PCS is committed to the active participation of all members. In order to ensure this, we need particularly to address the requirements of disabled members.
As well as being good practice and meeting our overall objectives of being a member-based union, the Disability Discrimination Act now makes it a legal requirement that the union makes reasonable adjustments to ensure that all members have equal access to information, meetings and training and the democratic processes of the union.
This page contains guidance for lay officials, to explain what the law requires, what PCS is doing centrally and how branches and other union officials need to plan to ensure access to all.
The social (as opposed to the medical) model of disability is the PCS's preferred way of defining disability: it is not physical differences or medical conditions (impairments) that disable individuals - it is the attitude and reactions of society to those peoples' needs that means that they are 'disabled'.
By ensuring that the union is as fully accessible as possible, we can start to challenge the attitudes of a society that excludes a large section of the population from day-to-day living. PCS should not disable its members.
Since 2 December 1996, the DDA has placed legal duties on trade organisations, making it unlawful for them to discriminate against a disabled person:
It is also illegal to discriminate against a disabled member:
From October 1999, unions are under additional duties to make adjustments, to remove barriers to equal access. The Act states that where
This duty covers arrangements for determining who can become or remain a member, and any terms, condition or arrangement on which membership, or a benefit of it, is offered. There is not a definitive list of such arrangements, but the code of practice suggests that the following are likely to be covered:
In brief, if something is on offer to members, it must be equally accessible to all.
There is a defence of 'reasonableness' against claims of discrimination. This will generally be judged against the following criteria:
However, PCS wishes to avoid using this argument of 'justification', wherever possible.
Trade organisations can become liable under the DDA both for the acts or omissions of its employees and its 'agents'.
In PCS terms, this embraces all lay officials, from workplace level upwards. In determining whether a particular adjustment was 'reasonable', it would be the overall financial and other resources of PCS that would be looked at, not just the branch or other local finance.
In much the same way as employers are deemed to know about a disability if any of its' employees are aware of the fact, so trade organisations similarly cannot use a defence of lack of knowledge if one of its' employees or agents is aware of the facts - even if that person has been asked to keep the information confidential.
It is important, therefore, that local representatives advise members to complete a needs analysis form to alert PCS at all levels to members requirements.
Centrally, PCS has been building a database of requirements, by inviting members to return a completed Needs Analysis form. This enables us to determine who needs what, and develop appropriate means of meeting these needs. This information is now being transferred to the new Commix membership database and our systems to share this information are being developed.
Information from the current database is available to any branch or workplace officials, for members within their areas of responsibility. If local representatives become aware of members whose needs are not being met because they are not included on the central database, please ask them to complete and return a Needs Analysis form or to update their Commix records.
You may be asked to assist in completing this. Alternatively, members can phone the Equality, Health and Safety Department and give the necessary information verbally.
There are some key areas where local PCS organisations need to review their operations: meetings and written and verbal communications.
All branches hold meetings periodically, to which all members are invited. But, do all members actually know a meeting is taking place? Can all members really attend?
The checklist in this website section summarises the issues that you need to consider, depending on whether you have any disabled members within your branch.
If you currently have no disabled members, you might want to ask yourself why. Is it because there are no disabled staff, or is it that those disabled staff do not think that the union includes them?
Where possible, we are asking branches to ensure that all meeting rooms etc. are physically accessible and that all members are aware that interpretation services will be made available on request.
Remember, not all hearing impaired members will be able to make use of an induction loop or British Sign Language interpreters. It is better to tailor your provisions to the needs of members who may attend your meeting.
If your current venue is not accessible, it may be worth speaking with the owner/occupier, to explain what additional facilities you would require. They may be happy to make alterations. If they will not, or nothing can be done, please seek an accessible alternative.
Just because you provide an accessible meeting, do not expect all (or any) disabled members to attend. Members are free to make their own decisions about whether or not to attend a meeting, regardless of what may be provided for them.
As well as the requirements for the meeting venue itself, holding residential events increases the attention that must be paid to hotel accommodation and to the relative positions of the meeting and the hotel.
Do not assume that, just because the hotel says it is accessible that all will be fine. Check it yourself, or ask the member, perhaps, to speak to the hotel, to establish that any specific requirements are available.
Notes of meetings, minutes, branch circulars, magazines - all of these are written communications with members. But, as with meetings, some members cannot access written communications.
They need to receive them in accessible formats: Braille, large print, audio cassette, computer disc - or through e-mail. The Needs Analysis data will include this information.
There is a comprehensive TUC guide to making documents accessible, available from HQ. This includes several useful contact points for local services. You might also look for local disability groups, who may have their own services available - or work in partnership with the employer (see section below). Also, groups such as RNIB offer advice on making communications accessible.
The other key issue is timing - documents, regardless of content or format, should be available to all members at the same time. This should not require delays to producing printed versions - it merely requires adequate planning to ensure that all formats are produced together.
Branches are encouraged to look for local sources for accessible document transcription - or maybe to use facilities provided by the employer.
Further advice can be obtained from the equality, health and safety department at PCS headquarters.
If employers refuse access to their own facilities, branches may wish to contact their group or national officer for assistance.
At headquarters, PCS has a limited facility for transcription of documents into accessible formats, and this could be made use of, in the short term by branches. You should contact your National officer, in good time, to arrange this.
Increasingly, we are using the telephone as an alternative to written communication. This is another media where access is an issue.
PCS has established a national account with Typetalk. This is a service to users of textphones, that enables them to communicate by phone. An operator acts as intermediary between a text and voice phone.
Members who are textphone users and their branch and Group officials can have access to the PCS service. Those who have identified themselves as textphone users will be sent further details, including the access number, directly. Others, who have a need to use Typetalk on PCS business can request further details from the equality department.
In a guide such as this, we have to generalise. As local representatives, you have direct access to the best possible source of specific advice on a disabled member's requirements - the member themselves.
We must not make assumptions about requirements - we should approach the members concerned and ask either what they require, in detail, or whether what we are planning is adequate and suitable.
We need to remember that employers have been under duties, similar to those now to be applied to the union, and will have had to make arrangements for accessible documentation and meetings.
Locally, it may be possible to make use of the employers' facilities or systems to convert documents or arrange signers etc. If a workplace includes hearing-impaired staff who require induction loop facilities, the employer might consider installing a system into a meeting room - the branch might try to get use of this room for its own meetings.
It will be worthwhile in discussions with disabled members, to ask about how their employer meets their requirements for work-related issues.
Some of the measures required by the DDA may have financial implications. It is important that branches understand that no additional finance will automatically be made available to meet these requirements, though in certain circumstances we will endeavour to fund necessary adjustments.
As a first step, we would expect branches to explore all options available (e.g. partnership with the employer, local sources of assistance), and to discuss with the member concerned, to establish the 'best value' option for adjustment. You will then need to review your current financial commitments, to ascertain that costs cannot be met from within current funding.
In these exceptional circumstances, branches should apply for additional funds, in the usual manner, giving details of the options investigated and why the proposed solution provides 'best value'.
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