a photograph taken over the shoulder of a person writing on a picket sign reading "hands off our t's and c's"

Accessible Picketing: What is it, and why is it so important?

Picket lines disrupt, which is a good thing. The disruption caused by staff on picket lines proves both the value of staff who are absent and their unity and strength of feeling in what they are striking about. In UoB Unison’s dispute, picket lines make our campaign for better terms and conditions visible to the public, students, and other staff members. Being on a picket line bolsters feelings of comradery, unity and solidarity. At our picket lines, striking staff come together as a community to make our voices heard. It’s so important to make sure that picketing is accessible to all members of our union, including disabled and neurodivergent members, to make sure every person’s voice is heard.

Some of our members can’t come to in-person picket lines. The virtual picket line is an online space where striking staff can leave messages of solidarity and support.

For disabled and neurodivergent members, in-person picket lines must have 3 things:

  • All members must be able to physically access the picket lines.
  • All members should feel confident to be themselves whilst picketing. 
  • And all members should feel safe and supported.

For the majority of members, the traditionally busy, loud picket line is already accessible: we have our coffee van keeping us fed, we can picket in our departmental groups, and our union reps are on hand to answer our questions.

However, for members who experience anxiety, sensory overload, have reduced mobility, and other underrepresented experiences, traditional picket lines can be huge barriers to inclusion.

What might make a traditional picket line inaccessible?


For members who experience anxiety and/or sensory overload, noisy environments are disabling. On a traditional picket line, shouting, encouraging drivers to beep their horns and loud instruments like drums can all trigger anxiety and sensory overload. Having all that auditory stimulation can be distressing and can lead to shutdown, burnout, emotional exhaustion, and more. Members who experience anxiety and/or sensory overload may struggle to feel safe or supported on traditional picket lines.


Many neurominority people, such as Autistic people and ADHDers, have spent their whole working lives hiding aspects of their identity (masking) to “fit in” to mostly neurotypical workplaces and social situations. Unmasking can be incredibly nerve-wracking, it takes time and trust, especially if you are the only neurodivergent person in an office/group. Unions have a huge part to play in making workplaces safer for neurominority people. For lots of reasons, neurominority union members may not feel confident that they would be able to unmask at a traditional picket line. Accessible picket lines can be liberating, positive, and encouraging spaces where neurodivergent people can help each other unmask and be their authentic selves.

The Physical Space

Picket lines that don’t have access to disabled bathrooms, (comfortable) seating, or are difficult to access by car or public transport create barriers to disabled members. Picket lines should have access to bathrooms that are on neutral ground, if possible, as well as quiet spaces to decompress and rest. Where these facilities are not provided, some members are disabled from being able to participate on the picket line and are denied the opportunity to share their experiences in person.

Disabled and neurodivergent union members have so much to give to our branch community. Creating a safe, supportive environment for these members on our picket lines is incredibly important.

The Quiet Picket

The Quiet Picket is designed to accommodate the needs of primarily Disabled and Neurodivergent striking staff. At the accessible picket:

  • Noise is kept to a minimum: no chants, no encouraging drivers to beep their horns, and no musical instruments. (Some drivers will still beep their horns anyway but it happens less.)
  • We have craft activities such as badge-making and sign-making. Crafts provide a way of contributing to the picket line that does not require talking to others. Crafts also provide an alternative way for people to connect.
  • The Quiet picket is by the Student Guild. The Guild is considered “neutral,” and the committee books a quiet room for people to withdraw to if they need some time away from the picket. The Guild also has disabled and all-gender bathrooms.
  • Stimming, ticcing, sharing interests, and other alternative ways of engaging are welcomed and encouraged.
  • The Neurodiversity Officer is at the picket line and can make sure the above guidelines are followed (so members do not need to self-advocate, which can be very tiring).

Another element of accessible picketing is removing barriers created by managerial pressure and hostile working environments. Although not discussed here, these barriers are just as important to dismantle in making striking and picketing accessible to all our members.

Having our member’s voices heard and having numbers on the picket lines is crucial to the success of our strike, so we need to make sure everyone can participate. If you have any questions or suggestions for us on how we’ve done so far, want to share your experiences or offer suggestions, get in touch at unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk 


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