We spoke to Lynda to find out more about her role and how she has made a difference in her workplace:
“I found that the accessible staff toilet in my store was being used for storage. When I raised it with management and asked them to clear it, they couldn’t understand and said, ‘But we don’t have any disabled staff here!’. I think they had the idea that the only wheelchair users would need to use it. I explained that there were colleagues in the store with ‘hidden’ disabilities who might need an accessible toilet. Once this was explained, management understood and the toilet was cleared of boxes so it could be used.
“Problems can arise because of a lack of awareness – for example, one member had a reasonable adjustment in place because of a ‘hidden’ impairment, fibromyalgia. Working on the tills worsened the pain she experienced, so we’d had an adjustment put in place that she could work on the self-service tills instead, as this is not as physically demanding. But when a new manager came in to the store, at first he didn’t understand the principle of ‘reasonable adjustments’. He thought he could just put her back on the tills.
“I had to intervene and explain the principle of reasonable adjustments. I also explained about the Equality Act and the social model of disability. I told him why disabled people have a right to reasonable adjustments - to give them an equal chance. I found that when I explained it to him, the manager was willing to listen and took it on board.
“A few years ago, I noticed that a member in my store who has a profound hearing impairment was always going out to his car at lunchtime. He was eating lunch on his own in his car instead of sitting with others in the canteen. I realised that because other staff couldn’t sign they weren’t able to communicate with him. Although it was unintentional, he was being treated as if he was invisible and was being excluded because of the barriers in communication.
“I got in touch with my union and managed to get funding through the union learning fund to organise for basic British Sign Language (BSL) training for colleagues. Now we can chat with our Deaf colleague - he sits with us at lunch and we all sign and have a laugh together. He is properly included as part of the team. Now that so many of the staff can sign, word has spread in the local community and more Deaf people are coming into the shop. They like the fact that we can sign and they can have a chat with us when they come in. It’s helped develop better relationships in the community.
“I think it’s really important to keep your eye out and be proactive as a rep. That way you can raise awareness and make sure that disabled members are treated fairly. It can nip a lot of issues in the bud before problems develop and help avoid unnecessary stress.”
Contact and enquiries:
Project Worker - Wales TUC Cymru
029 2034 7010
This case study first appeared in Disability and Hidden Impairments in the Workplace - a toolkit for trade unionists