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)

 

 

 

 

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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)

TEDx Speech

The words "Brunel University London" written one below the other in blue text on a white background

Further to my earlier blog post about my experience of the Brunel TEDx talk auditions, here is a transcript of the speech I gave at my audition. I tried to keep the actual speech as it was written here, so you can get the full effect of what I said.

20 years ago, the doctors told me something that would change my life, or at least something they thought would change my life. 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (a neurological condition that, as you can see, means I ended up with a snazzy set of wheels). I’ll come back to why I don’t see my diagnosis as life changing at the end of this talk.

I run a blog called InvincibleWomanOnWheels where I write venue accessibility reviews, disability travel stories and discussion of disability issues, but this talk is less about what I write and more why.

So, since InvincibleWomanonwheels is MY blog and these (points at chair) are wheels, that must make me the Invincible Woman, right? Wrong, if I AM the invincible Woman, I’m the second generation, the first is my mum. She was the one who sat and willed me through being 10 weeks premature and the size of a stuffed snake toy, to being the tough as nails, stubborn as hell, will “not give up until she reaches her goals” 21-year-old invincible woman on wheels that I am today. She heard every no as no’one’s done it yet, because these doctors never knew the world from my viewpoint, and for that I’ll always be grateful.  And that “we’ll figure it out” has sort of become a mantra. The amount of times I’ve answered, “how are you going to…” with “I’ll figure it out” I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

You see, the problem is that everyone focuses on this idea of disability as negative or limiting, it’s in all the definitions, so disability needs to be redefined. and I’m not saying that InvincibleWomanOnWheels is the whole solution, I’d never say that, but I certainly want to be part of the solution!

The point behind InvincibleWomanOnWheels is to carry on those messages that my mum taught me for the next generation, to be a guiding light for the parents who don’t know where to turn when their child is diagnosed, for the children who don’t know how they’re going to overcome their disability and achieve everything they want, because when every “expert” says no or can’t, you’re likely to believe them right?

But you don’t have to, anything is possible. Surely you can’t live in the capital where only 26% of the underground network is accessible? Watch me, surely a girl’s holiday with no parents can’t happen? See me drive up the side of Mount Etna, to quote Sinatra: I did it my way, and you will too.

you’re probably wondering why I write a blog rather than do speeches like this, and to me it’s because “seeing is believing” and, as disabled people, we spend so much time having so many different “experts” tell us many different things that you don’t know who to believe and so it’s easier to just see the message rather than hear it.

Now seems a good time to come back to what I said at the start, that for me this disability isn’t life changing, and that’s because life changing suggests that something has to be different or that something is different from before. But my life doesn’t HAVE to be any different from anyone else’s and I’ve never known anything different.

So, to those parents whose child has just been diagnosed with a disability, know they can still do everything they wish. And for those children with disabilities, be invincible, be phenomenal, do everything you ever wished and don’t ever let anyone tell you can’t. Think of it this way: I’m taking the exact same life journey as everyone else, I’m just doing it in a customised car.

 Thankyou

Given what I said here, I’d like to thank my mum and everyone who supported me with my audition.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

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)

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)