What’s in My Gig Bags? Wheelchair User Edition

Whilst I was travelling to the latest gig I went to, it suddenly dawned on me exactly HOW MUCH I take with me when travelling for a gig. So, I thought I’d outline what’s in my bags and why. A couple of things I should say: 1. This is only what I take if I’m travelling and staying at someone’s house overnight for the gig, if I’m going out for the night and coming straight home I take way less. 2. This isn’t a “you must pack…” list, it’s simply what I take, obviously everyone would take different things to suit their needs.

The first thing to notice is the bags (plural!) part of what I just said. I have to take 3 bags with me for every gig I travel to and stay overnight as a standard, and that’s even with packing ridiculously light!

Tote Bag

The first bag is a tote bag. This is probably the most important bag as it carries my wheelchair charger (which of course I only need if I’m travelling in my electric wheelchair). Yes, that’s right, my wheelchair charger gets its own personal bag all to itself! There is a chance my wheelchair would last the whole trip without being charged but I’m not about to risk getting stranded in a broken-down wheelchair on the way home from a gig.

Rucksack/Backpack

Then there is my rucksack/backpack (depending what you want to call it) I would class this as my “real” gig bag as it contains 90% of the stuff I need when travelling. I take some pyjamas with me as the first thing, I likely won’t wear them, but I like to convince myself I’ll change out of my clothes once how from the show rather than just crashing in bed in my gig clothes. I also take clothes for the trip home the next day, this is again entirely because I like to convince myself (and everyone else) I’m an adult who doesn’t just crash in my gig clothes once home from the gig. If I’m travelling from parents’ house to London for a gig, like I was this summer, I’ll take my house key, so I can come and go as I please without interrupting anyone else’s schedule. Of course, I take my toothbrush because, well, dental hygiene, standard travel necessity to be honest. I also take a hoodie because when you leave a gig it’s usually like 11pm and cold, and let me tell you, when you have a condition that involves muscle spasticity, being cold is NOT a good idea. My phone charger is also key, so I can charge my phone before I leave whatever accommodation I’m staying in overnight and keep in contact with people while I’m out and about in case anything happens. This next item is a little blogger specific, but I always take my “blog book” and a pen so I can take notes for any venue access review while I’m travelling, for example, on the train home post gig. The final item is my blue Disabled Parking badge, if necessary. I’d only need this if I and the person I was going with had decided to drive to the venue or I was being dropped off by someone, which is rare.

Handbag

Lastly, there’s my handbag. This is the bag I actually take to gigs due to bag size restrictions at venues. The first item in there will be will be my cardholder with my railcard and freedom pass in for travel (gotta get those disabled travel discounts!) The next important is my wallet for purchasing that all-important merch (I buy merch at almost all gigs, it’s sort of my must do thing). I also take my phone, purely for staying in contact with people as I don’t take any pictures or video at gigs (yes, I’m one of those “enjoy the moment without recording it” people, but that’s MY choice and you can of course do what you like). There is, of course, the all-important ticket that I also need to take. I also take the carer ticket or carer ticket confirmation. Now, why I say either carer ticket or confirmation is, depending on the venue, the carer coming with me will either have an actual ticket that arrives when mine does or I’ll receive a carer ticket confirmation from the venue which I then have to take with me on the night to pick up the carer ticket from the venue. Some venues also ask you to bring disability confirmation on the night, such as a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) letter. However, from my experience, venues that request that you bring this confirmation never actually look at it on the night. I would still suggest bringing it if the venue requests you do so though, because it’s likely the one time you don’t bring it is the one time they’ll ask to see it!

I hope this provides some insight into what I take with me when travelling for a gig as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

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Chippenham – London Paddington & back for Arctic Monkeys (Great Western Railways)

Time for another train blog! This time it’s from Chippenham to London Paddington and back again for Arctic Monkeys at The O2

Outbound

Ticket Buying/ Assistance Booking & Getting on at Chippenham

I bought my ticket on Trainline including my Disabled Persons railcard discount. I booked an open return as I wasn’t sure when I’d be coming back the next day, I was aware that that may cause issues with booking assistance. When it came to booking assistance for the outbound journey, I was warned assistance was not guaranteed because I had not booked 24 hours in advance (my train was at 8:40am the next day and I booked assistance at like 10:30am the morning before or something!). The idea of not being assisted on to or off a train already scares me so I would appreciate it if train companies didn’t make it worse. Besides which, where’s the idea of spontaneity for wheelchair users if they HAVE to book 24 hours in advance?! I was however, told I could book my return assistance later and not in one call. When I arrived at Chippenham to travel, the train I was supposed to catch had a long delay, so I was put on a train to Swindon to catch it there. However, when I got off at Swindon, I found that my original train was cancelled, so I was just put on the next train to Paddington.

On Train

Onboard, the train I was originally booked on was a new style train, but this one ended up being an old-style train. Because of this, booking actually felt pretty much pointless as the wheelchair space I’d reserved was no longer reserved, thankfully there was one free. This train ended up also being standing room only, so I worried about getting assistance off such a busy train, but the GWR Twitter team assured me Paddington knew I was on the train and I would be met.

Disembarking & Leaving at London Paddington

On arrival at Paddington, my worries were well founded as no assistance turned up. I had at least a 10-minute wait and had to ask for help from multiple other passengers and the train manager (or driver I’m not quite sure) to get assistance off the train. Once off, I headed to the Tube to head for Uxbridge.

Return

Getting on at London Paddington

For the return journey, I arrived at Paddington 30 mins early as requested and was pretty much put straight on the train. When I booked assistance, the train I was getting was supposed to be an old-style train, but it was actually a new style train. This meant that the wheelchair space reservation I’d made AGAIN didn’t exist. 

On Train

Onboard the train, I was able to get a free coffee because I HAVE to sit in 1st class on the new style trains as it’s where the only wheelchair space is. Free coffee is a small perk, I guess. This whole disability thing has to have SOME perks, right?

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham

When I arrived at Chippenham, the assistance to get me off the train was already there, and I was able to disembark and leave the station straight away 

Thanks to Arctic Monkeys for putting on a fabulous show and reminding me why I love them so much! I hope this post gives another insight into travelling into/out of London on the train as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Chippenham to London Paddington & back for Picture This

I recently headed to London (O2 Academy Islington, to be precise) to see Picture This (an Irish band I’m mildly obsessed with) in concert. This involved taking a train from Chippenham to London Paddington (and back again the following day). This post recounts those journeys in full.

Outbound

Ticket Buying, Assistance Booking & Getting on at Chippenham

I bought my ticket on Trainline, my go to website (and app!) for train tickets. All I had to do was select the stations I’d be travelling from and to, add my Disabled Persons railcard to get the discount and pick my train. I chose an open return ticket because I was going to a farewell get together for one of my university friends the day after the gig so was not sure what time I’d be leaving London. It remained to be seen whether this open return would prove a problem when booking wheelchair assistance for the journey. These tickets were also mobile tickets which was not something I’d encountered before.

On Train

When boarding the train, I realised it was one of the old style GWR trains so I was sat in standard class , which isn’t a problem, and I was aware of where I’d be sat because I’d prebooked a wheelchair space and the wheelchair space is in a different carriage depending on whether it’s an old or new train)so I guess that’s more just a note for everyone else (I’ll let you in on a secret, the wheelchair space on the new style trains is… IN FIRST CLASS!) . The one problem I had onboard was minor issues with luggage being placed in the wheelchair space around/ in front of me. When it comes to situations like that, it’s difficult for me to know how to react because I understand that there’s limited luggage space on trains, but also that wheelchair space is my space, I wouldn’t put my luggage in your seat, so I don’t really want your luggage in my spot.

Disembarking & Leaving at London Paddington

On arrival at Paddington the assistance was a little late turning up. This made me nervous as I didn’t want to end up stuck on the train going the opposite way and end up back where started. When assistance did turn up I almost had to disembark and drive straight into a wall because of how the train had lined up with the platform (I moved to the next carriage and disembarked there obviously). Once finally off the train, I headed to the Tube.

Return

Assistance Booking & Getting on at London Paddington

I booked my return assistance 24 hours before the train as is always requested. There was a miscommunication which meant my assistance was initially booked for the wrong train, but I managed to get that fixed. When I arrived at Paddington Tube station I was taken from the Tube station to the main train station by a member of Tube staff. However, I then found I couldn’t get on my booked train because the coach I’d booked had been locked out due to water damage & the other coach with a wheelchair space wouldn’t fit on the platform at Chippenham. This is the kind of situation I should have been prewarned about, it’s why train companies take your phone number when you book assistance! Needless to say, I was not best pleased about the extra half hour wait for the next train.

On Train

Onboard the train, it was an old-style train, so I was in standard class. Other than that, nothing really much happened. I tend to find my issues with train travel involve getting on/off the train and not the onboard experience.

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham

On arrival at Chippenham, I found they did not get the message about me being on a different train than stated on my original assistance booking, because the assistance just didn’t not turn up (mostly likely BECAUSE I was not on my booked train). Thankfully, the guard was able to get me off the train and I made my way home.

Thanks to Picture This for putting on a super cool show and one of the best I’ve ever been to. I hope this post gives an insight into travelling into/out of London on the train as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Yet More Issues with the London Tube System

photo credit: @devplacephotos

While I’ve already discussed issues with the London Tube as a wheelchair user. I recently encountered 3 extra issues on my trip to North Greenwich station to head to the O2 for Arctic Monkeys live with my best friend Dev. This was certainly an eye-opening experience for Dev as to what it’s like travelling with me on the Tube.

The 3 issues were:

 

  1. Step vs Gap

Some stations which are advertised as step free still have a gap between the platform and the train. As an example of how bad this problem is, we took 4 tube trains for this journey (Uxbridge – Wembley Park then Wembley Park to North Greenwich, and the same journey on the return), and had issues on 3 of them. These issues all ended with my front wheels getting stuck in the gap between the train and the platform. As can be expected, these situations left me terrified that I was going to fall onto the tracks. TFL (Transport For London) DO write the platform gaps at stations onto the map they hand out, so you can check platforms gaps at stations before you travel. But there are 2 problems with this: Firstly, I don’t explicitly know the dimensions of my chair, so I don’t KNOW what platform gaps it could handle. Secondly, why is the onus on me to have all this information about wheelchair dimensions and platform gaps to be able to travel safely? Can we not just make stations accessible or correctly label those that are fully accessible?

  1. Arriving at Station to Lift Out of Service

When we arrived at North Greenwich station, we found that the lift from our side of the station to ticket level was out of order for planned maintenance. We were not informed of this when Wembley Park radioed through to inform North Greenwich we’d be turning up. This issue was compounded when North Greenwich refused to send assistance to meet us off the train, seen as how I didn’t need a ramp and therefore apparently didn’t need assistance (I mean, if I ask for assistance, I NEED assistance, but whatever). Thankfully there was a backup plan to get us out of the station using a different lift, but this was a backup plan we weren’t informed about. As you can imagine, this lead to quite the panic when we got off the train to the sight of no apparent access out of the station and no idea how we’d get to the gig.

  1. Staff Instructions Not Matching Signage

Some stations have a sticker on certain platform doors stating, “board here for level access at such and such other station”. In our case we were at North Greenwich and the sticker indicated the carriage for level boarding at Wembley Park (our destination). Having noted this, I headed toward the sticker, because surely it would be the safest place for me to board? Apparently not, as a member of TFL staff redirected me to the other end of the platform. This decision led to issue 1 (where my front wheels got stuck in the platform gap) both when boarding and disembarking this train. My takeaway point here is to make sure that staff training, and communication matches the signage at stations because, after incidents like this, I am ALWAYS more inclined to follow station signage than staff instruction!

I hope this provides more insight into the issues with the London Tube system as a wheelchair user.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Islington O2 Academy Access Review

Photo Credit: Ellie Hart

Back to gigs, and a new venue this time! Which means another access review. This one is of the O2 Academy in Islington where I saw Picture This. As always, the review will be split into purchasing tickets, travel and experience/seating on the night.

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Purchasing Tickets

The process of purchasing a ticket wasn’t straightforward. The venue website’s access page provided a phone number through which tickets could supposedly be purchased so I thought it was just going to be the standard disabled access booking line. However, when I called I was told to buy a general admission ticket and email them afterwards to request a wheelchair space and carer ticket. If that wasn’t irritating and confusing enough, I then got a private Direct Message on Twitter from the venue following a tweet (that they were tagged) stating my confusion about disabled access tickets (I’d raaaaather they dealt with access issues and mistakes in public where everyone else can see steps being taken, but as long as it gets sorted it gets sorted). There they told me tickets sold over the phone were sold through a different number than the one on the site, all of this left me wondering exactly what the protocol was for disabled access tickets at this venue. Not to be deterred from my mission, I bought a general admission ticket from Seetickets (my go-to ticketing company if I need one) and sent the “I bought a ticket” email to the venue as requested. I was then sent a form to fill in stating my details and accessibility requirements and was also asked to send in some proof of disability such as a PIP (Personal Independence Payment, British disability benefit) document. Now, while I understand filling in these forms for disabled access to stop misuse of the spaces by those who do not need them (or whatever the reasoning is) It definitely extends the ticket buying process, and believe me, I’d be dancing at the barrier with everyone else if I could! After all that rigmarole I was FINALLY able to obtain a wheelchair access ticket and carer ticket!

Travel

In terms of travel, if you want the lowdown on the trip from Chippenham to London, that’s coming soon. In terms of getting from editor extraordinaire Nikki’s house in Uxbridge (where I stayed for the evening) to the venue, I took the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Kings Cross, which was fine. I then took a bus to Islington which was NOT fine. I was not allowed on the first bus as the driver insisted that the wheelchair space was given to wheelchair users OR people with buggies on a first come first served basis (FYI that’s not how it works, and I tried telling the driver that, but he refused to listen). On the second bus I was able to share with a buggy in the wheelchair space. For the journey back, I took a bus to Kings Cross and then the Piccadilly line from there to Uxbridge.

Experience & Seating

When we arrived at the venue, we headed straight to the front of the queue, so we could pick up the carer ticket. We were then taken upstairs in a lift and led to our space at the side of the stage. We were on same level as those with floor standing tickets which gave us a near perfect view (other than a few small issues with people blocking my view following a stage invader) I don’t know exactly what happened with the whole stage invader incident, one moment I’m singing and dancing along to one of my favourite tunes and the next there’s a random guy on stage and security are stressing out trying to get him off the stage. I didn’t quite know whether to be amused or concerned or how I was supposed to react since this was the first time I’d seen a stage invader at a gig, but I’m sure the person meant no harm. So, when I say “people” were blocking my view following a stage invader, I mean security stood in front of me for a while, obviously stressing about a repeat of the minor stage invasion. On that topic, just a little extra note on where we were, we were at the front of the building to the right of stage. We had direct access to the bar as it was right beyond us (bonus!) and but we simply separated from the main crowd by a single metal barrier. There were chairs for carers to sit on if they wished and there was also a member of security in our area the whole time who we could ask questions to (and who could move the barrier back and stop people from squishing us when they leant over said barrier to get closer to the band). After the gig, we were helped to get out of the venue (from our spot at the front to the exit door at the back) by fellow fans. I really appreciated that because I was nervous about how difficult it was going to be leaving such a small venue in a wheelchair, so many thanks to those fans!

I know this is an accessibility review, so I don’t often speak about the show itself, but I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band look so genuinely excited to be up on stage that Picture This (perhaps the intimate small venue setting was part of that). The atmosphere was utterly electric, and I’ve probably never smiled as much as that gig. The happiness was infectious, and I could go to a Picture This gig every day forever and still come away as happy as that every time (side note: lads if you ever want a disability access review for a show, you know where to find me!). If you ever get a chance to see these guys live I urge you to do it!

Thanks to Picture This for putting on a fabulous show, and to O2 Academy Islington for (other than the laborious ticket buying process) being quite an accessible and accommodating venue.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

 

Chippenham to Bath & back again! (Great Western Railway)

You asked for it, so here we go! The beginning of me blogging every train journey I take. And so we begin with a trip from Chippenham to Bath and back again with Great Western Railway (GWR).

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting on at Chippenham
First thing’s first, we bought our return tickets from the counter where I also showed the clerk my Disabled Persons railcard in order to get the discount. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Disabled Persons railcard entitles a disabled person and their carer or travel companion a third off rail fares for every trip (assuming the disabled persons ticket and the carer’s ticket are bought at the same time. We had not pre-booked assistance (like you are supposed to) due to the fact this was a pretty last-minute trip. Despite this, it was a pretty smooth boarding process despite apart from a slight confusion about which train we were getting on. This is because the counter clerk mentioned one train but the earlier train that was supposed to have gone was delayed so we managed to get an earlier train.

On Train
It is only a short trip between these 2 stations, so we parked by the doors through choice. There seemed no point in shuffling through to the wheelchair space and parking me up in my manual chair for what is only a 1 stop journey.

Disembarking & Leaving at Bath
When it came time to disembark, the crew on the train already had the ramp that is stored on the train out AND the platform staff had the on-platform ramp ready, so basically, assistance was perfect despite us not pre-booking. When we tried to get to ticket hall level to exit the station there was a queue for the lift, but that is to be expected during the summer holidays when more people are travelling with luggage. Overall, the assistance and experience of this part of the journey was very smooth.
Return

Getting on at Bath
For the return journey we, again, had no pre-booked assistance. Despite this, were able to get straight onto the train. Well I saaaaaay straight on, but there was a couple who stepped in front of us to board when the ramp was being put down, now while I understand they probably weren’t doing it maliciously, it takes just a moment to realise the ramp’s being put down for a reason and wait patiently for me to board first. I’m only asking for a moment’s patience, not the moon.

On Train
Once onboard, we were directed to the first-class carriage (where the only wheelchair space is located on the new GWR trains as far as I’m aware) and we parked my chair in the vacant wheelchair space. We were then offered seats (which we took). Strangely enough, the people who offered us seats were the same couple who walked ahead of us onto the train when the ramp was being put down instead of politely waiting for me to board first, maybe they felt guilty for their earlier impoliteness? Whatever their reasoning, it’d be a mistake to turn down a seat on a British train, and that’s a mistake we weren’t about to me

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham
There was a delay disembarking the train because the platform staff did not have the ramp ready despite Bath radioing ahead to tell them which train were on and that we’d require the ramp to leave the train. This kind of delay is sadly nothing new for wheelchair users who are regular train users and is in fact something that happens fairly often. When we arrived back at Chippenham, there were 2 lifts we needed to use to exit the station. There was one up to the footbridge and one back down to ground level again, there was no queuing to use either lift which was nice. I guess that’s one of the perks of using a smaller station with no so many people going through!

I hope this post gives you an insight into what can happen in the course of a train journey (even a short one like this) as a wheelchair user.

Stay Invincible!
Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

What accessibility means

A black background with "Accessibility" written on it in white text, below it reads: "making a system usable for everyone, regardless of their needs" also in white text. Below that are blue images of a hand, an eye, an ear and an upper and lowercase A arranged in a horizontal line (in that order)

This post is something a little different to my usual posts. In this one I’ll be discussing what accessibility means and more personally what it means for me.

Now, when I talk about what accessibility means, I’m not talking about a definition of accessibility or access. I’m talking about the different forms that access can take depending on who it is that requires access to somewhere or something. I guess this is a more in-depth explanation of why I put that little “this is my view of venue access and access is different for everyone” disclaimer at the start of my venue access reviews.

Access means different things for different people. For some it’s ramps to allow step free access into a building and/or Changing Places toilets to allow them to safely use the toilet while out and about, for others it’s ( complete, correct) captions or sign language interpreters so they can understand what’s being said, and for others it’s Braille or tactile paving to allow them to understand and navigate the world. What’s required will depend on what condition the person has, and they WILL know what access adaptations they require.

It’s not just the buildings someone is trying to enter that might have access adaptations, sometimes access includes bringing a mobility aid such as a wheelchair (or crutch, or cane, or walking frame or mobility scooter). This might not be an aid that person every time you see them (because #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist) but it’s something that helps them access the world at that time. It’s something that gives them the freedom to do what they want, it’s not something they’re “bound” to or something to pity them for (more on disability and language here and here).

As well as access adaptations to buildings, and mobility aids, access may also come from the people we bring with us. This is one I’m guilty of forgetting but, whether it’s a guide or a PA or even just a friend to give you the confidence to get out and experience the world. Having someone there to support you can make accessing somewhere that little bit easier.

It must also be said that sometimes what is considered accessible can vary for one person, and this is where my personal experience of accessibility comes in. As those of you who have read my UFC Liverpool blog will know, the B & B we stayed in for that trip could not be considered fully wheelchair accessible (and I knew that), but it was accessible enough for the trip we were taking.   There are three factors I take into account when deciding how accessible the place I’m staying needs to be for a trip: Firstly, whether I’m travelling solo or with friends or family because if I have someone there to help me I can stay somewhere with steps into the building or a less accessible (i.e. non wet room) bathroom.

The second is what mobility aid(s) I’ll be using on the trip because if I HAVE to use a certain mobility aid, such as my electric wheelchair, there are a limited number of places I would be to stay However, I can sometimes be more flexible and  change what mobility aid(s) I use to suit where I’m staying if there’s a specific place I want to stay or somewhere that’s been recommended.

The final factor is how long I’m staying in a place, certain situations such as a less accessible (i.e. non wet room) bathroom may be something I can deal with for a short overnight or weekend stay but a fully accessible wet room bathroom would be necessary for longer stays, depending on the other two factors I already mentioned (who I’m travelling with and what mobility aid(s) I’m using).

I hope this post has enlightened you to the variety within “accessibility” as a whole and even within my own view of “accessibility”

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)