Venture Competition Pitch Speech

A certificate stating i (Emma Dobson) was a finalist in the Venture Competition 2019

Recently, I entered the Venture Competition at Brunel University London (my university) in the hopes of acquiring some funding to take the blog to the next level in terms of reach and impact.  I was selected as one of the 9 finalists from 52 applications. Below is a transcript of the pitch I planned to give (it didn’t go quite like this, as is often the case with these things):

InvincibleWomanOnWheels is a blog that gives a realistic view on life with a disability through blog posts discussing disability issues, disabled traveller guides and accessibility reviews from the viewpoint of a wheelchair user

Where did this start?

So where did this story begin? If we’re talking about my personal journey with disability, it started with a cerebral palsy diagnosis around the age of 1 or 2. But that’s all I’ll say on that because InvincibleWomanOnWheels isn’t just about me or my diagnosis it’s much bigger than that.

InvincibleWomanOnWheels itself sprang from a girls trip to Palermo in Sicily. During this trip, we encountered many obstacles to be overcome, some were general holiday issues, but most were more specific accessibility issues. The sort of situations where we were under the impression that somewhere was accessible but arrived to find it actually wasn’t. In the course of overcoming these obstacles we came to refer to ourselves as “The Invincible Women”. It was from these experiences that my friends encouraged me to begin writing about the issues I face as a disabled person and the approach I take to life, as my “can do” attitude was not the attitude they were used to seeing about disabled people and they felt that my stories could help others. I’ll admit I was a little hesitant at the idea to begin with, mostly because, as the can-do attitude is the one I was always raised with, it was difficult for me to understand how there was any other attitude to have. It’s always a little difficult to step beyond your own perspective and see things from a different viewpoint.

But this idea of attitudes is the crux of the problem, disability is always painted as a negative thing, the world of sympathetic head tilts and “oh I’m sorry’s”, but it doesn’t have to be portrayed in this way. And I want to be a leading light in showing that disability doesn’t have to be seen in this way. Not just for society as a whole, but to support other disabled people in ensuring they know they’re right to not view their disability as a bad thing, and for parents of newly diagnosed children, disability isn’t the negative raincloud everyone makes it out to be, it’s the thing that’s led to me to stages such as this one.

Now, just a quick question to contextualise those issues that I face that I mentioned early: what percentage of the London Underground do you think have step free access [wait for answers] it’s actually just over 25%

Where are we now?

So, with that back story in mind, where does the blog currently stand? The blog currently has over 1.8k views from over 1.2k viewers in 26 countries, which I think speaks for the impact that it has already had on changing the problem around attitudes to disability that I discussed earlier.  It currently comprises content including disabled traveller guides (from the viewpoint of trips I myself have taken to those places), venue accessibility reviews (from the largest venues such as Alexandra Palace to the smallest venues such as Koko in Camden) and blogs about wider disability related issues such as language around disability and behaviour around disabled people.

These posts have allowed me to start discussions with venues around improving their accessibility and opened discussions with big companies and institutions such as National Rail and Great Western Railway about the way they treat their disabled patrons. It has also opened up engagement with well-known musicians and some of Europe’s top mixed martial artists

Where do we go from here?

Now this dear reader is where I paraphrase, because of course I’m not asking you for money, with that in mind, here are the improvements I wished to make to the blog if I had received funding:

I have one overarching goal from this and that it is to turn this labour of love into something bigger, something more professional and something that goes beyond just me, because, as I’ve said before, this is more than just my story.

With that goal in mind there are two smaller aims going forward, the first of these is to expand and develop InvincibleWomanOnWheels as a brand, this will include connecting with more businesses to establish the blog as a more credible entity. This will also include more technical things such as upgrading the current blog site subscription to allow for improvements in content, or securing a non-subscription site and domain name, as well as finding ways to improve the SEO, all of this would also entail hiring a web designer to design a professional website.

I also want to branch beyond the written word to begin vlogging and using photographs, which would require the purchase of a good quality camera and editing software.

The second aim is to represent that global readership in 26 countries that I mentioned earlier. This means two things: firstly, travelling to other countries to review venues there and the general accessibility, suggested posts in this vein would include a trip to New York to review the accessibility of the Subway in comparison to the London Underground (which I have already reviewed to a degree). Secondly it would mean connecting with other disability bloggers in other countries and with other disabilities to provide a more rounded view of venue accessibility the world over.

 

Even though I was unsuccessful in my bid for funding this time, I hope that this experience of pitching to a panel of judges gives me the confidence to enter further funding competitions and develop InvincibleWomanOnWheels into a brand that changes the world, which I know it can be.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

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Invisible Woman on Wheels

Emma sits in front of a blue table with teapots and mugs on wearing a vest bearing the Gryffindor house crest from Harry Potter
I may be wearing Harry Potter merch but it shouldn't be an invisibility cloak Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

This one’s not my usual cheery ‘overcome every obstacle’ type blog post. It’s not all sunshine , rainbows and moments for your ‘inspiration porn’ (anyone wanting to know more about that topic can watch Stella Young’s TEDTalk here). Sometimes being disabled sucks.

Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel invisible as a disabled person (hence the title of this blog post). I’ll run through some of the situations that make me feel invisible and why.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there”

This one usually comes about when someone looks directly at me and then proceeds to walk into or over me in order to get to wherever they’re going. Initially, my response tended to be one of confusion, HOW do you not see a giant red machine of a wheelchair when it’s wheeling straight towards you?! And then I realised it’s not a case of not physically being seen, it’s a case of not being expected to be exist in certain places, it’s not being expected to be out in town, or on the commute, or out for a drink, doing the same things as everyone else. I get the same feeling when people stare or look twice when they see me around, like they don’t EXPECT me to be there. And it’s a little upsetting when you realise you aren’t seen or EXPECTED to have the life everyone else does.

“Watch where you’re going!”

This one comes about when is on their phone while walking and walks straight into me. And before anyone mentions “well why don’t you just move out of the way?” I’m not about to start playing slalom because people on their phones can’t pay attention. And this is the thing, “watch where you’re going!” makes it seem like I as the disabled person am the problem, but the person on their phone is the one not paying attention! But then I realised that it’s easier to blame me as the vulnerable person who’s not expected to bite back than it is to just admit you made a mistake (the irony of expecting ME to be the girl who doesn’t bite back isn’t lost on me).

“I didn’t think about that”

This one particularly wears on me, because “I didn’t think about that” comes across as “I didn’t think about you or how you live”. I get that on an individual level this can be a perspective thing, you don’t know someone’s situation until you walk in their shoes (or roll in their wheel tracks). But when it comes to businesses and institutions, they should be thinking about the needs of all potential patrons, so when they say “I didn’t think about that” that shows me that they don’t see me as someone who should be accessing their business or service. It all comes back to feeling invisible because I’m not EXPECTED to be in certain places. It sometimes seems like all I’m expected to do is sit at home and be sad about being disabled. And on this whole business accessibility thing…

“We aren’t accessible”

This is something that comes about when I ring somewhere to check accessibility for a gig and get a straight “we’re not wheelchair accessible”. A straight no in this respect is the worst because it says “we don’t see or value as a patron enough to even attempt some sort of solution to our access issues. This is usually accompanied by “we’re a listed building there’s nothing we can do”. This seems like a giant excuse, when you consider that World Heritage sites like Machu Picchu are now accessible, there’s always a way around issues if you WANT there to be. So, unless you show me that you tried to get permission to make accessibility adaptations and were refused, I’ll assume it’s less that there’s nothing you CAN do about accessibility and more there’s nothing you WANT to do. And again, I become invisible.

Aaaaaaaand finally…

“We turned that off because it was too cold/inconvenient”

This usually happens when I ask why automatic doors aren’t working and get this response. This is the most blatant reminder that I’m invisible as it says, “our convenience is more important than your independence”. Newsflash, if you’re only accessible when it’s convenient for you as a business, you’re not actually accessible. It makes it seem like you’re only accessible for the brownie points and that I’m only a token patron “because look at us we’re accessible, look a disabled person using our shop”. Like I’m invisible until me being visible makes you look good and let me tell you that realising you’re invisible until your existence is good for someone else is the worst feeling.

I’m not here to be your inspiration or your token, or so you can gain brownie points, but I am here as much as I sometimes feel invisible, and I’ll keep reminding the world I’m here until everyone realises it. I’m not Harry Potter, I shouldn’t have an invisibility cloak.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Owning my Startle Reflex

Emma sits in front of a blue table with teapots and mugs on wearing a vest bearing the Gryffindor house crest from Harry Potter
I may be wearing Harry Potter merch but it shouldn't be an invisibility cloak Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

This post is something a little different. This one’s about how I came to own my startle reflex and advice I’d give others with a startle reflex if they want to become more confident about their own startle reflex. For those who don’t know (and I didn’t understand it entirely until I read this quick explanation by Annie Nason) the startle reflex is a reflex that babies are born with which usually goes away by 6 months old. However, it never fully disappears in those with cerebral palsy. And can often lead to heightened responses and being jumpy to things that wouldn’t make other people jump.

My startle reflex used to be something I found embarrassing as I thought people would be staring and wondering why I was reacting to things (such as doors slamming) in the way I was (often exaggerated looking jumping).

With that in mind, here’s my 3 tips, for those with cerebral palsy, for owning a startle reflex. Obviously, these won’t be appropriate for everyone but they’re just the things that helped me, and I hope they can help others.

  1. Explain

Explaining the reflex to other people may help them understand the reflex and perhaps stop any staring or reactions. Obviously, this depends how comfortable you are discussing your condition and how well you know the person you’re talking to. Obviously, strangers aren’t entitled to your medical information, but if there are friends, flatmates or family that may often see you startle it may be helpful to explain it to them so they’re not constantly curious (as most of the reactions are just curiosity from my experience). Besides which, being able to counter someone laughing at you with “yeah it’s a disability thing” and watch their face fall as they realise that they’re THAT person who laughs at a disabled person is a wonderful thing, or maybe I take too much pride in making other people squirm with embarrassment?

  1. Help limit it where you can

I know this may not be possible as anything can trigger a startle, but if you are nervous about your startle reflex and know something repeatedly startles you it may help to help yourself limit the startle where you can. For me personally, the noise of concerts and loud drums pretty consistently triggers a startle. Obviously, as a girl who loves a concert, this isn’t great news. So, I constantly learn the lyrics and drum patterns for songs when I know I’m going to a concert (to the point of learning every single word of every single album months in advance). This means that by the time the concert rolls around, I’m likely to know where all the loud snare drum hits are so I’m expecting them and less likely to startle. Obviously, it doesn’t get rid of startles completely, but it certainly limits how much I startle and how affected I am by those startles in terms of confidence, so I think it’s good to know when you’re most likely to startle and to help mitigate it if and where you can, or even just learn when you startle most often so you can be less surprised by your own startle reflex and maybe you’ll start to just see it as an ‘oh yeah that happens’ kinda situation if you’re expecting to startle at certain things.

  1. It may be easier to approach dealing with your startle reflex in a situation you’re happiest in

For this, I’m again coming from my own experience, but for me my startle reflex being at its worst at concerts and with loud noises was actually a blessing in disguise. My initial embarrassment at startling in public was counteracted by my love of concerts. I realised that even IF people WERE staring when I startled, I just didn’t have the time to care as I was having too much fun at the concert. This experience also made me more aware that the way I imagined reactions in my head was different from reality, where I thought people would stare if I startled, they actually weren’t bothered in the slightest because they were too busy watching the concert. Now I’m not saying put yourself in a situation where you know you’ll startle to help you become more comfortable with it (that contradicts point 2 and I’m not really here to contradict myself) but just think about what would make you feel most comfortable about your startle reflex and go from there. Maybe it’s easiest to explain to a certain person first? Or maybe you want to have someone with you while you explain your startle to someone else? Or maybe you DO want to be like me and throw yourself in somewhere you know you’ll startle to get comfortable with it? However, works for you, just start in the way that makes you the most comfortable and you will get more comfortable with your startle reflex as you go.

It may take a day, a week, a month, a year or a lifetime (my startle reflex still frustrates me occasionally and I supposedly “own” it) but you will come to see your startle reflex as just another part of you and your cerebral palsy, no matter how miserable and frustrating it seems at the moment. I hope my suggestions are at least a starting point in helping you learn to accept your startle reflex as just another part of your cerebral palsy.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Genting Arena Birmingham Access Review (Cage Warriors 98)

Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

Another new access review, and this one’s not for a concert but an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) event, more specifically for Cage Warriors CW98 at Genting Arena Birmingham. As always, ticket buying, travel and on the night seating and experience covered in this review.

(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 a manual wheelchair user (in this instance), I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Ticket Buying

If you want a one-word description of the ticket buying process at this venue it would be SIMPLE! There was a disabled ticket booking line, the number for that line was stated on the venue website. So, I simply called that number and stated what event I wanted tickets for and the fact I’d need a wheelchair space and carer ticket and that was it, no forms, no documents, no dramas, tickets were booked within minutes!

Travel

In terms of getting from London to Birmingham, we took a train (technically trains) from Euston to Birmingham University station, which is something I’ll discuss in more detail on my other blog post specifically on the train journeys. We then took an Uber from the friend’s house where we were staying to the arena itself, which took about 30 minutes. Since I was in my manual wheelchair, it was quite a simple process in that we could just fold the chair and transport it in the boot of a standard (not necessarily wheelchair accessible) vehicle while I transferred into the back seat.

Experience & Seating

In terms of the full experience at the arena, the first, and probably only, issue I noted was a mirror opposite the toilet in the disabled bathroom. It seems like a small point and you’re probably wondering why the hell I’m wittering on about bathroom fixtures, but it’s undignifying if the person helping you out has to stay in the bathroom with you (as is the case for some disabled people) turns around to give you privacy and can STILL see everything, this is particularly an issue if the person helping you out is of the opposite gender (this wasn’t the case for me but can be the case for a lot of disabled people). The next mission was finding our seats, which is easier said than done in a big arena with so many sections. Once we’d found them, our seats were on a raised platform (with seats for those accompanying the disabled person alongside a wheelchair space) and there were cageside seats on the floor level in front of us. Now, I must say I was a little nervous about having the cageside seats right in front of us as I knew people tended to stand during the walkouts and was worried about being able to see over them (I love the walkouts too!). However, I must say that those in the cageside seats were always courteous in asking and making sure I could see everything even WHILE they were stood (so thank you to those people for their courtesy) which meant I could enjoy the RIDICULOUSLY brilliant atmosphere like everyone else. I also had no problem attending the free (for ticketholders) meet & greet, from which there are pictures below) as it was in a fully accessible foyer.

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Overall, a great experience and one of the best atmospheres I’ve been in. Cage Warriors shows will always feel like the one event where I’m just treated like everyone else, not Em the girl in the wheelchair, just Em, that girl that travels the country to see the sport she loves, who just HAPPENS to be in a wheelchair, and for that I’ll always be grateful to the Cage Warriors crew!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

 

Comic Con Access Review

Just hanging out in the DeLorean at a previous Comic Con

Now, here’s a post I could, and probably should, have done a while ago. Here is your comprehensive accessibility review of MCM London Comic Con from the girl that’s been 3 years on the bounce (October ones only may I add, not sure if anything is different for the May event)

(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!)

Ticket Buying

In terms of my own ticket buying, I just buy a general entry ticket for a specific day. Or IF I’m attending with others, we’ll all have general entry tickets (yes, I’ve gone to conventions alone, specifically on my 21st birthday, it was FAAAAAABULOUS, and I mean that utterly seriously). MCM’s accessibility policies do include an option to apply for a carer ticket and/or a timed entry, but, for me specifically, I feel like timed entry isn’t worth it as the event will be busy regardless of when I enter. Also, in terms of a carer ticket, I attend in my electric wheelchair so don’t need a lot of help or ‘care’ of any specific kind, plus if I am attending with someone, chances are they’re a fellow convention nerd and would have their own ticket regardless. There is also the option (for everyone, regardless of if you have a disability or not) for priority entry tickets to get into the event an hour (or is it two?) earlier. However, this again doesn’t really suit me as I feel like it would only be of use if I got there at 9am or whenever priority entry opens, and with a 2-hour trek to get from my flat in Uxbridge to the ExCel, that would mean getting up and out the house at 7am and quite frankly, no thanks!

Travel

In terms of travel from my Uxbridge flat to the ExCel, there are various routes I could take. The usual route is the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Wembley Park (with a ramp at both stations), the Jubilee line from there to Canning Town and then the DLR from Canning Town to Custom House station. However, as the Jubilee line decided to break exactly when we needed it, this year’s route was a little different. We (my mum and I) took the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Liverpool Street, then a TFL rail train from Liverpool Street to Stratford. Little side note here, we were told at Uxbridge that there was step free access on the Central line from Liverpool Street to Stratford yet got to Liverpool Street to find out that was false information, so THAT was great. We then completed the last part of the journey by taking the DLR from Stratford to Prince Regent station as Custom House station was closed (which I swear it has been for 2 out of the 3 MCM Comic Con’s I’ve attended?!) Getting off at Prince Regent also meant walking pretty much allllll the way through the ExCel to get to the Comic Con bit which, while it’s a problem for everyone and not just disabled patrons, was an additional annoyance.

Experience

In terms of the general accessibility experience, I found it all a bit hit and miss. When we joined the queue for ticket scanning to enter the venue, we were immediately found and skipped round the queue to get our tickets scanned without having to ask, which I saw as a nice perk and something I wasn’t expecting (so I wouldn’t have been particularly upset if I DID have to queue). The staff also pulled another wheelchair user and their party from the long main ticket queue in order to skip them round the queue in the same way they did with me, so I was aware this wasn’t just a one off perk for me

I’ve also been skipped ahead to the front of a photo shoot queue in previous years (not this year as I didn’t have any photos taken). However, I was only made aware that I could skip ahead of the queue when I enquired whether I was in the right queue for my second photo shoot of the day and the steward asked why I was all the way at the back, so, if the policy is to have those with disabilities at the front of photo shoot queues, it would be better to have this information more widely published before the event, as more information ahead of time makes the entire day easier for everyone!

My major issue with Comic Con is how busy it is. However, I know that’s just how it is at conventions, so rather than complaining, I’m going to give you some tips to negate the busyness. First pro tip would be that if you are overwhelmed and need some space, there’s usually a pocket of space to sit down towards the back of the autograph queuing section (sit right up against the wall if you can to avoid getting mistakenly in the queue) depending on how deep the queues are. My second point is that, since the busyness makes navigating with/in a mobility aid extra difficult, I’d stay extra vigilant as people are likely to be absorbed in looking at all the merch on the various stalls and stuff.

My other MAJOR tip is, if you can help it, DO NOT go on the Saturday, just don’t do it, it’ll be beyond busy and, from my knowledge, way too stressful trying to navigate to properly enjoy the event. I made the rookie mistake of going on a Saturday for my first EVER Comic Con and that was A. REGRET, there’s just always people everywhere and navigating around is an absolute mission.

My other issue with the ExCel as a venue is their accessible toilet, more specifically their location because, to my knowledge, the accessible toilets are either in the basement area/lower ground floor or the top floor compared to the standard toilets which are on the same level as the rest of Comic Con. This means that if, like me, you need an accessible toilet, you must traipse all the way down or all the way up away from the event to go, which about doubles the length of time spent away from the event! Having said that, if you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of a break, that extended traipse to the bathroom could provide a good break from all the busyness, so it’s a double-edged sword of sorts.

The one thing I do like about the layout of the ExCel at Comic Con is that many of the sections of the event are on one level. That is to say, the stalls, autograph and photo shoot sections are all on the same level (without having to go up or down in a lift) as the venue entrance, albeit in different sections of the venue. The only exception to this is that, as far as I know from the whole one panel/talk I’ve attended, the panels/talks are held on the top floor conference room like section of the venue.

As you can probably tell from the way I’ve switched between praising and moaning about the ExCel, my overall conclusion about Comic Con accessibility is hit and miss. Some accessibility features and things that happened that I wasn’t expecting and consider above the usual, but still some work to do to improve accessibility.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

 

Cage Warriors 97 (Ice Arena Wales & Ibis Budget Cardiff Centre)

All photograph credit: Keshia Asare

Another new access review for an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) event, more specifically for Cage Warriors CW97 at Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff, as well as a review of our stay at Ibis Budget Cardiff Centre.  As always, ticket buying/booking, travel and on the night seating and experience covered in this review.

(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!)

Ice Arena Wales

Ticket Buying

Ticket buying was as simple as could be, I simply went to the online site and selected disabled seating as the ticket type, so it was the same process as everyone else would go through for their tickets I then double checked that I’d only need one ticket (i.e. that the second “carer” ticket was included, which it was).

Travel

In terms of travel, there were 2 segments to the trip. The first segment from London to Cardiff was completed via good old Megabus (which I’ve discussed in accessibility terms in another blog so won’t go into that too much here)  The journey from our hotel to the arena was an Uber. It was quite simple in that we just had to fold my manual wheelchair and store it in the boot, sometimes we need to remove the footplates and store those separately depending on the size of the boot, but that’s something I approach on a case by case when the Uber turns up.

Experience & Seating

When we arrived at the arena, we realised it was one long queue, which everyone had to stand in, to get in, this was a little unexpected as I’m used to some sort of separate entry or route for disabled patrons. I must also say that security was very stringent, again, this was not problematic just unexpected, and I’d must rather security was stringent, and it took a while to get in.  once we did get in, I couldn’t have felt more like VIP that was on my wristband. It took a while to figure out where our seats were , but once we had, we were led through to practically cageside seats! After some BRILLIANT amateur fight and pro prelims, it was meet & greet time (anyone who knows me knows I’m definitely one for a meet and greet). However, we soon found that the meet & greet room was inaccessible so we brought this up with security to see if there was any way I could still be a part of the meet & greet. Now, let me be clear, this wasn’t me throwing some tantrum and expecting a big fuss and everyone to bend over backwards for me, but the way I’d see it, if you don’t ask if something’s possible, you don’t get it, and I’d really been looking forward to the meet and greet and knew I should be involved like everyone else. We were assured we’d get a meet & greet experience like everyone else, and true to their word, all those in the meet and greet made the time to come say hey and take a picture or 2 (see below). I’ll always thankful to them (and the entire Cage Warriors crew) for making sure I got the same experience as everyone else. Now, this next bit might sound a bit dramatic but it’s true, it’s situations like this that show me MMA shows are where I’m supposed to be, where I’ve found my people, a family of sorts, and one of the few events where I feel like everyone else and not just a disabled patron who has to have a different experience to the norm.

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Ibis Budget Cardiff Centre

Booking

I booked our hotel room over the phone. I prefer to do it this way, so I can talk to an actual person and make it abundantly clear I’m requesting an accessible room to ensure no mix ups with the booking. 

Travel

As I said earlier, the trip to Cardiff was with Megabus, which I discuss more in my Megabus specific blog post. Other than that, we walked to all of our other touristy/exploring things around the city.

Experience

Our room was, for my needs, a fully accessible room. It also had a full wet room, which I oddly see as a bonus. I think that’s because I’m used to the standard “accessible” bathroom which usually has a bath with a showerhead over it, which doesn’t fit my needs. The room also gave me enough space to wheel myself around and I appreciated the independence. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t some super fancy hotel room, but it didn’t need to be, not when it’s just a place to predrink before the event and sleep afterwards. I also appreciated that we were able to add breakfast when we arrived as we weren’t sure what we’d be doing in that regard, and how the trip was going to pan out, until we turned up. It was also helpful that this hotel was within walking distance to all the touristy things as this saved us public transport fares and any messing around with the accessibility of the Cardiff public transport system.

CW room        cw bathroom
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Thank you to the Cage Warriors crew for making sure I had the same experience as everyone else and just became Em, the girl who loves MMA and just HAPPENS to be in a wheelchair, as opposed to being just Em, the girl in the wheelchair. Thanks, must also go to the Ibis Budget Cardiff Centre team for providing somewhere to rest our heads in the madness of the weekend.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

 

 

 

 

Save St Nicholas School in Chippenham

Today, I’m moving away from my usual content to draw attention to a petition to save St Nicholas Special Needs School in Chippenham, a school in my local area (when I’m not at university in London).

Wiltshire County Council is proposing to close 3 special schools in the county, including St Nicholas’ and creating a ‘super school’. The Parents and Friends of St Nicholas School group have started a petition to stop the closure of the school as they believe it is not in the best interests of the children. I’ll explain why here (all these reasons are from the petition, which I’ll link at the end of this post):

Children need to be educated in a community

The current location of St Nicholas lets the students learn life skills with trips to local shops and parks and around the local area of Chippenham. The location of the new super school is very rural with few amenities. How are the students supposed to learn necessary life skills if there’s nowhere to put them into practice?! Also, this rural location makes me think this is an “out of sight, out of mind” move from the council, and frankly that’s more than a little upsetting. As someone who has had the privilege of meeting even just a few of these children, I can tell you they are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, and the Chippenham community needs them as much as they need to be part of the community for their own learning.

Parents deserve a choice of schools to send their children to

Parents who send their children to mainstream school have a choice of which school they send their child to. Parents of those children who need to attend a special needs school should have the same choice. Currently, with multiple special needs schools in the county, this choice IS available. But if the plan goes ahead that choice of school will be removed for these parents as they’ll HAVE to send their child to the one super school, what with it being the one special needs school in the county. Parents should have a choice about what school their child attends, whether that’s a mainstream school or a special needs school.

Children deserve an APPROPRIATE education

Every child deserves an appropriate education. Why I’ve made a big deal of specifying “appropriate” here is because it isn’t just about making sure every child gets an education, it’s about ensuring every child gets an education that is the best for them and works for them. For the children attending St Nicholas, that best version of education is in the smaller classrooms, with small class sizes and teachers and professionals who know each student like they are family. This will all likely be lost with the super school where everything will HAVE to be larger and less individual to accommodate all the students it needs to.

It puts children’s health at risk

The remote location could mean each child travelling for around 3 hours a day (1.5 hours each way) to get to school when you take into account traffic and multiple pick ups. This extended journey time could impact the health of children, such as by inducing seizures in those with epilepsy. This is compounded by the fact that the new location is further away from the 2 main A&E departments in the area. Therefore, if there is a medical emergency, the necessary help is further away. I’m not sure anything else needs to be said now, because frankly, if “it’s potentially putting children’s health at risk” isn’t enough to persuade you that this super school is not in the interests of the children, I’m not sure what I can say to persuade you.

If you believe as strongly as I do that St Nicholas school shouldn’t be closed, sign this petition: https://www.change.org/p/save-st-nicholas-special-needs-school?recruiter=101144830&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)