Know Your Rights: Bootcamp grad Esther’s top tips on legal activism

Campaign Bootcamp grad Esther is a disabled woman using the law to challenge discrimination against disabled people on the high street. She shares her top tips with us.

1. Know your rights

Knowing my rights helps sort things out in the moment. Sometimes I am refused access to places because I have an assistance dog. I am able to respond to this instantly by quoting the Equality Act and asking for a manager. I’ll say something like: ‘Well, this section of the Equality Act says that that’s not acceptable. Please can you go and ask your manager to look up what the Equality and Human Rights Commission website says about assistance dogs? Do you still want to deny me my right to enter your restaurant?’

Often, simply knowing the information helps to change minds. It would be great if more disabled people knew what the law meant for them.

2. Collect clear evidence

Collect evidence to use as proof at a later stage. You need to be able to clearly show that you were discriminated against, in a particular place at a specific time.

I do this in simple ways. When I arrive somewhere and I can’t get inside, I take a photo or video that is time-stamped. Often I don’t realise that I’m going to be discriminated against until later on. But at the point when I have asked for the manager and we’re waiting for them to come, I get my camera rolling.

In the video, I make it very clear that discrimination is happening. I say something like: ‘Your colleague says you don’t have a ramp, is that true?’ and record them saying, ‘Yes that’s true, we don’t have a ramp.’

3. Write a pre-action letter

Following the incident, I write a pre-action letter. This is a specific type of letter which states the issue and what is required to rectify the problem. The vast majority of issues can be sorted out long before court. However, the fact that you are prepared to go to court often encourages dialogue and provokes change.

4. Preparation in the lead up to court

There are a series of other processes you might go through, such as mediation processes to sort out disputes before they reach court. There are a number of forms to complete regarding availability for a court case, how long it is likely to take, and listing any expert witnesses.

At any point throughout this process, a case can be resolved. Very few cases actually reach court.

5. Presenting in court

Although you will do lots of prep in advance, you will need to think on your feet in the courtroom and be able to concisely convey your message to the judge. If you are representing yourself, however, you are not expected to act like a lawyer!

Photograph of three people outside a shop on a high street with a ramp outside of it. One woman, Esther, is using a wheelchair; and two people are standing behind her.
Bootcamp grad Esther and friends.

Here are some useful links recommended by Esther to find out more:

  • ‘Forcing open the doors to disability justice’ – feature article written by Esther
  • Disability Attitude Re-adjustment Tool – a guide for Disabled People to Sue Service Providers for Disability Discrimination, as Unrepresented Litigants in Person in England
  • Reasonable Access – a small organisation led by disabled people, working to empower other disabled people in the UK to assert and enforce their right to access through peer assistance and information provision
  • Disability Justice Project – this project supports London Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations to use the law to help Deaf/Disabled people make our rights to independent living and access to goods and services a reality
  • RightToParticipate project – this project aims to increase awareness of the Equality Act, especially the ways it can protect disabled people from discrimination in everyday situations
  • Stammeringlaw – this site looks at how the Equality Act 2010, previously the Disability Discrimination Act, applies to people who stammer in Great Britain, but much of the advice is not limited to stammering or stuttering

If you’re inspired by Esther’s journey, why not nominate an activist for a place at Bootcamp? Drop us an email and tell us who you’d like to nominate and why at [email protected]

Interview by Rhianna Ilube.

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