A month ago today, I was elected as the new 2021 2nd Vice-President of the Hospital Employees’ Union. Originally, I was going to use this post to discuss all of the wonderful things I have accomplished in my first month. But then reality set in and I began to realize that the most significant is not what I accomplished, but what I did not accomplish.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion were the greatest focusses of our 2021 convention. We made significant strides and the members chose to include DEI seats at the Provincial Executive table. This was remarkable and groundbreaking. Future generations of our union members will never know how important it was.

But we missed something.

One equity seeking group, the People with Disabilities committee, had a request. That request was to alleviate and remove one of the barriers that prevents full participation from members who have a specific disability. The issue was debated significantly with people from both sides of the argument presenting their opinions. When the debate was done, the request of the disability committee was shut down. Some disabilities, it seems, are perceived to be choices rather than disabilities.

So what was the request? That our union convention be made accessible to people with substance-abuse issues. Or in simpler terms, that we as a union stop providing free drink tickets at our social events.

Some disabilities, it seems, are perceived to be choices rather than disabilities.

The debates were reasonable, rational, and interesting. But few of those debates included an understanding that the disabilities committee had made a request specific on behalf of members with a disability. They identified a barrier that prevented full participation in our Convention and asked that it be removed. What should have been debated was how we alleviate a barriers identified by the only committee in our entire union that is tasked with identifying disability barriers. Instead it was subjected to personal opinion. So if the People with Disabilities can’t trust that their requests will be taken seriously, where do we go from here?

The problem wasn’t an issue of poorly framed debates or of asking the membership to carry a heavy burden on behalf of a few people with a disease. Instead it is indicative of a bigger problem: we as a society continue to insist that inclusion is a choice. If you act differently. If you dress differently. If you behave differently. Then you will find you are included. This goes for all equity seeking groups. As a society we continue to insist that identifying equity makes us somehow less equal and that the way to remove a barrier is to have the impacted people make better choices.

My take away is this: one of my goals over the next year must be to learn to listen better. After one month in the chair as the 2nd Vice President, it is clear to me that a goal was outlined for me. I intend to rise to the challenge. The best way to create a stronger, more inclusive union is to listen better when grassroots members make a request.

I believe in an inclusive union. I see I have some work to do.