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)

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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)

Brunel TEDx talk

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

This blog post’s a little different from my usual posts. This time I’ll be talking about my experience of the Brunel University (my university) TEDx talk application and audition process.

Well firstly, what is TED and TEDx? TED is a “non-profit organisation devoted to spreading new ideas” (more info here: https://bit.ly/2BDrUOl ) through events with speakers and presentations on various themes, and TEDx is simply the local, self-organised version of the wider project. When Brunel University announced they were holding a TEDx talk on the theme of The Future of Us, I jumped at the chance to apply, given my belief that Invincible Woman on Wheels can genuinely inspire a change in the wider community in the future.

The first step was to fill in the application form. On that form there were 4 sections: my name, the title of the talk I wanted to give, a short 500-word synopsis of what I wanted to talk about and the impact of my brand/topic on humanity. Now, while my name is a very straightforward answer, the talk title and synopsis were more difficult. For the talk title I decide to use the same title as the blog (Invincible Woman on Wheels), this was because I’d decided to talk about the meaning behind the blog and what I meant to achieve with it and therefore linking the blog title and the talk title seemed the simplest nod to the basis of the talk. Despite knowing I wanted to talk about the meaning behind the blog, I still found the synopsis writing a little tricky, it was difficult to distil the mission and ethos of Invincible Woman on Wheels into just 500 words. Also, even though I knew the change I wanted to inspire with Invincible Woman on Wheels, it was difficult for me to think of it in the wider context of an impact on the whole of humanity, purely because I did not expect this blog to have the global reach it now does!

Then my application was sent off, and after much anxious waiting I was lucky enough to be selected for the long list (from which the two student speakers for the event would be chosen). Now, while this may not seem like much to those who are well versed in the art of public speaking and do things like this all the time, it was a huge deal to me, particularly considering the blog is self-run by me alone and was (at the time of the application) only six months old!

Soon it came time to prepare my long list selection talk, a five-minute-long version of my full talk that would be delivered to a panel of judges who would then decide which two student speakers would speak at the event.  I had to write my speech down (which meant yes, my talk was completely scripted, don’t judge me!) because I am (or at least hope I am) better with the written word than the spoken word. I was also difficult knowing how much of my story to include in the talk. That’s because Invincible Woman on Wheels is about me but also not about me, it’s about the difference my stories can make to others and how my stories inspire others. The final part of my preparations was a run through of the talk with my editor extraordinaire Nikki who I felt understood the meaning behind the blog and the message I was trying to get across in the talk best.

When the day of my actual audition talk came, I was super nervous because, as I’ve already said, I’m not very good with the spoken word and am much better with the written word. Knowing this about myself made me very aware of what a major step I was talking by even doing the audition, and as a result I stumbled over my words frequently and was very jittery. I felt in the end that I didn’t do the blog justice, so it was no surprise to me when I didn’t make it through to the full talk (although I want to offer my congratulations to those that did. Despite falling at what was essentially the final TED talk application hurdle, it was still an honour and a massive learning experience to be anywhere near a platform like TED.

I hope this provides an insight into my experience of the application and audition process for the Brunel University TEDx talk (and please let me know if you’d like to see a full transcript of my audition talk!)

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

UFC Liverpool

Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

Here’s another 2 for 1 accessibility review deal with reviews of the Liverpool Gateway B & B and the Echo Arena Liverpool as part of an overall review of my experience of UFC Liverpool.

(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!).

 

Liverpool Gateway B & B

In terms of booking, we found the B & B online and rung to explain the situation in terms of my disability and what was required in terms of accessibility, once it had been discussed and I’d confirmed that the B & B was accessible enough for me to stay there, I was able to book a ground floor room (the absolute deal breaker basis for accessibility that I requested).

For travelling to Liverpool, we used Megabus (which I won’t go into here as I’ve discussed in another blog) . In terms of getting across the city, we took the 10A bus from Liverpool One Bus Station (where the Megabus dropped us off) to Queens Square Bus Station (getting buses between bus stations may seem a little ridiculous but we were tourists who had no idea where we were going so we took the route we were given), then we took the 7 bus from Queens Square Bus Station to Old Swan to get to the B & B.

The B & B could not be considered “fully accessible” as there was no wet room, a step into the building and some small steps to the main area but I already knew about that and had booked knowing about it. We were able to have a ground floor room which is what I HAD requested. We also had great customer service throughout our stay with staff who were always willing to help with access (lifting my chair in and out of the building etc) and with recommending places to go and telling us how to get there. It’s a place I would gladly return to on another trip to Liverpool and would definitely recommend to others!

Echo Arena Liverpool

In terms of booking, it may well be the longest booking process I’ve ever gone through. First, I bought the tickets and “part” paid as though paying for a disabled and carer ticket, but the carer ticket was not YET confirmed.  Before that, 2 forms needed to be filled in: one for me as the disabled person and one for my “carer”. My form involved sending copies of my ID and PIP (Personal Independence Payment, government disability payments) confirmation and my personal details. The carer form only required the personal details of the person who would be accompanying as my “carer”. One stipulation was that the person named on that form MUST be the person who accompanied me, and that couldn’t be changed after the form was submitted. Top it all off, the venue then lost my documentation copies and form, so I had to resend it via email!  Once my entitlement to a disabled and carer ticket was verified and confirmed, the venue confirmed that I did not have to switch my carer ticket to a standard ticket and therefore there was nothing left to do, and the tickets were FINALLY fully paid for!

Travel to the venue involved sharing a taxi with someone else who was staying at the B & B, that took us from the B & B to the city centre and then it was just a leisurely walk through the Royal Albert Dock.

The overall venue experience started well as there was a lowered window and counter where I could collect our tickets. We were then well guided through to where we needed to queue for entry and I was allowed to keep my water for taking medication without too much off an issue. We were directed towards the door for our section of seats and asked to sit down. From that point onwards, we were basically left entirely alone which was a little concerning as I would have liked to have been checked on more often to be reassured that the staff knew I was there. We were sat very much towards the higher levels of seating and quite central. The only issue with that was all of the submissions and “ground & pound” (my favourite part) on the big screens rather than watching the actual action. However, I suppose that’s a problem for all the customers who have seats higher up and not just specifically a problem for those with disabilities.

Getting out through the large, bouncy, VERY drunk crowd was quite difficult.  More signage showing where would be easiest to exit, for those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities and their carers, would certainly be an improvement to access as opposed to having to struggle through large crowds to leave an event.  This was again a case of me wondering if staff knew I was still at the event.

I hope this post provides a recommendation for the Liverpool Gateway B & B and sheds some light on the accessibility of the Liverpool Echo Arena.

Using Megabus while travelling with a wheelchair

Person in a wheelchair with a large black bag and small red handbag on their lap sat next to a large suitcase with an Eeeyore neck pillow and a Minnie Mouse neck pillow attached
Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

It’s time for another travel blog, nowhere particularly exotic this time, just an account of my recent trip from London to Liverpool using Megabus (a low-cost coach company) and how that went in terms of using a wheelchair and travelling with a disability, so here goes:

Booking was pretty simple because I was just able to book 2 tickets (myself and a friend) online as per the standard way of doing things, and I didn’t even have to specifically buy a disabled ticket. I also did not need to pre-advise Megabus about my disability or the fact I would be travelling with a wheelchair because I was in my manual chair which I was able to fold and store as luggage and I then walked the few steps up onto the coach with some help. If I had been using my electric chair or had to stay in my chair for any reason I would have had to pre-advise Megabus about my disability, so they had time to make the necessary adaptations to the coach.

Travelling to the coach station was an experience to say the least. Firstly, travelling somewhere in ORDER to travel somewhere ELSE always feels a little weird. We took the 607 bus to Shepherds Bush station and then we were  supposed to take the C1 bus  to Victoria, pretty much right outside the coach station, but we  missed that as is often the way with these  things, but no big deal, we just  took another bus that would supposedly take us to Victoria (according to the advice of a TFL staff member) EXCEPT that bus DIDN’T  go to Victoria which lead to us having to run back from Westminster area and generally running to and through Victoria with minutes to spare before our coach left (we made it!).

In terms of seating and experience, we boarded last on account of being so late to the coach but I’m not sure if the policy is to board wheelchair users last as a general rule or not. My chair and its many accessories (read: ridiculous number of additional back supports) were then stored under the bus by the driver while my friend helped me onto the bus (I prefer a friend helping me as opposed to a driver, but a driver will help you to your seat if you need them to) we were sat in the priority seating area as that was the only seating downstairs. One specific issue on the way there was that there was no air conditioning which is particularly problematic in 20’C + heat, luckily we were downstairs so there was breeze from the open driver’s side window, but I did feel really bad for those upstairs who probably didn’t have any such breeze. More disability related issues included the lack of disabled toilet. Yaaaaaaaaaaay tactical dehydration, seriously though, disabled passengers are allowed to use the service and “catered for” yet we’re expected not to use the bathroom for 5+ hours? I was also concerned that we were only checked on by 1 of the 4 drivers across both the outbound and return journeys, what if I’d had a medical issue while on board? It did not make me feel cared for that’s for sure We were encouraged to take our time unloading my chair when disembarking which, after the disabled toilet issue and everything else, felt like a nice thing to say but also I will unload my chair as  as fast as I can whilst doing it safely so you would have to wait anyway, what I’m saying here is it felt like something said to make the company look better rather than anything meant for my benefit.

I hope this is an enlightening post about to what it’s like travelling with Megabus as a wheelchair user.

Kos Travel Blog

Now I know it’s over a year late but since it’s the summer holiday season. I thought I’d finally put together my thoughts on my week-long stay at the Astir Odysseus in Kos with my grandma in May last year.

The first part of the trip was a flight from London Heathrow to Manchester (where we would fly out to Kos) but I won’t talk about that too much here as it’s all in my Flying Solo blog post.

Then came time to check in. We checked in our checked baggage and had my wheelchair tagged so it could travel as luggage underneath the plane as per usual. The only difference between this and any other holiday with family so far was that I was classed as the lead booker and therefore had to keep track of all the documents which was soooooooooooo much fun (note the sarcasm).

And so off we headed to security, which can often be an issue for those with disabilities, but this time it just involved the usual pat down and swabbing my chair due to me not being able to go through the metal detector. Then it was on to departures for dinner and a long wait to board the flight.

When it was finally time to board I was able to take my chair to the plane door and then transfer to the aisle chair, which I hate, being strapped in and carted onto a plane in what I can only describe as a washing machine trolley is not the way anyone wants to start their flight experience. There were no real problems or anything to report with the flight itself (except guess who forgot to factor in time difference so only realised she was in for a 4-hour flight once on board? *raises hand*).

In terms of disembarking and transferring to the hotel, ours was the last luggage off the carousel which meant we were one of the last onto our transfer coach. This in turn meant I had to shuffle to the middle of the coach to get a seat because people did not offer to move from the front seats to allow me easier access even though they could see I was struggling. The location of the hotel also meant we were the first people off the coach which meant I had to go through the whole “shuffling down the coach” experience in front of a coach load of people AGAIN. All this on top of the fact I hate coaches anyway I find the steps difficult to navigate being short and lacking in balance and coordination!

The hotel itself was beautiful and we were very well looked after, including being given sandwiches on arrival due to having arrived late which I thought was a very nice extra touch. In fact, I’ve sung the hotels’ praises so much since returning home that my mum, stepdad and younger brother and heading there themselves this summer (and I am not jealous at allllllllllllllllll, I promise!). In terms of accessibility, I found the hotel to be quite accessible despite us not being in an “accessible room” or the hotel not being a specifically accessible hotel. I had enough space to self-propel around the room, there were only small steps or ridges in and out of doors which were easily overcome in a manual wheelchair although I’m not sure how an electric wheelchair would cope, and the Jacuzzis provided a good alternative easy access route into the main pool for those, like me, who may struggle with climbing or descending stairs. My only improvement would be that a shower would have been easier for me to use independently than a bath, and so I’d prefer a full shower to be the norm in hotel rooms as opposed to the bath that I usually see.

The holiday mostly consisted of switching between the main pool and the beach bar, I was a student on an all-inclusive holiday don’t judge me! Both of which I would highly recommend for accessibility and general service. The only addition to this pool/bar schedule was a trip to Kos Town itself. This is where the pros of taking the manual wheelchair as opposed to an electric wheelchair came to light as we were able to just fold it and use a standard taxi instead of going through the rigmarole of finding a wheelchair accessible one. I found the town to be picturesque despite the poor weather. The poor weather also probably didn’t help the poor state of the roads and pavements which were full of potholes and most certainly an “experience” for my poor spine!

Now, while I maintain that coaches are still awful, the coach trip back to the airport was certainly a more pleasant experience than the trip to the hotel. This was mostly down to the driver forcing people to move from the front seat to allow me easy access to the coach. Front seats always make my life easier which is a bonus (odd how we come to see easy disability access and accommodations as a bonus isn’t it?).

The first part of the journey of my flights back to London included, after solving a case of mistaken luggage identity and rescuing my luggage, checking our luggage in for the flight back to Manchester. We did not realise until we were through security that, despite multiple requests, my chair had not been tagged as luggage, this meant I almost left without my chair, every wheelchair users flight nightmare (although thankfully the issue was solved prior to boarding) After a delay we were finally loaded onto what had now basically become a red eye flight. We landed in Manchester around 3am and my flight back to Heathrow was due to board around 7am, because who lands at 3am (knowing they land at 3am) and books their next flight for 7am? apparently, this girl. On that flight I wanted the window seat as per usual, as it makes it easier for my seating neighbours to get to the bathroom in flight and disembark when we land, but those who provide airport assistance insisted I have the aisle seat due to some emergency evacuation regulation or other that I’d never heard of. This then lead to my neighbour being annoyed that she couldn’t disembark straight away as I could not stand to let her out of the aisle. Remember that one of the reasons WHY I prefer WINDOW seats is BECAUSE it makes it easier for fellow passengers to disembark. To make things worse, my footplate was lost in the plane hold on arrival at Heathrow. So, all in all, what was a pretty stress-free outbound domestic flight ended up being a rather stressful inbound domestic flight.

I hope this travel blog provided some insight into the accessibility of Kos and the Astir Odysseus as well as the issues surrounding flying with a wheelchair.

Lost Evenings II (The Monarch, Roundhouse and Dingwalls)

Photo Credit: YoshiKyon

Recently, I headed to Lost Evenings II, a 4-day festival in Camden set up by Frank Turner (more on why I love Frank Turner and all he does here). Sadly, I only went for the Saturday and not the full 4 days. But even that involved a trip to the Monarch, the night at Camden Roundhouse and then an afterparty at Dingwalls. So, here’s an accessibility review of all 3 venues (yeah that’s right this is a 3 in 1 deal, I do spoil you!)

The Monarch

First port of call for the evening was the pub (what did you expect honestly?) Now I usually split reviews like this into ticket buying, getting there and the experience and seating. However, in terms of tickets, there were none needed because well, it’s a pub so that was one hurdle avoided.

In terms of getting there, we (by we I mean my friend Dev) drove to Camden, parked up in our prebooked parking spot at the Roundhouse (more on that later) and strolled the rather longer than expected distance to the pub.

In terms of overall experience, this is where it gets interesting. We arrived and headed to the main entrance. I then requested that the doorman open the flat, wheelchair accessible entrance so I could get in. I knew this entrance was there as I’d been to the Monarch before (and we’d walked past it on the way to the main entrance). However, this request was repeatedly refused with the doorman even denying the existence of an accessible entrance. It was suggested that I be carried in in my chair, he then gestured at me to stand and walk in (I like a drink, but I’m not about to take my first unaided steps just to get one when there’s access available!). Obviously, I refused both of those suggestions as I was determined to get the access I asked for and know is there. I was then ignored and sat in the rain until a member of the Solo Armada (group of Frank Turner fans determined to make sure no one goes to a gig alone) kicked up a fuss (because no one was listening to me) and spoke to the doorman to helped me get in. Once we were FINALLY in, I found that the bar was downstairs and therefore I couldn’t get my own drink, which was kind of annoying but not a rare occurrence in many of the pubs I’ve been in. One of the things I can’t fault is the brilliant atmosphere. There’s really nothing better than belting out a Frank Turner song with strangers in the middle of pub with a drink in hand!

Roundhouse

Then it was off to the Roundhouse for the main event of the evening! In terms of ticket buying, it was just your standard “call the accessible booking line” kind of deal so pretty much the same as most other venues.

In terms of getting there, as I’ve said above, Dev drove, and we parked up in our prebooked parking space. We were given directions on where to park when I booked the space, but it was still difficult to get in as the parking bays were difficult to find and you have to go behind a gate (which you have to request to be opened) so there’s a lot more involved in the parking than I expected.

In terms of experience and seating. It was quite difficult getting from the parking into the venue. Mostly due to poor quality ramp getting from the parking bays into the back of the venue. Once we were in we had quite a good view, we were sort of off to the side and up on a balcony. This also gave a good view of the standing and pit area, so I really felt like part of the crowd. Crowd control on the way out was pretty good, However, there was a long wait to be able to get to the lift for the lower level, but I felt this situation was well handled. Part of the issue was that half of the queue that we had to wait on was the merch queue (which we didn’t want to be in). I’m not sure if it’s the way the venue is or because it was a festival sort of situation, but the question still stands, why build a system where queues equals blocked disabled access?

Dingwalls

And after the brilliant gig it was time to partayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy with an afterparty headlined by Shikari Sound System at Dingwalls. I bought tickets online like everyone else and there were actually no specific disabled tickets, while this might stress other people out, I was assured from the info on the site that the venue was accessible, and it was good to feel like I was getting the same experience as everyone else.

In terms of getting there, we drove from the Roundhouse to street parking near (ish) Dingwalls and walked since there was no parking at the venue (something which was stated on the website, so we were aware prior to arriving).

In terms of the experience, we arrived and were led around to a back entrance (side note: I hate Camden cobbles as does my spine) and then inside to a fairly busy section with not the best view. However, we found a better spot around the side of the same level which was quieter and gave me a better view, but it was near the toilets. These are the kind of standard sacrifices I have to make to get a decent view with a disability, but I was still able to dance and drink the rest of the evening away!

I hope this post gives an enlightening view on my experience of Lost Evenings II.