Asserting yourself during discrimination

General advice

During any incident of access-refusal or discrimination, we advise you try and act as calmly as possible throughout. Avoid shouting or doing anything that can genuinely make employees feel frightened. Sometimes organisations will lie and say you were aggressive or scaring their staff. For members of some marginalised groups like People of Colour or working class people, this risk of “perceived aggression” can be increased due to racist and classist prejudices.

Gathering evidence of your behaviour

Even if you feel at the time of an incident,everything was polite, it is not uncommon for retaliatory allegations to be made that you were aggressive or behaved somehow inappropriately. Therefore ‘gathering evidence‘ in real-time that shows how you behaved can be vital to disprove those malicious allegations.

Impairments which can affect how you are perceived

If you have an impairment that affects your communication in any way, we recommend using your preparation time to consider how you may be (fairly or unfairly) perceived by service providers’ employees or bystanders and what strategies you can use to mitigate that.

An example might be if you are deaf or autistic; and have flat, atypical or louder speech characteristics which can be genuinely or maliciously perceived as aggressive. We recommend disclosing that you are deaf/autistic/other and explicitly stating that you are aware your speech is atypical and you are not being aggressive. Flashcards or handouts with this information written or drawn on them may also be useful to ensure you are correctly understood.

Four stages of dealing with incidents

Stage 1 – Preparation

Where an issue happens frequently, this gives you an opportunity to prepare. You can also think about general things you can do, so that when under stress, you can call on this preparation.

Think about regular access issues or discrimination that you experience. Are there common misunderstandings or things that often happen? Do you hear the same excuses over and over again? Make a note of these.

    Research your access rights by doing some of these things:

  • Ask other disabled people who experience similar barriers to you.
  • Look for disability organisations’ resources.
  • Search online for relevant guidance around specific issues.
  • Contact an appropriate organisation’s helpline service.
  • Look at the resources on this website, especially the ‘regulations and guidance‘ and ‘links‘ pages.

Using your research findings, think about how you can respond to the different stages of an incident where you are denied access or discriminated against. Make a note or think about clear and firm responses you can use to challenge common excuses. Get feedback on your planned responses from trusted people. If you have a communication impairment, consider how you can deal with the barrier of people understanding you, possibly by using things like pre-printed cards or pre-recorded messages of common responses.

Spend some time reading our ‘evidence gathering‘ page as preparation in case you have to make a post-incident complaint.

And above all, remember, you are entitled to good and safe access, without people giving you bad attitude.

Stage 2 – Challenge

Sometimes all you need to do is make someone think twice, realise they’re being unreasonable and reconsider. We call this “getting past the automatic no”.

You may need to very briefly disclose your access-need, or use your prepared scripts. If you can act confidently and calmly that can also help (although we know prejudices like racism and classism mean this doesn’t always work so well for everyone).

If access continues to be refused, you may wish to show the person relevant guidance maybe give them a printout or get them to read it from your phone. Be clear about who wrote the guidance and why they are authoritative.

If access is still refused, start to ask anyone you are dealing with for their name(s) and role(s). Take your time to capture this information by writing it down, or recording a note on your phone. This can make staff feel more directly accountable for their words and actions. If name and role information is refused, consider recording other information as covered in our ‘gathering information‘ page, as you may need it later.

Stage 3 – Escalation

If the situation becomes difficult, or a polite discussion about access is not working, ask for a more senior person such as a manager or owner to come and talk to you. Ask for ans record their name and role. Give a brief summary of what the problem is and what outcome you want. You may need to explain why there is a problem and show them the relevant guidance. Avoid being rude about other employees, but if they have been unprofessional or inappropriate, describe the behaviour and why it is problematic.

You can be clear and firm that if you do not receive an acceptable outcome that you will follow up with a post-incident complaint and be naming individual staff members.

If no manager is available, or the manager is not any more helpful, then this is probably the point where you have to accept you are not going to get the outcome at this time. Your focus may need to switch to gathering evidence for a post-incident complaint.

Stage 4 – Direct action

Occasionally disabled people do take direct action such as obstructing an entrance area, or refusing to leave until the issue is resolved. While this can be effective, it can also result in employees (or even bystanders) becoming aggressive or in worst cases violent towards you. It also increases the risk of security or the police being called to ‘deal with you’.

Police can sometimes be sympathetic but are usually unable to get involved on either side. Realistically police are likely to be a source of aggression or violence (especially towards certain marginalised groups). The police rarely understand how disability rights laws work and can give very bad advice, or make situations much worse. We can recommend NetPol for advice on your rights when dealing with the police.

We strongly encourage you to keep yourself safe and think carefully and realistically about the level of risk you are willing to take during any incidents.