Nothing about us, without us

Nothing about us, without us

Prospect delegation at TUC disaabled workers' conference 2018

Leona Atkins, accessibility and disability network chair at the Met Office, overcame her fears and delivered a speech at this year’s TUC disabled workers’ conference about why train ticket machines are discriminatory.

I was pleased to be accepted as a Prospect delegate to this year’s TUC disabled workers’ conference. This was my second year and a chance to put into practice lessons learnt from last time.

The conference was held at the Bournemouth International Centre, which is a fantastic, fully accessible venue, easy to get to and get around in.

As the conference didn’t start until 11am, I had time to prepare and practice the speech I wanted to make. I typed out a few prompts on the laptop in the hope this would keep me on track during the speech.

Train travel discrimination – Keeping guards on trains

Leona Atkins

(Above: Leona Atkins)

Motion 1, the motion I wanted to speak on, was about keeping guards on trains. When I was called, my colleague Maurice Walshe kindly guided me up the lectern.

I placed my laptop down. As I couldn’t see the ‘traffic light’ signals telling me how much time I would have, I hoped my timings were good enough.

I knew there were lots of people, even if I couldn’t see them and a certain Eminem song, Lose Yourself, came into my mind.

I was shaking and totally terrified as the stage is a very intimidating place to be, but I tried my best to keep my nerves under control. I’m usually a shy, introverted, quiet person, so this was well outside of my comfort zone. But I took a deep breath and went for it!

I forgot to mention that I was a first-time speaker, but I talked about how ticket machines are inaccessible to those with a visual impairment.

I explained that Devon has a lot of unstaffed stations, and for those with visual disabilities, find themselves unable to use the ticket machines.  Passengers can be fined for not having a ticket, so if there is no guard on the train, then there is no way to get one.

If I buy a ticket online, it costs to have them sent by post. Yet they are free if people pick up them up from a machine. But this discriminates against disabled people because the machines are inaccessible.

That was it! I was done. Maurice led me off the stage and back to my seat, still shaking. But I had done it and it felt amazing. Objective achieved!

Govia Thameslink

Emergency motion two was about removing Govia Thameslink Railway’s franchise. I was totally shocked to hear that Govia had told its staff not to assist disabled people on its services as this might disrupt their timetable. It is truly shocking that companies can get away with this behaviour despite the 2010 Equality Act.

Other key speeches during the first day included Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, who talked about how government blames disabled people for the poor performance of the UK economy, rather than their lack of investment in it.

He gave several examples of the government’s attitude towards disabled people:

  • allowing people to starve by withdrawing their benefits
  • placing a cap on Access to Work
  • preventing disabled people getting the help they need to remain in work
  • harsher assessments for personal independence payments
  • giving companies the “green light” to discriminate towards us.

He also pointed out that disabled people who are fortunate enough to be in work are paid, on average, 15% less than their able-bodied colleagues.

But he showed how unions can make a difference, for example the withdrawal of tribunal fees, which discriminated against disabled people who couldn’t afford to make claims themselves.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP for Battersea and shadow minster for disabled people, explained the thinking behind this year’s conference slogan: ‘Nothing about us, without us’.

She said politicians and leaders should not make policies or decisions which affect disabled people without consulting them and she argued that Labour was the only party with a manifesto for disabled people.

Amy Bishop moved Prospect’s motion on disabled workers and the government’s industrial strategy.

Prospect delegates also spoke in support of six other motions and seconded a motion on incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law, which was moved by the FDA.

Conference can be emotionally tough, so by the end of day one I was exhausted. But I had a rest before meeting up with a fellow delegate for dinner, a stroll around Bournemouth to relax and a debrief before heading back for a well-earned sleep.

Universal Credit motion

On day two, we discussed disability passports, which proved very popular.

Mid-morning, we had a panel of speakers and informal discussion on the United Nations Convention of the Right of Persons with Disabilities.

The panellists were Rachel Cox, Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against the Cuts and Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network.

We debated two motions about the performing arts, including how the industry doesn’t support performers, inaccessible stages and its use of able-bodied actors for the roles of disabled parts.

We finished with a vote on which motion would be taken to TUC conference and unusually there was a tie: stop and scrap Universal Credit and reasonable adjustment passports. After a tie break, the Universal Credit motion won – that’s democracy in action!

(Main picture: Prospect's delegation at the TUC disabled workers' conference 2018)

Motions debated and carried at the TUC disabled workers conference 2018

1: Train travel discrimination

Emergency motion 2: Removal of contract for Thameslink trains

  • Condemn GTR’s appalling attitude
  • Stop others following this example
  • Demand that it be stripped of its franchise.

2. Access to sports stadia

  • TUC disability committee to provide a detailed report to its affiliates outlining what progress has been achieved on this subject through groups such as the PFA and Level Playing Field before the TUC disability conference 2019.

3. Project Diamond – Call for positive change in perception

  • Demand transparent data including whether non-disabled people play disabled people
  • Call for Ofcom to introduce penalties.

4. Cuts to Access to Work

  • Lobby MPs and government to stop the cuts to a service which brings benefits to society and individuals that far outweigh its costs
  • Stop the deskilling of Access to Work staff and remove the barriers to claimants with disabilities
  • Increase the visibility of this service to all disabled members.

5. Stop and scrap Universal Credit

  • Stop and scrap the Universal Credit
  • Carry out a far-reaching social security reform that truly makes work pay and protects those unable to work.

6. Disabled workers and the government’s industrial strategy

  • Campaign for the inclusion of disabled people in the design of the government’s industrial strategy
  • engage with employers and the government in identifying opportunities for high-value, skilled work for disabled people
  • Encourage TUC affiliates to share best practice on creative measures taken by employers to design work opportunities that are accessible to disabled people
  • Calls on the government to introduce measures that will incentivise employers to recruit disabled people, such as reporting the number of disabled people employed and through other measures such as public sector procurement policies.

Emergency motion 3: Access to elected office fund for disabled people

  • Collaborate with the Equality and Human Rights commission
  • Encourage unions to have full inclusion of disabled people in their political strategies
  • Press the Labour party to address the woeful representation of disabled people in both political office and internal office.

7. Government failure to fully implement UNCRPD recommendations

  • Work with disabled people and their organisations to demand that the recommendations of the UNCRPD inquiry are implemented fully by government
  • Lobby government to ensure that all schools and colleges are adequately funded and resourced so they can provide high-quality education.

8. Incorporating the UNCRPD into UK law

  • Campaign for the UNCRPD to be incorporated into UK law so that its provisions can be enforced by UK courts.

9. Brexit and disabled workers’ rights to healthcare in Europe

  • Raise awareness of the impact on disabled people of leaving the EU without agreeing a replacement for the European Health Insurance Card
  • Lobby government on this issue and seek to influence government and Labour party policy, campaigning for the importance of like-for-like provision in any reciprocal agreements, matching EHIC provision
  • Call on the travel and health insurance industry to provide fair insurance for disabled people.

10. Impact of Brexit on disabled people

  • Preserve existing disability rights
  • No regression or watering down of those rights
  • In future the UK continues to make progress in enhancing the rights of disabled people and does not get left behind by other EU countries
  • Reciprocal arrangements are in place for health care and social security for EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU to maintain current arrangements and access to support.

12. Reasonable adjustment passport

  • Develop a reasonable adjustments passport for members with long-term health conditions and chronic impairments
  • Develop a model policy for employers to integrate this into their equality policies
  • Promote the policy as a campaign, organising and negotiating tool
  • Monitor the success of implementation and adoption in order to share best practice.

13. Disability hate crime

  • Press the government to introduce appropriate measures to record and monitor hate-related incidents in schools and colleges
  • Campaign to ensure that schools and colleges comply fully with the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010 in challenging all forms of disability-related discrimination
  • Promote evidence of good practice by employers in securing the rights of disabled teachers at work.

14. Disabled workers’ summit

  • Help support this campaign making the performing arts more inclusive both on and off stage and to encourage other unions to follow and support it.

Emergency motion 1: Special educational needs and disability (SEND) cuts

  • Call a national demonstration against SEND cuts in Autumn 2018
  • Work with education unions, disabled people’s organisations and anti-cuts campaigns in organising this demonstration and other campaigning activity.

16. Let me on stage

  • Help support this campaign making the performing arts more inclusive both on and off stage and to encourage other unions to follow and support it.

17. Casting of D/deaf and disabled performers

  • To develop and adopt a strategy which encourages affiliates to collaborate with the Equity deaf and disabled members’ committee on challenging this trend, and to work proactively with bodies which produce and commission live and recorded media, and those involved in casting these productions.

18. Action on learning disability    

  • Develop practical guidance for trade union reps on organising effective workplace campaigns aimed at raising awareness of learning disability
  • Raise awareness and encourage support among affiliates for Mencap’s ‘Learning Disability Work Week’.


Leona Atkins

Leona Atkins


There are currently no comments on this post.

You cannot currently add comments, please log in to add a comment.