UNISON Disabled Members Conference 2009

UNISON Disabled Members Conference 2009

Daniel Anderson-McIntyre

I attended the national Disabled Members Conference of
UNISON in Blackpool over the long weekend of October 31st to
November 2nd.

As a 1st time Delegate to Conference things were
a little bewildering at first.
Thankfully I soon met a lady by the name of Fiona Heneghan, a Disability
Officer from Surrey County Council.
Fiona guided me through Conference procedures and helped make sure I was
in the right place at the right time.

Whilst at Conference I also met Dan Anderson and his wife Wendy
who both use BSL, so I had a chance to practise ready for my upcoming exam and
had some interesting conversations with them both.

One of the most bewildering things about Conference was the
hotel lobby during breaks and social times.
I have never seen so many people using wheelchairs, scooters,
powerchairs, crutches, walking sticks, BSL, hearing aids and PAs in one place
before.  It was nice to go from the
office or street environment. where I might be the only wheelchair user in
sight, to being just one of the crowd.
Everyone was friendly and helpful and the hotel staff were absolute

Conference was also attended by Dave Prentis (General
Secretary, UNISON) and Jonathan Shaw (Minister for Disabled People).

Dave gave an address detailing UNISON’s vision of a future
in which disabled workers were afforded the same levels of respect as their
non-disabled colleagues and also spoke about UNISON’s current “One Million
Voices” campaign.

Jonathan spoke about the Government’s current position on
disability working rights, including Disability Leave.  There then followed a lengthy Q and A session
during which he took questions from Conference and attempted to answer them.

On the last day of Conference one of the agenda items was a
motion on Disability Leave, which was something I had spoken to Fiona, Wendy
and Dan about several times during the weekend.
Fiona encouraged me to address Conference, which I did.

I spoke about how people working in organisations that did
not recognise Disability Leave as separate from Sickness Leave were being
disadvantaged in comparison to their non-disabled colleagues.  Many people working in these organisations
are being taken down Capability process routes by their HR departments simply
because they have racked up more sick days than their non-disabled colleagues.

This address was met with rapturous applause and afterwards,
during a break, I was approached by several people, all eager to tell me of
their experiences.  One of these people
was Jean Sowley (Regional Chair Disabled Members and National Co-Chair Disabled
Members) who told me that what I had spoken about was by no means uncommon and
asked me to become more active within the union.

On the last evening there was a social event which lasted
well into the next morning!  I have never
before seen a group of BSL interpreters signing karaoke.  That’s not a typo!  Signing.
In perfect synchronicity.  Dancing
wheelchairs (NOT ballroom!), lots of beer and a great atmosphere as well as
good company and a lot of laughs all made for a great night.

The weekend was certainly an experience and I have made
several new friends.  I look forward to
returning next year!