Attending a protest / Disability / Protest

Practical tips for disabled protesters

What practical things can we do before attending a protest? How do I communicate my access needs? What if I’m kettled and I’m disabled?

This page is part of a series on Disabled people’s rights, developed with Disability Rights UK (DRUK). You can read a summary of these pages, and download shorter versions too.

Disclaimer: this article is for general information in England and Wales. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. See our page here for information on getting legal advice.

Everyone has the right to protest, but society puts many barriers in the way of Disabled people.  Below are some tips on how you could make protesting easier.

Preparing to attend a protest

General tips

Protests can be more physically and emotionally taxing than you think. You could improve your experience at protests by:

  • bringing a radar key to access disabled toilets
  • using ear defenders or earplugs if you experience noise sensitivity
  • bringing a portable stool/chair or a walking stick that converts into a seat if you struggle to stand or walk for long periods
  • being familiar with the route of the march
  • checking if the organiser has provided any access information.

The protest might go on for longer than you think

It might be a good idea to plan for being out longer than you thought.

  • Taking medication. You might want to bring extra medication you normally take later, or any emergency medication. Note that the police have powers to stop and search people they suspect are carrying drugs. You may want to bring evidence of your prescription, like a prescription box or bottle. This is to show that you have a right to carry and use your medication. If the police stop and search you, and take your medication away when they shouldn’t, you have a right to complain. Read more about how to complain about police behaviour here.
  • Bringing chargers and batteries. You might want to bring a charger for assistive devices such as powered wheelchairs, power assistive devices and cochlear implants – but know that you might not find somewhere to charge your equipment. You could also bring spare batteries for these devices.
  • Bringing enough food, water, and electrolytes if appropriate. This could help you if you need to eat regularly.

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What are my access needs?

Telling the organisers

You don’t have to tell anyone that you are disabled or about your condition or impairment. However, you might want to tell the organiser of any access needs you have. This could include:

  • Locations: having a protest somewhere wheelchair accessible, and with enough space to use any independent living equipment. It might also be somewhere with access to public transport and parking. You might also need somewhere with access to toilets and with seating if you can’t bring your own.
  • Communication: telling people about any sensory needs or communication needs you have

This might make you feel more comfortable about attending a protest. More information is in our page on organising a more accessible protest.

Communicating your needs to others

You may need to communicate your medical needs to the police, paramedics, organisers or other protestors.

  • Sunflower lanyard and card. These are sold by Hidden Disabilities. It’s a visual way to communicate that you have additional needs, if your condition’s not obvious to non-disabled people. You can also come up with your own ways to visually communicate your needs.
  • Medical alert/ID cards. Some charities or organisations for specific conditions provide these. For example, EDS UK provide them for 3 different types of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder. They are also provided by Epilepsy Action and Muscular Dystrophy UK. Stickman Communications also provide medical cards covering a wide range of conditions. Have a look at any organisations that exist that might be relevant to you.
  • Medical alert jewellery. These are usually in the form of bracelets or necklaces. They alert health professionals that you have a medical condition if you can’t to speak.
  • Medical emergency information.  You can add emergency contact information to your phone. You can also include information about your conditions and any medication. It can be accessed without needing to unlock your phone. Note that police have the power to take your phone if you are arrested and therefore whether you want the police to have this information. You may choose to use one of the above methods to communicate your medical needs instead.

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What if I’m kettled and I’m disabled?

Kettling’ is when the police contain protesters in one place for a long time. The police surround the people and don’t let them leave. It’s a way to control and manage protests.

There are also certain things the police should and shouldn’t do when kettling people so that they don’t discriminate against disabled people.

For example, the police should have a release plan. This should allow vulnerable or distressed people to leave the kettle. However, it may not account for your needs.

If you are not released from the kettle, this may mean that you won’t be able to access disabled toilets or somewhere to charge electronic mobility equipment. There also may not be anywhere suitable to sit if you struggle to stand for long periods and can’t sit on the floor.

While most protests don’t get kettled, you might want to prepare for this possibility if you decide to protest.

Complaining about police behaviour at a protest

Everyone has the right to complain if they feel that the police acted wrongly.

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What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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