O2 Academy Birmingham Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Emma, a young woman with glasses and brown hair, is sat on her sofa smiling broadly. She is showing a bright yellow book (Her copy of Daniel Sloss 'Everyone You Hate Is Going To Die') to the camera.
Image Description: Emma, a young woman with glasses and brown hair, is sat on her sofa smiling broadly. She is showing a bright yellow book (Her copy of Daniel Sloss 'Everyone You Hate Is Going To Die') to the camera.

I finally went to a LIVE. EVENT. again,  IN. PERSON. And it was a venue that was new to me. So that only means one thing: A BRAND NEW VENUE ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW (I was genuinely questioning whether I’d ever type those words again). This one is for the O2 Academy in Birmingham.

(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, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!) 

Ticket Buying

Back in June, my best mate Dev came up to visit me. When we were deciding what to do with our Saturday evening, we remembered that the comedian Daniel Sloss was doing shows in Birmingham that day and it turned out the venue was only a 15 minute walk from my house, so we figured we’d try and grab some last minute tickets. It was one of those “if it happens cool, if not we tried” situations but hey, other people can buy last minute on the day tickets to events if they’re available so why can’t disabled people?  With the mission outlined, we set about contacting the venue through all avenues: all social media, phone calls (which were the first form of contact but we weren’t getting through) and email. It became a matter of principle that we needed a response because like I said before, others can get last minute tickets, disabled attendees should have that option too. After a while, the venue replied to Dev’s email and said that access tickets for the show were sold out. That is what I thought the outcome would be so it was a case of “ok mission unsuccessful” and carry on with the day. THEN the venue replied to my tweet and asked for my contact details. Once I’d handed those details over, I received a call from the venue box office and we were able to book tickets over the phone for the evening performance.

Travel

Since the venue is only 15 minutes from my house, we decided to just walk. We also decided to make a canal side stop for a pre-show drink, because you know, celebrations, and that.

Experience & Seating

Once we arrived at the venue,  we were able to collect our tickets from the box office. I was also recognised by one of the social media team from my Twitter picture (since I was wearing the beloved red leather jacket that’s in that image). We were then taken in one of the entrances and up in the lift to our seats. The lift was one of those where you have to press and HOLD the button to make it move. We also couldn’t have anything touching the sides of the lift otherwise it wouldn’t move. I must say that it was quite difficult to keep holding the buttons down in the lift. Also, whilst I fitted in the lift okay in my  manual wheelchair, I was wondering whether that lift would be able to fit my electric wheelchair. Our seats were balcony seats with an ok view once we had removed one of the chairs and angled my wheelchair towards the stage. However, I wasn’t too bothered about the view since in my mind comedy isn’t as visual as a concert or something else like that. But I do wonder what the view would be like with those seats at a concert as everything on the stage looked pretty small because we were on the highest level.

In terms of the disabled toilet, it was on the radar key scheme and the emergency pull cord went all the way to the floor; both of which were welcome sights, however, the space in the toilet was a little tight. There were also some COVID related changes (other than masks) such as being socially distanced. This meant there was a gap for one carer and wheelchair user between us and the other people in the accessible seating. There was also mobile ordering and delivery for drinks from the bar, as well as staggered exiting so that everyone wasn’t exiting at the same time.

All in all I must say Daniel Sloss is HILARIOUS and I was saying to Dev that we need NEED to go and see him again when he does a new show. A much needed night of laughs after the last 18 months or so. As for the venue accessibility, bar the struggles acquiring tickets, I thought it was pretty accessible and was fairly happy, although I’d probably have to retest the accessibility in my electric wheelchair just to be certain.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Five Misconceptions About Disabled People

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Five Misconceptions About Disabled People"
Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Five Misconceptions About Disabled People"

I often wonder how I’d answer the question “what’s the hardest part of being disabled?” If I was ever asked. I think my true answer is, actually being disabled isn’t the hard bit. It’s the perceptions and responses of non-disabled people to my disability that I find the toughest. I have seen  five general perceptions (these are the five I’ve heard or heard of the most but there are probably more). Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll hear all five of these perceptions in one day!

  • Disabled People Are Not Disabled “Enough”

The first perception is seeing disabled people as not disabled ENOUGH to actually be considered disabled or worthy of help and accommodations. This is linked to the idea that disabled people are fakers and scroungers who are only PRETENDING to be disabled for the benefits (both the actual disability benefit and any other perceived benefits such as queue skipping. This can show up in phrases like “oh you can do X, well then you’re not really disabled” or when you comment on a disabled person changing which mobility aid they use on a day to day basis as though variable health conditions don’t exist. This is perhaps the most dangerous misconception as it leaves disabled people constantly proving their disability in order to access the most basic help. It also can lead to internalised ableism on the part of the disabled person. This is something I can personally attest to as I often feel like if I am physically able to do something myself or have the time to then I should do it. Otherwise I feel like I am not doing enough and don’t qualify as “disabled enough” to allow myself rest or assistance.

  • Disabled People Are Incompetent or Incapable

This misconception is probably the one that annoys me the most. It’s this idea that, just because we are disabled, we are incompetent or incapable of living independently and need help with everything. This misconception rears its head in the oddest moments. I can simply be rolling down the street minding my own business or pulled to the side and waiting for a friend and someone will approach me and say, “Are you ok?, do you need help?”. And quite frankly my honest answer is “with what?”. If I’m not DOING anything and I’m just here, existing, alone, what can I possibly need help with? I think it’s the alone part that throws people. There’s this idea that disabled people have carers and are constantly attached to them, so if we’re out in the world alone, something must be wrong.

The second part of this incompetence and incapability misconception is when I’m doing something, say grabbing something off a shelf, and a non-disabled person asks if I need help. I’ll usually say no (mostly because I have my own independent methods and I know they work). However, people often ignore my answer and go about ‘helping’ me anyway. This is particularly frustrating and potentially dangerous as well because the methods disabled people develop for completing tasks are something they’ve figured out to live as independently as possible without hurting or overexerting themselves. Therefore, your unrequested ‘help’ as a non-disabled person can actually be more of hindrance, with us exerting more energy as we work around you, and potentially injuring ourselves.

  • Disabled People are Inspirational (In the Concept of Inspiration Porn)

This one’s a bit more difficult to explain. Of course sometimes disabled people ARE inspirational. There are plenty of disabled people who inspire me. My issue comes when disabled people are seen as inspirational for doing the smaller, regular things. I’ll be shopping for food, or out at the bar with friends and I’ll be called inspirational. What am I supposed to do, sit at home, and starve? stay inside and not have fun with my friends? And I think that’s the point, most of society doesn’t see our disabled lives as ones worth LIVING, just existing. It’s almost like we’re just expected to sit at home within four walls and cry about being disabled and doing anything outside of that narrative is considered inspirational.

The other part of Inspiration Porn that bothers me is the posts you see on social media of a disabled person (usually in the gym) doing something and a caption along the lines of “if they can do it, what’s your excuse not to?” It infuriates me every time. Disabled people don’t exist as motivational objects or for you to use to put others down and make them feel bad for not being able to do something or choosing not to do it.

  • Disabled People Are Angry Or Whiny

I don’t know if you’d fully call this a misconception, but I think that’s the closest term to what it is. There’s this idea that raises its head whenever disabled people bring up an issue, whether that be something as simple and regularly occurring as wheelchair accessibility issues or a bigger more complex issues like the lack of marriage equality for disabled people. Whenever issues like this are raised, it’s always said that disabled people are just angry or  whiny and complaining about everything. This is a misconception because it makes it sound like we LIKE complaining, but we don’t. We just want equality and the rights and access to do the same things as everyone else. Acting like we are whining, complaining, or asking for the moon when we ask for equality makes it sound as those equality is not something you expect or will allow us to have.

  • Disabled People Are Broken or Need To Be Fixed  

Remember when I said that the incompetence and incapability misconception annoyed me the most? Yeah I changed my mind, that accolade goes to this misconception. It often comes from people I call ‘healers’ or more widely those who have some form of religious faith. It is those kinds of people who will approach me, randomly in the street may I add, and ask to pray over me and tell me that their religious figure will fix or heal me. Firstly, saying disabled people will be fixed implies we are broken, which we are NOT.  Secondly, I feel that this whole misconception stems from the idea that being disabled is a bad thing, a terrible existence and that if we are disabled there is no way we can be happy. The idea that the only way we can be happy if we become non-disabled.  I can speak only for myself here but I can say I AM disabled AND happy. And frankly, since I’ve been disabled from birth, if I suddenly became able bodied, I wouldn’t have a clue how to handle it. My life is a disabled one. And it’s a happy one. And that’s fine by me.

So what’s the message of this blog post?  Please think about the perceptions you have of disabled people, and why you have those perceptions, because they may well be misconceptions. And if you’re disabled, what do you think of the misconceptions I’ve discussed here? Are there any I’ve missed?

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

The Cost of Disability

A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is a jar, tipped on its side with coins spilling out, on a white background. There is also a section of blue text above the images and one below. The top centre text reads "The Cost" and the bottom centre text reads "Of Disability"
Image Description: A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is a jar, tipped on its side with coins spilling out, on a white background. There is also a section of blue text above the images and one below. The top centre text reads "The Cost" and the bottom centre text reads "Of Disability"

A little diversion from my usual content here, but I need to discuss a perception about disabled people that’s a perpetual annoyance to me.

There’s this idea that disabled people are just “in it for the benefits”. That we’re a bunch of scroungers and fakers who get a butler, a mansion and a car all paid for by the government. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Disability is actually very expensive. Research from the disability charity Scope found that disabled people in the UK incur costs of an extra £583 a month. Where do these extra costs come from you ask? Well…

The first aspect to consider is medical bills. In the UK this can include paying for prescriptions  for the medications we need to keep us going, or for private therapy if the NHS will not provide them. I know these payments must be even higher in the US where every medical treatment and hospital stay incurs a cost.

Then there is the cost of equipment and all the other basics we need to exist and live. For example, this can include mobility equipment such as cars, wheelchairs, canes, or other mobility aids. Whilst I know that in the UK we have some schemes, such as the Motability Scheme. However, for those who cannot access such schemes or whose mobility aid cannot be funded by such schemes, they usually have to use some form of crowdfunding to fund their mobility equipment. Add to this the cost of any specific assistive equipment such as a shower seat or grab rail and the cost increases even further. Any disabled person will tell you that simply adding the word “assistance” or “adaptive” to the name of any items will significantly inflate the price. Even if we leave aside the costs of baying for pieces of equipment, there is also the cost of paying for assistance in the form of carers for those with disabled people who require them, these carers costs may not be covered by benefit, which means yet more additional costs for the disabled person.

Then we have to considered the cost of housing. For example, in my  university accommodation, the difference in rent between an accessible flat and a non-accessible flat was not covered, so I essentially paying more to live in a specific type of flat, not through choice but because it was the only place I could feasibly independently live. Even if we move beyond student accommodation, accessible housing on the general property market is a lot rarer than I think people are led to believe. This means that, through the guise of  supply and demand, such accessible houses are likely to be more expensive. So you think, ok you have your house, that’s the end of the additional housing costs right? Wrong. Then we have to account for utilities. For example disabled people may have higher energy and heating costs due to charging wheelchairs or running other equipment or even just through having their heating on more to help with muscular or temperature regulation issues. So even within the idea of “housing costs” there are so many additional costs

So we’ve covered equipment and housing, that must be it? Nope, even simple things like clothing can have additional costs. Like I mentioned earlier with assistive equipment, adding the term “adaptive” or “adapted” to a piece of clothing, or even just insinuating that a piece of clothing will be useful for disabled people, often means it will be priced higher. One recent  example is the Nike Go Flyease shoe. This a something that I saw many of my disabled peers saying would be the perfect shoe for them in terms of accessibility, but these shoes are $120, likely well out of budget for most disabled people. Even for those who do not require specific adaptive clothing, there are still additional costs, such as the need to shop with certain brands because of the accessibility of their clothing. For example, as a wheelchair user, I need to wear certain clothes that fit well when sat down constantly as I often am. Such brands and items are often more expensive than if I did not have those accessibility considerations. There is also the impact of additional delivery costs if there is a shop we want to buy our clothes from which isn’t accessible (in my case, the shop may not have step free wheelchair access). This additional cost should be something that everyone is more aware of given the impact of the recent lockdown and the fact that delivery was the only way we could buy anything, not just clothes.

I bet you’re thinking, “what can there be left to add?” Well, contrary to popular belief, disabled people like to go out and socialise and attend events too, and even our leisure activities can incur extra costs. For example, if I want to go to a pub or restaurant, it is likely that the more accessible places will be more expensive, but if I want to go out I have no CHOICE but to pay those prices as those are the only accessible locations. And if I choose to attend an event, I have to think about the difference in pricing of accessible seating. For example, when I got tickets to a UFC event in Liverpool a few years ago, I was initially quoted £200 for an accessible seating ticket and managed to get them to give me one of the £80 accessible seats instead. I will never understand why accessible seating is not just set at the lowest ticket price, particularly given that disabled attendees often can’t choose our seats and just have to sit wherever the accessible seating is placed.

So there must be some benefits and forms of help for disabled people to offset all these extra costs? Well yes and no. Whilst there are some schemes like the Motability scheme I mentioned earlier, not every disabled person is eligible for all schemes and all help. For example, in England, disabled people can get a reduction on their council tax. However, this only applies if your home is adapted for your disability (and only certain things count as adaptations). This means that I (very much a disabled person) do not qualify for a disability related council tax reduction because my house is not suitably adapted. And even if we ARE eligible for these help schemes, we often end up having to PAY first to gain access to them. This is the case in the UK for a disabled railcard, a Blue Badge disabled parking placard, and even paying for doctors notes to PROVE we are disabled in order to access a specific scheme. So, even where there are helpful schemes, we often have to pay for those too, incurring another additional cost on top of everything else. This is the price of accessibility and disability.

What I’m saying is, if you think disabled people get everything paid for and are living on easy street because we get government benefits, try balancing that against all the additional costs we have to pay to exist and live. I think you’ll find that we are paying out even more than everyone else. An average of an extra £583 a month to be exact

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

The Aesthete Blogger Award

The image has a white background. At the center there is a pink and brown globe with figures of woman dancing, art pallet, ink and feather, music symbols, paper airplane, a statue, and a paper and a feather pen. The pen is shown in such a way that it seems like someone is writing on the paper with it. “The aesthete blogger award,” is written at the top with a butterfly between the words ‘the’ and ‘aesthete.’ On the left and right of this picture are hands with flowers and something written which is too small to read.
Image Description (Originally by Khushi at Blind Girl Musings): The image has a white background. At the center there is a pink and brown globe with figures of woman dancing, art pallet, ink and feather, music symbols, paper airplane, a statue, and a paper and a feather pen. The pen is shown in such a way that it seems like someone is writing on the paper with it. “The aesthete blogger award,” is written at the top with a butterfly between the words ‘the’ and ‘aesthete.’ On the left and right of this picture are hands with flowers and something written which is too small to read.

ANOTHER blogger award! I was nominated for this award by the lovely Khushi from Blind Girl Musings. The award was originally created by Ashmita over at A Fictional Journal (original post can be found via this link). With that, let’s get onto the post. 

First things first, RULES 

Award Rules 

Use the official logo/graphic of the award and display it on your blog. 

List the rules. 

Show some love to the one who nominated you! 

Mention the creator (Asmita@ the Fictional Journal) and link it back to the original post. 

Tell me a something about this world that you admire. 

What is your favourite form of creativity? 

Nominate 7 lovely people and notify them by commenting on their posts; spread some love! 

Ask your nominees 4 questions. 

Share something you created. (Can be anything!) 

And lastly, just so you know: I LOVE YOUR CREATIONS! 

My Answers to the Ashmita (the creators’) Questions 

Tell me a something about this world that you admire. 

The variety in it. The variety of cultures, experiences, language, everything. I just find the differences between how people see the world and how societies are built fascinating. Probably tells you something about why I have a Sociology and Psychology degree. 

What is your favourite form of creativity? 

Definitely blogging. Putting words to paper (or page) gets a lot of thoughts out of my head and generally helps me generally keep it together. How I write is how I sound. 

My Answers to Khushi’s Questions 

What’s the last song you listen to? 

There’s kind of 2 answers to this. The song I was listening to when I planned this blog post was Resolution by Dermot Kennedy. However, the song I’m listening to as I type this is I’d Do Anything by Simple Plan  

What’s the last book you read, if you’re a reader? Did you like it? Tell me something about it. 

The last book I fully read through was Syncopated Blue by Ryan Hennessey. It’s a poetry book, which isn’t the usual style I read but I really enjoyed it. The only reason I didn’t immediately reread it is because I was on a train and worried I’d miss my stop. 

How would you feel if you were born in an era when people still communicated primarily through exchanging letters? 

I feel like I’d struggle and not enjoy it for 2 reasons. Firstly, my condition makes handwriting difficult and means it takes quite a long time. I also have no patience which means I’d probably find it really annoying waiting for a reply, particularly with the time it takes to receive letters through the post.  

Who’s your favourite author? I know there can be more than 1 so feel free to share as many as you want! 

I’d say Jo Nesbo  because The Snowman is one of few books I could reread 1000 times and still be as shocked and unnerved (in the best way) every time. 

My Questions 

  1. Why did you start blogging? 
  1. One place you’d like to travel to? 
  1. One type of creativity you admire and wish you could do? 
  1. One thing you do to relax? 

My Nominations  

Alex at The VI Critic 

Cassie from Cassie the Hag 

Georgia from BritVoyage 

Artie Carden 

Smelly Socks and Garden Peas 

Madison & Rebecca from Foster Family Travels 

Ian from Barefoot Backpacker 

Once again, thank you to Khushi for the nomination, and I hope everyone enjoyed learning a little more about me. I also look forward to reading the answers from my nominees. 

Stay Invincible  

Em  

Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy"
Original Photo Credit: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Undergoing a Cervical Screening as a Wheelchair User with Cerebral Palsy"

As a woman approaching her 25th birthday (the quarter century is approaching rather quicker than I’d like) I was recently invited to and underwent my first cervical screening (or ‘smear test’). I thought I’d let you in on how the process went for me as a wheelchair user in case anyone else is in the same situation and would like some insight.

Receiving the Invitation

Since I am almost 25, I received a letter in the post inviting me to book my cervical screening via my GP. I instantly began what the process was and what pitfalls I may encounter or additional access needs I would have as a wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy.

Booking the Appointment

When it came to booking the appointment, I’m registered with an online/digital GP service who also have physical locations. This meant I had to book the screening appointment over the phone in order to get an appointment at the actual GP surgery. I tried that for a few days but wasn’t able to get an answer or book an appointment. So, as I often do, I took to Twitter. This eventually lead to me getting a call back from the doctors and I was able to arrange the appointment. Throughout the appointment booking process, I didn’t mention my Cerebral Palsy. This is because I knew the doctors surgery was accessible since I’d been before. Plus I believe my Cerebral Palsy isn’t relevant to a situation until it is relevant, so it’s a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” kind of situation. Also, given that this is my doctors we are talking about, I figured my lifelong medical condition would be on record already anyway.

The Actual Appointment

On the day of the appointment, I just walked to the surgery, entered, and waited to be called in for my appointment. Once I was called into the appointment, the nurse explained what would be happening and asked some basic questions. I found the tone of the explanation kind of patronising, but I did wonder whether it was just explained in that time because it was my first time having the screening? When it came time to start the screening I just parked my wheelchair beside the bed and transferred over. The nurse then asked me to remove my underwear, shoes, and socks. I was somewhat annoyed at the need to take off my shoes. I’d specifically worn a skirt to the appointment, since I know putting on shoes is difficult for me and I hate struggling with tasks in front of people. I was then asked to widen my hips and flop my legs out to the side. This kind of request is something I’m used to from medical professionals since I’ve spent a lot of my life having  doctors testing my hip flexion which is somewhat a similar position. I was, however, aware that my legs weren’t evenly flat (due to muscle tightness from my Cerebral Palsy) and wondered whether that would affect how easy the screening would be. In order to obtain a sample, the nurse inserted a speculum. It was somewhat uncomfortable and took 3 attempts to get a decent sample. I think that was probably somewhat because of the muscle tightness from my Cerebral Palsy as well. Once a decent sample was obtained and the screening was over, I simply  cleaned myself up, redressed (leaving my shoes off until I got out of the room so I could struggle in peace) and transferred back into my wheelchair and the appointment was done. I didn’t have any pains afterwards that I was aware of. Also, for those who are bothered, my screening came back clear so I don’t need to undergo any further testing or intervention until 2024.

I hope this provides some insight for other wheelchair users (or those with other disabilities and access needs) who want or need more information on the process of undergoing a cervical screening.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman

The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman".
Original Photo Credit: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: The photo on the left hand side of the image is Emma, a young white woman with brown hair and tinted glasses, smiling into the camera whilst sat in her wheelchair. She is wearing a red check shirt, red leather jacket and a purple face covering around her neck. The blue text on the right hand side reads "Experiencing Harassment and Stranger Interactions as a Disabled Woman".

Recently, I experienced 3 different interactions in the space of 5 days that really stuck with me (in a bad way). Two of them were very clear cut harassment and one more what I would call a ‘stranger interaction’. This is something I know other people, and specifically other disabled people, have  talked about, so it’s something I thought I should discuss. Firstly, I wanted to just address why I have separated stranger interactions and harassment in the title, because frankly the answer is I don’t know why. Initially, I was going to address these two things as separate ideas in two separate posts, but as my friend Dev pointed out over on my Instagram, there’s a whole bunch of overlap between the two ideas. The definition of harassment  is ‘unwanted behaviour’ which the person finds ‘offensive’ or which leaves them feeling ‘humiliated or intimidated’ and asking a disabled person you have never met how they have sex (which strangers often do) is DEFINITELY ‘offensive’, strangers talking to me is also generally ‘unwanted behaviour’, like, if I don’t  know you, please don’t randomly spark up a conversation. I guess what I’m saying here is stranger interactions ARE harassment as a disabled person and I don’t know why it’s taken this long for that to click for me.

Now on to the actual incidents. This first one, the more ‘stranger interaction’ type incident, happened in the middle of my mission to vote in the latest round of elections. A woman stopped me in the middle of the pavement and started the conversation with “I don’t mean to accost you dear”.  BIG red flag here, if you “don’t mean” to accost me, then…don’t. If you say that then continue talking to me, your ‘accosting me’ is 100% intentional. She then proceeded to tell me this story about her disabled friend and some funny nickname a random kid had given to the friend’s wheelchair once. This struck me as odd for two reasons: 1) Don’t reveal your friend’s status as a disabled person to a random stranger, that’s personal information and I just… nah don’t do that, and 2) You thought that little anecdote was worthy of stopping a stranger in the middle of the street who was OBVIOUSLY in the middle of doing something? Kids say cute things about mobility aids all the time, I’ve heard stories like that at least weekly for like the past decade. I wasn’t entirely sure how to react to this rando, anecdote. This woman then became somewhat annoyed about my lack of reaction (my face is the kind that can’t fake a reaction if I don’t actually care about what you just said) which was odd. I’m not a performing monkey who’s going to react positively because you’re telling me a story involving a disabled person and I AM a disabled person. But at the same time I’m also trying not to anger this woman in case the situation escalates and she gets more annoyed and tries to attack me or something, which sounds entirely ridiculous. WHY am I still altering my response to harassment as a disabled person in the year 2021 purely out of fear of being attacked for reacting ‘wrong’?

I think I’ve figured out why I previously saw these stranger interactions as different from the clearer cut harassment  is that these incidents are often framed as people “just trying to be nice” or “just trying to communicate/start a conversation”. If all you can find to discuss with me is disability related, that doesn’t sound like you want to know me, that just sounds like you want a free disability encyclopaedia. Also why are we still giving people props for  “trying” to communicate with disabled people? it’s 2021 for pity’s sake, I’m disabled, I’m not an alien, communicating with me is NOT that difficult.

Now onto the incidents of clear cut harassment. Both of these involved strange men giving  “compliments” to my friends and I as we sat having coffee. As a  disabled woman, I’m always scared of these kind of incidents happening, because I can’t get away as easily. In the first of these two incidents, the man was ‘complimenting’ my friends but not me. Was that because I’m disabled? Was it because I was not responding to him? Who knows, what I do know is that I immediately jumped to making sure I wasn’t going to anger him and trying to find what weapons I could use to defend myself if he attacked. I grabbed at my keys, checked that my footplates were down so I could catch his ankles, and checked whether I was at the right level to drop kick him in the crown jewels if he grabbed me. I also began wondering what I’d do if I was alone in this situation, because I  couldn’t easily enter shop the coffee shop we were at to get help. I also noticed a severe lack of bystander intervention in both incidents, other than some shocked looks when I told the guy in the second incident to fuck off (*gasp* the disabled girl said a sweary word). Thankfully, I was able to get away from both harassers, in the first instance, I was able to drop a little signal hint to my friend who went inside the coffee shop to get help, and then the staff there were able to shoo the harasser away. However, in the second incident both myself and the friend were wheelchair users and so couldn’t  enter the coffee  shop to get help (and our path into the shop was also blocked by the harasser at some points). Luckily, we know the staff in that coffee shop quite well and so they saw us having issues and came out to stop the harassment.

I don’t really know why I wrote this blog post other than to get these incidents off my chest and show you that harassment does happen to disabled people, perhaps more often than you think.  Disabled women in particular are at higher risk of being harassed and assaulted. In fact, according to the disability and crime report published in 2019, disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed than non-disabled women. I don’t know for sure why this but I’d guess it’s because we’re seen as an easier target.  I think this is because it’s harder for us to get into a venue to ask for help and it may be harder for us to physically defend ourselves from attack.

Oh and while I still have your attention, asking disabled people random questions about their disability or their lives IS harassment, no matter how you frame it. Search engines exist, if you have questions about life as a disabled person, use them, disabled people are not your rolling encyclopaedias of disability knowledge. Orrrrrrrrrrr, you could just check out the rest of my blog and see if any of my posts answer your questions.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student: Collaboration Q & A with Buttons and Ramps

A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is Melissa, a white woman with brown hair, smiling into the camera There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student". The middle centre text reads "Collaboration Q & A" and the bottom centre text reads "With Melissa From Buttons and Ramps"
Original Photo Credit for photo of Emma: Dev Place Photos. Image Description: A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. The image on the right is Melissa, a white woman with brown hair, smiling into the camera There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "Discussing Life as a Disabled School Student". The middle centre text reads "Collaboration Q & A" and the bottom centre text reads "With Melissa From Buttons and Ramps"

A very exciting collaboration for today’s post. A little collaborative Q & A with Melissa from Buttons and Ramps discussing our experiences as disabled students within the school system. These are the questions I asked Melissa and her answers, and you can find my responses to her questions in her blog post over here. Anyway, enough with the babbling on and on with the Q & A.

  1. Are you the only disabled person in your school? How open was your school about their accessibility/becoming accessible?

There’s now another wheelchair user in the year below me, but when I started school I was the first person in a wheelchair to go there, and my family and I were very much discouraged by the council and told to go to a more accessible school. At first, there were lots of makeshift ramps and teachers who looked like they’d never seen a wheelchair before but eventually teachers learned to adapt lessons and lots of the doors in the corridors were wedged open for me. There’s still no lift, but luckily I’m able to go upstairs with a little bit of help.

2. Could/can you access all the different lessons? (dance/PE/other subjects?) What is your school’s response like if you can’t?

In S1 (the first year of secondary school in Scotland, when I was 11 or 12), I was encouraged to do every subject but I had most of my classes in the same rooms on the ground floor which annoyed me and my classmates. I’ve found that the accessibility of subjects really depends on the teacher. For example, in S1 my art teacher really encouraged me even though my hands were shaky and the lines I drew weren’t straight but in S2 my art teacher marked me down and told me not to continue the subject simply because of my shaking. I think if a teacher understands accessibility and is able to adapt lessons, it makes a big difference. There have been few occasions that I’ve been excluded from lessons but if I do ever feel at a disadvantage, I’m able to speak to my pastoral care teacher and it always gets sorted.

3. What was one concern you had going into secondary school?

I had many concerns going into secondary school, my biggest concern was how the other pupils would react to me. I was anxious about being in a wheelchair as well since I hadn’t had much experience in an electric chair before and I’d never imagined myself being in a wheelchair all the time. I didn’t want to be known as ‘the disabled kid’.

4. What is one concern you have now about the next transition – college/uni/whatever?

I’m still unsure of where I’m headed. I’d quite like to go to a conservatoire and see how far acting could take me, but I also need to be realistic and have a back-up plan. If I can’t go to a conservatoire, I would like to go to university and study English and writing. I would love to be an author or playwright as well as being an actor. I worry that my disability will limit me, especially in acting. I don’t want to end up losing out on the opportunity to act because of the way I speak or how I move. My disability shouldn’t affect my writing in theory, but it’s always funny how even things you wouldn’t assume would be different are. I just hope that whatever I’m doing, I’m happy and able to have the same quality of education as I would if I weren’t disabled.

5. what is one piece of advice you’d give to younger disabled person about school?

School is never easy for anyone. It’s important to understand your own self-worth and to be able to learn to advocate for your own needs, even if you have people who would be willing to advocate for you. Your disability is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you or limit what you can do. If people aren’t willing to understand your disability and learn how to accommodate you, they are in the wrong. You are entitled to the same quality of education as anyone else, even if it looks a bit different from your peers’ education. Treat yourself with respect and don’t let anyone but yourself dictate what you’re capable of.

6. How is the social aspect of school for you? How do other kids react to your disability?

It’s been the most challenging aspect of school for me. I’ve kept a few close friends from primary but I’ve really struggled with making new friends. I’ve found that as much as my wheelchair helps me, it’s also sometimes a barrier for me because people see it and immediately make assumptions about who I am. My speech impairment also doesn’t help much as secondary school is very fast paced and people don’t really have time to listen to me and tune in to the way I speak. I’m also someone who’s very outgoing with people they know but I tend to be pretty shy with new people, especially of my age. I find it hard to know what groups to approach and tend to just stick to talking to the same few friends I have. People are very nice to me but I find that I’m often people don’t make the effort to actually become friends with me. I think secondary school is generally not a great environment for anyone who doesn’t fit into social normalities but being disabled definitely makes things more challenging.

7. How did you find receiving support at school (i.e. teaching assistant support)?

At first I wasn’t keen on having support. I wanted to be just like everyone else but having assistants to help me with daily activities and lessons definitely makes my life easier. I have great relationships with all of my assistants and I actually really enjoy their company. I have one assistant who I especially love and I honestly think I would have moved school if it weren’t for her. Having someone to talk to (even if it’s a middle aged woman) is really helpful and valuable. I think it’s so important that you have good relationships with teaching assistants, it’s so beneficial to be able to communicate what you need and how you feel in order to have the best education possible.

8. What is one topic about school/uni you’d like to see me discuss/discuss more on my blog?

I’d love to hear more about your experiences with university (getting in, learning how to be a disabled student) and how your attitude to disability has changed in adulthood.

I loved reading Melissa’s responses to these questions and I hope you did too. Don’t forget to check out my responses to her questions in her blog post here.

Stay Invincible

Blog Post 100: The Story of The Invincible Woman On Wheels (Part One)

A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is of a baby in an incubator with a multicoloured caterpillar in front, underneath the image are the words "From This" written in blue. The image on the right is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. Underneath this image are the words "To This" written in blue. There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "How I Became the InvincibleWomanOnWheels". The middle centre text reads "Part One" and the bottom centre text reads "My Personal Story"
Image Description: A selection of photos and text on a white background. The image on the left hand side is of a baby in an incubator with a multicoloured caterpillar in front, underneath the image are the words "From This" written in blue. The image on the right is Emma, a white woman with brown hair and glasses, smiling into the camera. Underneath this image are the words "To This" written in blue. There are also 3 sections of blue text written underneath each other in the centre of the image. The top centre text reads "How I Became the InvincibleWomanOnWheels". The middle centre text reads "Part One" and the bottom centre text reads "My Personal Story"

So here we are. A point I never thought I (and probably some others never thought I’d reach. blog post 100 on Invincible Woman On Wheels! ONE. HUNDRED. To celebrate this milestone, I thought I’d give you a little look into the past. A look into the story of The Invincible Woman On Wheels. No, not the blog story. MY story. How did I get to this point? Well here’s the inside scoop on that (with plenty of points filled in by my mum since I obviously remember very little). Also, just a warning, this post will contain a lot of medical talk, discussion of child loss, and general potentially upsetting discussion. So if anything like that is going to upset you, please feel free to skip this post. soooooooooooo with that, let’s start from the beginning. Please note this is part one of  (at least) two, because A LOT has happened in my near quarter century on the planet.

Birth & Medical Stuff

There’s a little something that no one in the blogosphere actually knows about me. I am actually a twin. Unfortunately, at 30 weeks pregnant, my mum went for a routine scan and, during the course of  the scan,  my sisters’ heart stopped beating.

When this happened, the medical team brought my mum straight in so they could  watch over me and give my mum medication to stimulate my lungs and help them develop for 24 hours (since they knew I would HAVE to be delivered earlier and therefore my lungs were going to be underdeveloped) before I was delivered. However, since I work to no one else’s schedule but my own, I decided I wasn’t going to wait the full 24 hours and instead sent my heart rate on a funny little turn which meant the medical team decided to do an emergency Caesarean. And thus I was born and you were all blessed with an unscheduled extra 10 weeks of my existence (I know, lucky you!).

I was then whisked off to the special care unit (or NICU)  and my mum didn’t see me in person until about 5 hours later, although she did get a Polaroid picture of me in the meantime. I was on a CPAP ventilator whilst in the NICU. This is a machine that made sure my lungs were fully inflated whilst I made some of the effort to breathe. According to mum I “did really well” APART FROM a bleed on the brain (SPOILER: remember this bleed on the brain thing, very key part of the upcoming disability diagnosis) However, the scans showed that my ventricles weren’t swollen and the bleed settled down without need a shunt installing. Then, at about Christmas time (I was born just before Halloween) I was moved into the ‘second nursery’ and put in a standard cot as was no longer needing to be ventilated and was regulating my own temperature. So worries over, out of the woods right? Nope.

After a little while of calm,  I contracted the RSV bug and was nearly put on a ventilator again. I got through that and, after spending the first 4 months of my life in the hospital, I came home. Soooooo medical drama over and on with normal baby stuff right?

Oh no dear reader I had one  more trick up my sleeve. During a feed one morning whilst I was home, I started being sick. In the process of being sat up from the feed and then laid back down, I decided to swallow milk into my lungs and stop breathing. Thankfully, due to the myriad of hospital programmes my mum watched (and frankly still watches) she managed to give me rescue breathes and get me breathing again whilst my dad was calling an ambulance. However, I did end up  back in the hospital for about a month as I had shadows on both of my lungs and one of them had collapsed to about half the size, this is something that sometimes happens to premature babies like I was.

So that’s a premature birth, ventilation,  a brain bleed, an RSV bug AND a partially collapsed lung, all within the first year of existing. AND WE HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO THE DIAGNOSIS PART YET. What can I say? I’ve been a drama queen from the beginning.

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Remember that whole brain bleed thing I told you to remember? Well here’s where it potentially comes into play. My mum says that I started sitting and crawling commando style a little later than is typical but it was but still deemed okay development and not something to be concerned about. My development was always quite closely monitored because I was a premature baby, with regular appointments in the paediatrics department. At somewhere around 18 months to 2 years old, I started somewhat regressing and losing the ability to sit up and other things. Some of the medical staff that I saw  just said that I was a little behind and would catch up.

My mum then met Dr Chris Day. He was one of the doctors who had been part of the hospital unit I was in as a baby and also became a really good friend to the family.  He was  also the one who initially explained to my mum about that bleed on the brain that I had as a baby. This man REALLY knew his stuff, to the point where he didn’t even need to open my file to see my medical history and was instead able to reel it all off to a trainee doctor from memory.

My mum explained to him that she felt something wasn’t quite right with regards to my development, now not being able to sit up and such. He suggested physiotherapy and referred us there. With that I began having physiotherapy sessions and, after a couple of months of sessions. I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (specifically the Spastic Diplegia version).

Disabled people will know that the diagnosis process I just described is probably the simplified version, but I think it shows what can happen when you encounter a doctor like Dr Day who really listens and knows their patients. And I do somewhat wonder what would happen if I had not encountered those medical staff who said I’d just ‘catch up’, whether I would have been diagnosed any earlier and whether it would have made any sort of difference. I guess we’ll never know.

So there it was, we had my diagnosis. What’s happened since then? Well a fair bit considering that was only my first year or so of life. Stay tuned for Part Two (and potentially more) on the story of this Invincible Woman On Wheels.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Voting As A Disabled Person: Wheelchair User Edition

Recently, I voted in the election of the West Midlands Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner, and this reminded me exactly what it’s like voting as a disabled person, so I thought I would discuss the experience. I will be discussing this most recent experience and one other.

It all starts with registering and preparing to vote. This is something I have to do every time I move to a new location. As a student for the past half decade, I have moved a lot so you can understand that’s a lot of registering to vote. Then, maybe a couple of weeks before the election, I am sent my polling card which includes my polling location where I need to go to vote. It literally says ON THIS CARD, that those with access needs should call to check  the accessibility of their polling station. This begs the questions, why not just make all polling stations accessible? Like, as far as I understand it someone selects the polling stations, so why not just pick accessible locations, surely that would be easier than fielding 100s of calls from disabled voters? On this occasion, I called 2 days before the election and provided all my information, to be told that my polling station was accessible.

Then comes the mission of actually getting TO your polling station as a disabled person. The accessible route somewhere is not always the same as someone else’s route. On this occasion, maps informed me that my polling station was a 5 minute walk down one straight road. However, roadworks with poor disabled access, specifically pavements with a distinct lack of drop kerbs, meant a 5 minute trip was more like 20 minutes. The polling station was also poorly signposted, so poorly signposted that I actually missed it on my first time walking past because the signs were so small, and I am just ridiculously unobservant so I cannot imagine how it is for someone who is visually impaired. I was also randomly accosted by a woman , but I will be discussing THAT incident (and others) in an upcoming post regarding experiencing harassment as a disabled person.

Then I FINALLY got to the point of requiring access to the actual polling station. Whenever a venue of any kind simply tells me they are “accessible” without any details I always wonder what they mean by that. This time, I approached the polling station and instantly saw stairs with no ramp in sight and sighed, assuming I had been misinformed regarding accessibility. But then I spotted an alternative access sign and a stair lift that looked about 400 years old. I got in and pressed the up button but it didn’t  move. Luckily, I was able to ask a fellow voter to inform the staff inside that I needed to get in and just assumed the staff would have to turn the lift on. Then someone comes out and their sentence begins with “unfortunately…”. It was at that point I  knew already that the lift did not work. It turned out the  lack of use over lockdown had led to the battery burning out, it is so BIZARRE what happens when you don’t use a piece of equipment for an extended period of time (heavy sarcasm, I could have told you from the start that would happen). I then asked for the ballot papers and boxes to be brought outside, which they were, this meant I was still able to vote, albeit with absolutely ZERO privacy or independence.

It also bears saying that even when polling stations are “accessible”, that access is still dodgy as hell. During a  previous experience (voting in a different constituency, that of our current Prime Minister no less), the wheelchair access to the polling station was a very makeshift wooden ramp. I was able to enter the polling station fine, but when I tried to get out, the ramp slipped and I ended up stuck suspended over a significant drop, praying my heavy electric wheelchair didn’t tip over and you know, crush me. And yes that’s just as terrifying to experience as it sounds.

Overall, what should have been a simple 15 minute job to vote recently took over an hour simply because of inaccessibility. I hope that my discussing this experience gives you some insight into the reality of voting as a disabled person.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham Travel: New Street to Sutton Coldfield as a Wheelchair User Under National Lockdown? Here’s How I Did It

Recently I had to take a few trips to Sutton Coldfield for some course training (whilst we were still under national lockdown) , so I thought I’d let you know what the experience was like (travelling from Birmingham New Street) as a wheelchair user. I had to take this trip a total of 6 times (3 outbound and 3 return) but this post is just about the first outbound and return trip.

Outbound

Ticket Buying, Assistance Booking & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

When it came to booking the assistance, it was pretty much the standard process, I just called West Midlands Railway and booked the assistance over the phone. I did not have to give my wheelchair dimensions this time as I had already given them for a previous assistance booking and they were stored in the system. The ticket situation is where things get a little more complicated. Initially I thought since both stations were in the free travel blue zone on my disabled travel pass that I would be able to travel for, you know, free. However, it turns out that free travel thing is only for after  9.30am and my train was at 8.25am. Cue a dash to grab a last minute ticket on Trainline the night before my trip. I did wonder if I could buy the ticket and manage not to use it. On arrival at New Street, the staff let me through the barriers with just my pass despite it being before 9:30am.I then made my way to the assistance lounge and made myself know to the staff so I could get my train. I WAS able to get a partial refund on the ticket I bought on Trainline since I never actually used or registered it anywhere on my trip.

On Train

The on train experience was pretty simple as it was only a 15 or 20 minute trip so there wasn’t really time for anything spectacular to happen.

Disembarking & Leaving at Sutton Coldfield

On arrival at Sutton Coldfield, station staff were already there on the platform which meant I was able to get straight off the train. The staff then showed me a simpler route to my location which went via a separate exit to the main one. This did involve taking one lift up to the concourse level and then another lift down to the other platform before going out of the separate exit.

Return

Getting On at Sutton Coldfield

When getting on at Sutton Coldfield for the return trip, I used the same assistance booking without a  ticket (just using my travel pass) as it was after 9:30am. When it came to actually getting on the train, I ended up getting an earlier train than my booked assistance, so I informed the security staff that I needed assistance and they went and informed the station staff on my behalf as I couldn’t actually find any of the assistance staff.

On Train

Again, the on train experience was only 15 or 20 minutes so there wasn’t time for anything  dramatic to happen.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

On arrival at Birmingham New Street, staff were already on the platform to greet me (as I find they usually are at New Street) which meant I was able to get straight off the train and head out of the  station.

I hope that this post provides some insight into what it’s like travelling between these 2 stations as a wheelchair user whilst under national lockdown.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)