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.

You may also find our Disability Access Bingo page useful for dealing with specific kinds of response, or signposting you to relevant information about your rights. Being confident and having authoritative sources supporting your rights (e.g. laws or policies) helps you in advocacy and being effectively assertive.

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. No matter how badly you are treated, be aware it is not a fair system. If you are perceived to behave badly, your complaints may be dismissed at all levels because of this.

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. Consider if you can be perceived or framed badly because of impairment characteristics.

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

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. 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).

Often service providers’ staff say “no” so quickly, they cannot have thought about disability access issues. We call this “automatic no” and have found that it is often reversible with a polite push-back. People don’t expect “no” to be challenged, so asking someone to think again is worth doing. Be clear what the problem is, why it affects you or a group disabled people specifically and why that is a worse experience than a non-disabled person would have. You may need to very briefly disclose your access-need, or use your prepared scripts.

If access continues to be refused, you may wish to show the person relevant guidance. You may carry a printout or have it quickly accessible in your smartphone to show them. Be clear 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 very obviously 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 which they legally are (especially if they are going against company policy or training). If name and role information is refused, consider recording other information such as what the person looked like, hairstyle, apparent gender and ethnicity, where they were located as that may help identify them later. There is more about this on our ‘gathering information‘ page.

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 and record their name and role (or description if this info is not given). Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat information if you didn’t capture it.

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 and describing individual staff members in that.

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 your desired 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’.

There may also be merit in planned direct action around a known issue. You can then ensure you have a group of people making a challenge, witnesses, plans and preparation for recording evidence and better ideas of how to get your point across.

Police can sometimes be sympathetic but are often 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 (the Equality Act or DDA etc) 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.