contact them?
If you don’t have a disabled members’ branch group, why not ask a regional or national disabled SOG speaker to your branch committee or branch meeting to talk about how disabled workers can be supported to get organised?
There are some important things you can do on an individual level, too: consider your own beliefs and actions - do they support disabled workers in the best way or are there some underlying prejudices you need to eradicate?; speak out and challenge anti-disabled prejudice; help amplify the voices of disabled members on social media by liking and sharing their contributions, etc.
Become an ally!
UNISON has produced a range of resources for use in helping to celebrate and organise around the Year of Disabled Members, available at