Brunel University London: My Experience as a Disabled Student

Photo Credit: Holly Ashby

Those of you who’ve been following my journey, either personally or just through the blog, recently will know that I just graduated with a BSc in Psychology and Sociology with Professional Development from Brunel University London. Here, I’ll be talking about my experiences as a disabled student at Brunel, the good, the bad, the ugly and the surprising. This is something I’ve already sort of discussed in the Guardian, but I thought I’d discuss it a little more, particularly with the new year starting and freshers about to make the move to university.

The Good

So, let’s start with the good. Firstly, the BIGGEST shout out has to go to Brunel’s Disability and Dyslexia Service (DDS). The amount of help they gave me from the minute I rolled into Brunel to the minute I left was unreal. From setting up my support profile to contacting lecturers for me about access issues when I couldn’t get to lectures, to giving me the details for who to contact about access complaints, to generally being a sounding board when I was frustrated with access and university and life in general. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to have someone say “yeah that’s definitely a problem” when you bring up access issues, otherwise you just begin to think you’re overreacting. I will always be grateful for the support DDS provided.

Another good side of Brunel was of course the degree I earned there, and what I learned in an academic sense. It’s broadened my academic knowledge more than I ever thought possible, opened doors to new areas of psychology that I didn’t even know existed and allowed me to achieve my dream of getting a degree (a dream I’ve had since I was 14). It’s also led me onto further things academically, specifically a Masters degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at Aston University, which I’ll be starting in September.

It’s also led me onto other things outside of academia, specifically in this blog, there are entire posts on various parts of my Brunel experience on here, and there have been blog opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been at Brunel.

As cliché as it sounds, my experiences at Brunel have shaped who I am, for good or for bad. I know I wouldn’t be this willing to fight for change and better access for disabled people if I hadn’t constantly had to fight for it for myself. Brunel turned me from a self-advocate into an activist because it showed me that issues I encountered weren’t just issues for me but for others as well.

The Bad

Now here comes the bad, despite Brunel’s status as a fairly flat single campus university, there were still issues. In the end it began to feel like a pretty constant battle alongside trying to get a degree. If it wasn’t broken library lifts or lecture centre lifts, it was fire safety issues (being left in a fire refuge area with no information as to whether there’s actually a fire or not is REALLY great, not). If it wasn’t either of those it was campus “updates” altering accessible routes around campus and in some cases making them LESS accessible, or other minor access issues like automatic doors being turned off. All of these sound like minor issues on their own but it all builds up and having to deal with issues like these constantly is draining.

The Ugly

AAAAAANNNNNND onto the ugly side of things, the reason I say ugly is that these issues are the ones that impacted me the most, because they directly impacted my ability to involve myself in the degree I went to Brunel to achieve. What were those issues I hear you ask? Being timetabled in lecture rooms upstairs without a lift in the building (meaning the room was inaccessible to me) and simply being told to go home (I didn’t pay £9k a year to GO HOME). Oh, and there was that time the only lift in a building broke the night before one of my final year EXAMS with no backup plan, meaning I couldn’t get to my exam room and had to take the exam in a ground floor office. I hope you can understand now what I mean when I say this is the ugly side of Brunel’s (in)accessibility. My access needs should not stop me from attending my degree but there were occasions at Brunel when they did.

The Surprising

Now for the surprising side. One surprise for me (a good surprise) was that my lecturers were as angry as I was about the broken lifts or inaccessible lecture rooms which stopped me getting to lectures. The reason this was a surprise was, and this might sound a little upsetting but it’s true, when you get used to the kind of blasé “that’s just the way it is” attitude to accessibility that I seemed to be getting from Brunel, you begin to think that attitude extends to everyone in the institution, but my lecturers reactions to these access issues showed me that it does not.

The other surprise was how easily and instantly procedure changes were mentioned or I was brought to meetings to discuss access issues once I started raising complaints every time an issue arose. The surprising thing here was why did it have to get to this point? Why did I have to make myself heard constantly to get someone to listen?. I don’t want to be the girl that yells about access all the time, but I’ll yell until I’m listened to. This could have been so much simpler if access issues were recognised WITHOUT me having to yell about them.

So, now everything’s said and done, Brunel: You were an experience to say the least, and while I made some of the best friends and learned a lot in an academic sense, you certainly could have made my experience easier from an accessibility standpoint. Having said that, these experiences have shaped me and shown me how much of a self-advocate I can be. So, for that reason, I’ll always be oddly thankful for these 4 years of experience. Next Stop: Birmingham for this Masters degree, to the next adventure I go!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Wheelchair Accessibility in UK Venues: Ranked From Best to Worst

Travelling the length and breadth of this fine island for concerts and MMA shows, I’ve been to a variety of venues with varied accessibility. With that in mind,  here is a comprehensive list of the highs and the lows of my experiences with venue accessibility.

So here it is, every venue I’ve reviewed on this blog ranked with a quick word as to why it was ranked that way. I do intend for this to be an evolving document with rankings changing as venue access changes and I visit new venues.

Bristol Bierkeller

The number one spot on this goes to Bristol Bierkeller. This may seem like a bit of an odd one since the Bierkeller could not be classified as  “accessible”, but the venue team were aware of that and did everything they could to make sure I could attend , which yes included carrying me up a set of stairs in a manual wheelchair. I’d rather that kind of  attitude to accessibility than being turned away completely (obviously full wheelchair accessibility is the best option, but I know that can’t be instantly achieved at some venues). I was sad to hear that the Bierkeller had  closed and it will always have a piece of my heart for making sure I could attend a gig I didn’t think was possible.

Viola Arena

Next up is The Viola Arena in Cardiff. The winning element here is the fact that the  wheelchair spaces are amongst the standard seating rather than on some specific accessible platform . This meant I felt more a part of the atmosphere which is definitely one of the best parts of attending Cage Warriors shows like the ones I’ve attended here.

Lyric Hammersmith

The bronze medal goes to Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Even though our seats were pretty far back here, the staff assistance was great and really made me feel welcome. I had heard that the theatre had undergone refurbishment since my visit so I would be interested to see how the refurbishment changed accessibility or not.

Koko Camden

I won’t lie, when I researched this venue, I was slightly nervous about what their access would involve as I knew it was an older  (possibly listed?) building. However, this was possibly the simplest access in terms of knowing how access was going to work and not having to jump through too many hoops. It showed me that access to older buildings is possible and that “it’s an old building” isn’t a get out of jail free card for not providing access

Symphony Hall Birmingham

I felt this was a quite accessible venue, one where I was able to comfortably attend solo and not feel like I was going to struggle getting around. There was the issue with the restricted view, but this was explained to me BEFORE I bought my ticket for the gig so I was able to make an informed decision that I was ok with a possible restricted view.

O2 Arena London

This is probably the venue I’ve been to the most, for both concerts and MMA shows. I am sad to say that the accessibility and experience for disabled guests seems to be decreasing, particularly when I compare my concert experience to the experience I had at the second UFC show I attended there.

Indigo At The O2

The reason this venue drops behind its “big brother” venue O2 Arena London is mostly due to the VERY limited amount of wheelchair spaces, just a single cramped platform. Add to this the distance from the cage (it was an MMA show I was watching) and I sort of felt like this venue wasn’t entirely built for me to be there and I was intruding somewhere I wasn’t expected to be.

Resorts World Arena

Next up is Resorts World Arena in Birmingham. Now, I’ll be honest here, this ranking is probably a little harsh on the arena and it should probably be higher. Having attended both with a friend and solo, there were no issues with the access here but also nothing mind-blowingly brilliant, and it’s difficult to rank it amongst the others when there’s nothing specific to remember (good or bad) about the accessibility.

Excel London

The thing that struck me about the Excel London is just how busy and difficult to get around it could be despite being such a large venue. The fact that I was attending Comic Con London probably factored into that, but I think my experience at the Excel opened my eyes to the issues with accessibility at conventions in general.

Mama Roux’s

This is another one of those “not terrible but not great” access review situations, other than the accessible toilet being in an adjacent building and the card readers not being detachable. There was nothing particularly terrible about the access here but nothing particularly great either.

Asylum

The main reason this drops below Mama Roux’s is because, despite better access on the ground floor and similar accessible toilet issues to Mama Roux’s, I can’t access an entire floor of Asylum as it’s up a flight of stairs which downgrades the access rating a fair bit.

M&S Bank Arena

Next up is M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. My main issue here is that the wheelchair space was at the top level of the arena seating  which limited the view. This was specifically annoying as being able to see the action is a major part of seeing a UFC show live, which is the event I was attending

The Roundhouse

Similarly to the M&S Bank Arena, the problem with the Roundhouse in Camden was that the wheelchair space was higher up at the top level of the venue which  limited the view.

O2 Islington Academy

This one was a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, the accessible “platform” section was at the front of the venue next to the stage which of course was fantastic in terms of view and what I could hear. However, on the other hand, having the platform right at the front meant having to fight all the way through to the back of the venue when you wanted to leave. This is quite difficult, as you can imagine, when an entire venue full of people is trying to do the same thing.

Kingston Pryzm

This venue goes here as it improves on my one issue with its predecessor Kingston Hippodrome (see below) with a lift to the accessible viewing area rather than a slightly dodgy ramp.

Kingston Hippodrome

My only issue with this venue was that it was difficult to navigate  ramp up to the access platform. Despite the access issues, I’m sad that this venue has now closed but look forward to checking out and reviewing the new venue for Banquet Records New Slang events (Pryzm Kingston).

Dingwalls

The problems here started before I’d even entered, and to be fair I’m not sure there’s that much the venue themselves can do about this. What am I talking about? COBBLES, the cobbled path to the accessible entrance was REALLY not fun for my back. Once we were in, the view from the accessible section was poor and we had to move around the section to near the toilets to be able to get a decent view.

Alexandra Palace

Ahh Alexandra Palace London, those of you who have read my review of this venue will know it’s not a nice review, and that’s all I’ll say. It would have been last in these rankings but for contact and a very lengthy email that was sent discussing the concerns I had raised and informing me about changes that had taken place since my visit.

HMV Oxford Street

I know that since I visited, this “venue” (technically it was a shop, but I attended an in store concert there) has closed but I still thought it worth mentioning. The accessible platform ticket policy, whereby I bought a ticket first and then rang to see if I could secure the one wheelchair space, was odd and felt slightly unfair. It also meant I missed out on multiple shows and had to throw away perfectly good, already purchased tickets and let them go to waste just because I had nowhere to sit.

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I hope this helps put everything I’ve written regarding access reviews into one place!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Viola Arena Cardiff Wheelchair Accessibility Seating Review

CW104 view, photo credit: Keshia Asare

Since I attended Cage Warriors 104 in April, I realised I’d attended 3 different Cage Warriors shows at what is now the Viola Arena (CW97, CW100 and CW104) and sat in 3 different disabled seating sections (Cageside, Block 15 and Block 17). With that in mind, I thought I’d expand on my earlier CW97 post  and compare the 3 sections and the pros and cons of each. Disclaimer, this only relates to the seating for Cage Warriors events as I haven’t attended the arena for anything else.

Cageside: We were cageside for CW97 in September, my first experience of a live Cage Warriors show.  This was definitely the closest seat to the action of the three (see the picture below for our view), it was also the best view for submission attempts and ground and pound work, which is particularly great if you’re a big fan of that side of MMA like I am. These seats were on the ground floor, almost in the traditional wheelchair accessible platform set up that I’ve seen at most gig venues, but I didn’t realise how ow close we were seated until we arrived, so these cageside seats were a great surprise and certainly a welcome perk of this whole wheelchair user situation that is my life! I do wonder whether this seating option still exists for disabled patrons though as it seemed like the arena layout had been changed when I tried to book for CW100 and disabled seating wasn’t available in that area anymore, but it may still be worth checking when you book. The one issue with this specific disabled seating area is that it is sort of felt detached from the crowd and the atmosphere which alters the experience a bit as the party atmosphere at a Cage Warriors show is half the fun. Having said that, I would recommend booking this disabled seating area if it’s the type you need and is available.

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CW97 view, photo credit: Keshia Asare

Block 15: We were in Block 15 for CW100 in December. The main change here is that we were up with the crowd (being at the top of the arena with the crowd in the seats below or in seats next to us, which made it feel as though there was more of an atmosphere which improved on the one issue I had with cageside seats. However, the downside of being  up a level (having taken the lift up) is that it was more difficult to see the intricacies of what was going on in the fights. Having said that, there was a screen in front of us which meant were still able to see the submission attempts and such which, as I’ve said before, was good for me with being a particular fan of that side of the sport. All in all, this is probably the seating section I’d most consistently choose (if it was available) given that cageside disabled seating does not seem to be an option anymore.

Block 17: We were in Block 17 for CW104 in April (see the picture at the top of this post for our view). My main point about this seating area is that it’s next to one of the bars, which is cool if that’s your thing but, as someone who doesn’t drink at events, it’s not mine. It also meant there was lots of traffic going past where we were sitting, which meant a night of bumped, barged, accidentally tripping people up with anti-tip wheels on the chair, and at one point being yanked backwards as someone used my chair to stand up. I’m not mentioning all of this for a whinge, it ends up hurting and causing me physical pain after a while and can also be quite claustrophobic feeling like you’re constantly in the way and tripping people up. There was also no screen (unlike Block 15) which made it difficult to  see when submissions were happening (did I mention the submission side of things is my favourite part?) Overall, it was difficult to fully focus and  enjoy the night  when I  constantly had half a mind on being bumped into, and I would not choose this seat again if the choice was offered.

Stay Invincible!

Invincible Woman On Wheels

Campanile Hotel Cardiff Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Cardiff Campanile Website

A hotel accessibility review this time! This one’s a review of the Campanile Hotel in Cardiff following our stay in December.

(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!)

Booking

The booking process was fairly simple. I was able to book our room online and just put “wheelchair accessible room” in the requests section on the booking form. The hotel then rang later that day confirming that an accessible room had been put aside for us and outlining some of the accessibility issues we may face. These included the fact there was ramp/ gradient slope between the car park and the rest of the hotel grounds and that there was only a bath in the bathroom and not a shower. I was ok with these issues as it was only an overnight stay and I appreciated being warned about access issues prior to arriving.

Travel

In terms of travel, we took the Megabus from London Victoria to Cardiff Kingsway and then, due to the out of town location of the hotel, basically took Ubers everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean we went from town to the hotel, then from the hotel to the event venue (the event being Cage Warriors 100) and then from the venue post event back to the hotel. The following morning, we finally worked out the buses and took the bus from the hotel to town. For those of you wondering, the buses have a fold out ramp at the front (to be folded out by the driver) and a wheelchair space with a fold out seat for the companion to sit with the wheelchair user. 

Experience

The first thing I noticed when arriving at the hotel was that the rooms were separated, as in physically in a different building, from the main reception, this was not what I was expecting having stayed at other Campanile hotels. The next thing to notes was the steepness of that ramp I mentioned earlier. It was REALLY quite steep, I appreciate that I’d already been warned about it, but it was quite difficult for my friend to push me up and down, so if there is any alternative route or any way to improve access I’d be open to helping figure something out. There was also an, albeit small, step into reception which my friend had to lift me over. While I had my friend with me this time, it did make me aware how difficult it would it be if I was by myself (even if it only seems like a small issue). The most annoying issue was that my wheelchair didn’t fit in the bathroom in a way that allowed me to also shut the door. You really can’t call a room fully wheelchair accessible if I have to get out of my chair and crawl to the bathroom!

Overall, while the booking process was simple and there’s some awareness of access issues at the hotel, a better understanding of the true meaning of “wheelchair accessible” would be welcome, and, as always, I’m willing to help the hotel improve their wheelchair access.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Wheelchair Accessible Travel: Cardiff, Wales

Here’s an access review triple header for you! On the basis of our Cardiff tourist day back in September. I review the access at Cardiff Castle, Pettigrew Tea Rooms and the National Museum Cardiff.

(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!)

Cardiff Castle

Ticket Buying

There is a system with reduced ticket prices for disabled patrons, but we didn’t feel like they were that significantly reduced for what I would be able to see of the castle. We then mentioned to someone how I wouldn’t be able to see a good chunk of the castle due to access and we were just let in to see the parts that I could get to!

Travel

We were able to walk about 15 minutes to the castle from our hotel (Ibis Budget Cardiff Centre).

Experience

Like I’ve already said, the castle was only partly accessible, I sort of expected that since it is a castle after all, but a lack of access is still irritating, regardless of whether it’s expected. I must say that what I could get to was very interesting, which probably made the lack of full access even more of an annoyance. The ramp to the section that I could access was also particularly steep, to the point where we had to go backwards down the ramp to stop me going too fast and essentially freewheeling to the bottom. We were able to mention this to staff on the day so hopefully something can be done to make the ramp less steep.

castle (2)

Pettigrew Tea Rooms

Ticket Buying

Being a tea room, this place was completely free to walk into and then you just obviously paid for what you ate/drank.

Travel

Again, were able to just walk here from the castle.

Experience

This place was more accessible than I was expecting (I tend to assume independent businesses are inaccessible for some reason, maybe I should quit with that thought process after this experience!) There was ramp access and a wheelchair accessible bathroom, I mean it’s basic access but somehow, I was still shocked which I think says more about the state of business accessibility in general than about this specific tea room. The space inside was probably a little tight for manoeuvring a wheelchair but the weather was decent enough that we were able to sit outside. There was also an art exhibition upstairs which was only accessible via stairs, which was a little annoying, but I was not overly annoyed as I myself couldn’t see how access was possible given the constraints of the building, although I am always willing to help improve accessibility if the business is willing!

Emma sits in front of a blue table with teapots and mugs on wearing a vest bearing the Gryffindor house crest from Harry Potter

I may be wearing Harry Potter merch but it shouldn’t be an invisibility cloak Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

National Museum Cardiff

Ticket Buying

Again, this was another free walk in situation.

Travel

Again, were able to just walk here from the tea rooms.

Experience

We entered through a separate entrance with a ramp/tunnel entrance under the main area of the building, which was accessed via a gate. This gate was opened by staff who were contacted through an intercom. I know some people say separate entrances and having to enter underneath the building like this hides disabled people, but frankly it makes me feel like some kind of queen or a secret agent and, I might just sound like a child here, but that’s never a bad thing! The lifts were also very “properly” done I thought, allowing access while still being designed to match the look of the building. The were also lockers which were an unexpected bonus as it meant we, as tourists on an overnight stay filling time before our coach home, didn’t have to lug all of our luggage all the way round the museum.

museum

All said, while there’s more to be done for sure, I found the accessibility in Cardiff as a tourist was pretty good. Particular bonus as a student that all these things were in walking distance from our hotel and freeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Resorts World Arena Birmingham Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

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

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

Ticket Buying

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

Travel

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

Experience & Seating

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Comic Con Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Just hanging out in the DeLorean at a previous Comic Con

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

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

Ticket Buying

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

Travel

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

Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Cage Warriors 97 Wheelchair Accessibility Review (Viola Arena & 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 Viola Arena 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!)

Viola Arena 

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.  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. 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)

 

 

 

Islington O2 Academy Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Ellie Hart

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

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

Purchasing Tickets

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

Travel

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

Experience & Seating

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

UFC Liverpool Wheelchair Accessibility Review (Liverpool Gateway B & B and M & S Bank Arena)

Photo Credit: Keshia Asare

Here’s another 2 for 1 accessibility review deal with reviews of the Liverpool Gateway B & B and the M & S Bank 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. 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!

M & S Bank 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 M & S Bank Arena.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)