Hidden Aspects of Travelling with a Disability (Collaboration with Alex Ramzan from The VI Critic)

FINALLY, a new blog post! This one’s on the hidden aspect of travelling with a disability from my viewpoint as a wheelchair user. And even more excitingly, it’s a collaboration with Alex Ramzan from The VI Critic, check out his post on travelling with a disability as a visually impaired person here.

  1. It’s Time Consuming

The first thing is that travelling as a wheelchair user is waaaaaaay more time consuming. And it’s time consuming in 2 ways, both before a trip and on the day of the trip. Before a trip, there’s a bunch of hoops to jump through, firstly, I have to check if the stations I want to travel through are wheelchair accessible, then I have to check if the trains I want to travel on are wheelchair accessible (because THAT’S not always a thing) then I can book my train tickets, then I have book assistance through a phone call with the train company I’m travelling with, THEN I’m finally set to travel.

On the day, I have to turn up AT LEAST 20 minutes before my train and wait in an assistance lounge, then I have to wait to be taken to train by a staff member, then I have to wait for a ramp to enable me to get on the train, then I have to sit on the train for however long, then I have to get to the other end and wait for another ramp to appear to enable me to get off the train. You see all that waiting? That’s TIME.

  1. It’s Exhausting

Travelling as a wheelchair user is also exhausting. See point 1 about travel being time consuming, travel as a wheelchair user takes so much more time than it does as a non-disabled person, there’s a lot more hoops to jump through like I talked about above. And anything that takes more time also takes more energy. And so, travel as a disabled person takes so much more time and energy which makes it entirely EXHAUSTING.

  1. I Travel Before I Travel

Another thing I’ve found is that I take the trip in my head before I take it in reality. There are a lot of “what ifs” when travelling as a wheelchair user: What if the lift at a train or tube station breaks down? What if the assistance doesn’t turn up to get me off the train or tube? What if I’m on the bus in London and the automatic ramp breaks and I can’t get off the bus? What if there is luggage in the wheelchair space on a train and I have to make an issue to get it moved?  I’m one of those people that focuses on the “what ifs”, but I feel like disability, and specifically travelling with a disability,  intensifies that, there’s a lot of extra “what ifs” that disabled people have to consider and find solutions for. So, I’m always taking a trip prior to actually going, because I’m constantly coming up with the “what ifs” and figuring out solutions before they happen so I don’t meet a situation where I’m stressed and lost on what to do next. And to draw back to point 2, that feeling and situation is FLIPPING EXHAUSTING!

  1. It Makes Me Wary of People

I’ve also become very wary of people through my travels as a wheelchair user. I’m often on edge about how other people will react to me as a wheelchair user on public transport. Will they try to  “help” me and end up potentially doing more harm? Will they offer to carry my electric wheelchair off the train if the assistance doesn’t turn up? (Don’t do that it. It’s too heavy you’ll just hurt yourself and potentially break it), will they try and push my electric wheelchair (Don’t do that either, it won’t move and you’ll potentially break it) Or will people make accessibility issues seem like my fault? ( (Like asking “did you book?” when assistance doesn’t turn up to get me off a train). I’ve just become very wary of people and am much more likely to see the issues they may give me rather than the good they’ll do. And I’d really rather it not be that way.

  1. Knowing the System like the Back of my Hand isn’t Cute, it’s a Necessity

I have also found that I almost HAVE to know everything  about accessibility when I travel, I have to know which are the accessible tube stations, which are the accessible train stations and how to get around in between stations if I cannot go directly to my destination using an accessible station, particularly when travelling across London.  I feel like I have to be like that because either a) no one else fully knows about accessibility enough and b) if they do, I’ve had enough wrong information about accessibility from other people that I’m not ever fully confident in others’ accessibility knowledge, and I’d rather not end up somewhere inaccessible.

So those are the hidden aspects of travelling with a disability, specifically from my viewpoint as a wheelchair user. Be sure to check out Alex’s post here for his viewpoint on this issue as a visually impaired person.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Lockdown, COVID – 19 and Me: How this pandemic has the InvincibleWomanOnWheels feeling a little less invincible

It was sort of inevitable that I’d be writing about COVID – 19 and the lockdown, let’s face it it’s all anyone can think about right now. So here’s my take on COVID – 19, lockdown and how it’s affected my life.

So let’s start with the practical bits: The events I’d planned to attend have now been cancelled or postponed (fingers crossed this thing eases by October so the rescheduled Cage Warrior 114 card can go ahead and we can celebrate mine and my mum’s birthdays at the same time). My university is now closed with all lectures and exams online AND I’ve left Birmingham and moved back to the family home for the foreseeable future. While this might be a bit of an annoyance as I’m used to my own space and schedule having lived on my own for most of the last 5 years now, but I know it was the right decision. I’m 90% an introvert so staying inside is something I can do pretty easily by choice; I mean I spend most Saturday nights watching MMA by myself rather than clubbing or at a bar. But of course there is no choice in this situation and THAT’S the bit that’s going to be a struggle. Those of you who regularly read this blog will know I spend what feels like half my life on a train, but that isn’t possible right now, so the wanderlust is building up a fair bit right row. So I guess it’s just time to stockpile wanderlust in this lockdown and use it all up when I can.

Now on to the more specific bits: What does COVID – 19 mean for me in terms of my disability? Well I have cerebral palsy which according to the list below would make me somewhat high risk for the virus (but not shielding level high risk) and vulnerable which meant I should stay inside as much as possible. It didn’t specify if it was a specific type of cerebral palsy that would make people vulnerable but I chose not to take the risk and begin isolating/quarantining/whatever the appropriate word is. I have to admit that that scared me a fair bit. I’d never seen my disability as something that made me vulnerable or significantly affected my life before, it was just sort of this thing that existed as part of my life and meant I got a cool set of wheels. But seeing my condition on that list and knowing what that said about the effect this virus could have on me was a reminder that I wasn’t entirely invincible.

COVID 19

The really REALLY scary part about this is not the way it is impacting me, but the way it’s impacting my family. My mum’s autoimmune disorder means she’s at the highest risk if she gets COVID – 19 and has to shield for 12 weeks. I’d known it was coming after hearing that those with autoimmune conditions were high risk and knowing the condition she has, but hearing that she’d actually got the text about shielding still came as some weird kind of shock even though I knew it was coming. We don’t always get on 100%, we’re too similar for our own good and we both drive each other up the wall more often than not, but god do I love that woman. The thought of her getting this virus and potentially losing her, and losing both my parents in the space of 2 years, terrifies the entire life out of me. The reminder that the woman who made me invincible may not actually be as invincible herself as I always thought she was is an eye opening wake up call that I wasn’t expecting to affect me in quite the way it has.

PLEASE stay inside and observe social distancing so I can be close to my mum again and her and other high risk people (and everyone else) can safely leave their house at some point this year.

Stay Safe, Stay Inside, Wash Your Hands and Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

InvincibleWomanOnWheels Frequently Asked Questions/ Get to Know Me and Q & A

Realised I’d never actually done a Get to Know Me post on the blog , so I combined that with a few questions from my social media followers and blog readers to create this combined Frequently Asked Questions / Q & A for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions/ Get to Know Me

Name: Emma, Em, Ems, The Invincible Woman On Wheels

Age: 23

Condition: Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia

Location: Chippenham/Birmingham – based in Birmingham for University

What’s the reason/ message behind the blog: To give a realistic view of life with a disability. Disability isn’t all pity and sadness but let’s be real it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either.

 Q & A

What is the story behind the blog name and social media handles?
The idea essentially began on the Sicily trip which is the first post on here. My travelling companions and I managed to work around and overcome many challenges that we faced on this trip (both accessibility based and otherwise). This led to us calling ourselves the Invincible Women throughout the trip and beyond. Whilst on that trip those friends encouraged me to start thi blog. So when it came to thinking of a blog name, it only felt write to take inspiration from the name we’d given our trio on that trip, a sort of homage to where it all started. And so Invincible Woman On Wheels now exists as you know it.

Any advice for other disabled bloggers?
I think my biggest slice of advice would be to write about what you know from the viewpoint of your condition. By that I mean write about your experiences and don’t try and write about a topic, if you don’t think you have the right knowledge, just because you think you SHOULD be writing about it or it’s the “trendy” topic. I’d rather see “I don’t know about X” in a blog post than someone who’s trying to pull information from a website or such without any first-hand experience. My other advice would be honesty, particularly if you’re writing access reviews like I do. Venues may not like it too much if a review paints them in a negative light, but if you’re trying to give good access information to fellow disabled people, an honest, accurate review is better than a nicey nicey one.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked?
Someone I’d barely spoken to once asked me “So how do you have sex?” and I. I. I. JUST DON’T ASK THAT. There are 3 questions/comments here: a) Would you ask an able bodied person that?! b) Why does that question even enter your head as the first one to ask me?! c) That’s literally not anyone’s business unless we’re dating.

I hope these answers give a quick insight into me, the woman behind Invincible Woman On Wheels, and if anyone has any more questions, let me know!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

TFL Accessibility Interview: Transcript and Further Thoughts

A little while back, I did an interview with Colette Little from Colfessions about the accessibility of the TFL underground system in London! In today’s post I thought I’d run you through what we discussed, what I said then, and anything else I’d add, with what I know now.

In what ways do you think London transport needs to become more accessible?

What I said then:

The major problem is step free-ness, particularly with the tube, because 23%, around a quarter is step free, and that’s just not good enough. They advertise that as well – like that’s not something to advertise. If you think that’s good enough, that’s not. I think the other major issue is communication, because a lot of the times where I have issues with the tube, is that someone has put me on the train, and then not told whoever they’re supposed to tell, and there’s no one to get me off the train at the other end. Or the train terminates, and they don’t know I’m on it. Basically, they’re supposed to tell the line controller, who’s supposed to know, and they’re supposed to tell the station that I’m getting off. And either the station that I’m getting off at doesn’t get told so if I need a ramp to get off the train at the other end I don’t get it, or if the train terminates, and they haven’t told the line controller, if they know I’m on the train they’re supposed to stop it so I can get off and they can terminate it properly, and a few times they’ve stopped it at a station that isn’t accessible so I can’t get off, so I’ve been sat there at the door screaming or someone to get me off. Obviously in my manual chair, which is the other chair I use, I can’t get off the train myself I can’t wheel myself or anything, and in this, trying to get off a gap that’s say 4/5 inches, this would break (My electric chair that I’m currently sat in.) So, I would be sat at the door screaming and screaming and screaming for someone to get me off the train and it would take a good 10/15 minutes for them to figure it out, figure out that I’m on the train, and sort it out. Obviously in terms of my mental-ness it’s terrifying – the fact I go on the tube every single time and think will I be able to get off the train, will I be able to use the lift, will the lift work, will I have to go some weird way around to get to a lift that works. You always constantly think about that and you can’t just get on a train and think ‘its fine’. Unless I’m going to Kings Cross which is a station which I regularly use so I can roll on and off, and mentally, it’s draining frankly.

What’s changed:

I don’t think that much has changed since that interview, in regard to this question. I know there’s been a raft of new lifts put in and stations redesigned, so that quarter of stations wheelchair accessible figure is likely to be much higher, but the TFL website still says a quarter so I can’t be sure on the new figure. Those constant questions I mentioned about whether I’d be able to use lifts (or if they’d work) still exist, but I have to answer them less frequently now as I no longer live in London so only have to tackle the tube infrequently when I visit from Birmingham now.

Do you have any positive or negative specific instances, like stories, that you can tell me about?

What I said then:

The longest and most detailed story I can give you is we were coming home from a trip to Birmingham on the train. Got home to Euston, we were like ‘yeah we’ll get on at Euston Square and then Euston Square goes straight back to Uxbridge. Metropolitan line, the easiest trip you could make.’ No. We got the Euston Square and the lift was out, and my friend was with me, and I had to get my friend to go down the stairs to find someone to get them to call me a taxi because the policy that they put out is that if the lift is broken, or it’s not accessible somehow, TfL policy is that they’ll whether call you a taxi to take you home, or to the nearest accessible station – whichever is closest really. So, I was told they were calling me a taxi to Kings Cross, and I know it’s like a 10-minute walk, but we’ve walked all the way from Euston Square and if they owe me a taxi, they owe me a taxi. And the guy was like “that’s not the policy” so I had to screenshot the policy from the website and show it to him, and he was like “I’m going to get my manager because you’re lying.” And I was like “I’m showing you the website but okay.” So, his manager came up and was like “why have you dragged me here, she obviously is right, you know the rules, phone her a taxi.” We sat there and waited like half an hour for this taxi, and at that moment I was waiting on principle. Got in the taxi, we were told it has been paid for by TfL, so they prepaid it so we could just get out and wander off. Got to Kings Cross, got out the taxi, went to wander off, and he was like “no you need to pay me.” I was like “No, TfL have paid you, we’ve been told TfL have paid you” and he literally held us to ransom basically and wouldn’t let us leave until we had paid for the taxi and I was like “fine, just have your money.” Got to Kings Cross, and the Piccadilly line was broken from Kings Cross to we couldn’t use it and they’d already closed the Metropolitan line because it was a Wednesday and they close it at a certain time from Wembley onwards. So, then they had to put me on a Piccadilly line that went somewhere else. Stuck me on the Piccadilly line, so my friend had to change her plans and go to a different station to where she was going to go to because obviously a different lines, and then I was like “it’s fine, I’m getting a friend to pick me up from Uxbridge station anyway, so you can get off where you need to get off and I’ll just sit on the train that goes to Uxbridge and I can sit on a train by myself fine.” And this is when they terminated it at a station which I couldn’t get off at. So, I was by myself in my manual chair and there was no one else in the carriage and everyone just got off and I was there screaming for them to get off the train. And I had to keep texting and calling the friend who was picking me up and just say “this is how it is, this is how it is”, to the point where the guy at Uxbridge station was calling the line operator yelling at him about this whole situation, and ended up letting my friend through when I got to Uxbridge, letting her go on the platform without a pass or a ticket or anything because they knew I’d be in bits about this whole situation. It took, I think, four hours to get back from Euston with all that faff. It’s mad. There were very many different things, if one thing had happened it would be fine but there were about ten different things that went wrong. It was an interesting evening.

What’s changed:

Not much has changed here either, this is probably still the worst access experience I’ve had on TFL. However, what has changed is that I’ve FINALLY written that Euston/Euston Square ordeal up as its own blog post!

By 2024, TfL aim for 38% of underground stations to be step free. Do you think this is enough stations, and is it soon enough?

What I said then:

I think it’s sooner than I expected it to be. It’s still not enough stations, we’re always aiming for 100%, but it’s movement and that’s good. I’m trying to be as positive as I can here. I think there’s movement in the right direction, and it’s at a speed quicker than I thought it would be, and there’s definitely stations in the past four years or so that I can access that I couldn’t when I moved to London. There is movement, and it’s at a decent pace, but it’s not quick enough. I’m still glad that there is movement and they are working towards something, but they could just be like “no that’s it, 27% is enough.” It’s fast, it will never be fast enough frankly until it’s 100% step free, but there is movement and I’m appreciative of that.

What’s changed:

I think I was way more delicate with this answer than what I was probably actually thinking. While I’m appreciative of the fact that accessibility and redesigning stations isn’t instant. There’s no way the redesign is happening fast enough or at enough stations. NO. WAY. AT. ALL. I’d also be interested to see if that 8% figure and timeline is still going to be hit. Given that the website still says a quarter and we’re in 2020, I’m not holding out hope for the timeline to still happen.

How do you find out that a station has newly become step free, or there’s been a new lift installed?

What I said then:

Basically, I follow al the TFL lines on twitter because that’s the easiest way to find out if the lifts are broken. They tend to announce on there “the new plan is this” and they’ll announce a whole press release of this station by this year, this station by this year, or it just happens that I check the TfL journey planner and it gives me a new route which gives me a new station that I wouldn’t normally use. And I’m like “oh – they have step free access.” Also, the TfL access for all group I follow them quite a lot, so they seem to announce new places first because they have connections with TfL so it’s mostly social media.

What’s changed:

I see and know less about the new lifts and step free access at tube stations because I don’t live there anymore so I’m way less likely to just randomly wander into a newly step free station these days, my routes tend to focus on places I’ve already previously been. One way I find out about new station access that I forget to mention was Geoff Marshall’s YouTube channel, that was specifically how I found about the Bond Street lifts and new entrance, back when those were new.

Finally, with the definition of accessibility encompassing blind people, deaf people, people with autism, people with dementia etc., do you think a 100% accessible London is foreseeable in the future?

What I said then:

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be 100% accessible in terms of step free, I think that’s a possibility, but I think in terms of accessible in terms of all disability I don’t think that’s going to happen, just because I think that for people with autism and stuff like that it’s a lot about crowds, and obviously with it being London, in particular the central stations, it’s always going to be busy. So that’s going to have to be the way that it works. I’m not saying they have to put up with that, but I think that’s a fact that you can’t really get away from, the fact that particularly central London – I’ve been through Westminster in rush hour, and it’s too busy. I don’t think you can ever get away from that and I’m not sure how they would work to make that accessible. I think step free accessibility, 100%, it’s a possibility. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen because you know – TfL. But I don’t think full accessibility for everyone it going to happen. I would like to see it happen, but I don’t know.

What’s changed:

I think this is the answer I wanted to change most since the interview. I feel like maybe it could be read like I was creating a pedestal for step free access and saying, “step free access has to happen and well nothing else is possible” and if that IS how it comes across, I want to make it clear that’s totally NOT what I meant. I just meant more in the fact of access for all is obviously the goal but, having watched TFL make an absolute farce of improving step free access, I’m not holding my breath on them being able to achieve access for all without making a mess of it.

I hope this is an insight into my views of accessibility on the London underground as a wheelchair user, thanks to Colette for interviewing me. If you want to read more of her blog you can check out the link I put right at the start of this post.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

Those of you who’ve read my blog of my trip to see Kaiser Chiefs in Kingston at the end of July will know that I booked an accessible room at one of the Travelodges in Kingston. But when I arrived to check in I found that there were no accessible rooms left for me. Sooooo basically I’d paid for something specifically so I could access it as a solo wheelchair user and didn’t get what I’d paid for. With that personal experience in mind, here are my top 5 tips for what to do in these situations.

  1. Identify the Issue & Why It’s Happened

So, first thing’s first, identify the issue. Is there an issue with the booked hotel not be as accessible as stated or not having the stated equipment or adaptations available in the actual room? Or it that, like me, the booked accessible room was simply not available?

The next step is to find out why it’s happened, is it a human staff error (like a wrong entry into a booking system or a note missing about accessibility requirements)? Is it a misinformation issue (Stating some accessibility information on the website that doesn’t actually exist at the hotel)? Or is it, as in my case, a systems issue (whereby the system shows more accessible rooms for sale than there actually are)? The cause of the issue can inform point 3 below.

  1. Minimum Requirements

Another point is to work out what your minimum requirements are. In other words what is the minimum level of accessibility you require for a comfortable stay? For example, in my situation I could make a standard room (as opposed to an accessible room) work as long as I could fit my electric chair in, I mean I’d have to crawl to the bathroom, but I was willing to do that for a one night stay but I know for some people that’s not possible. What I’m saying here is you know your accessibility needs and don’t accept anything that you’re not comfortable with in terms of the accessibility you require.

  1. Remain Calm

Now I’ll admit this next point is something I don’t always do, and I should probably start following my own advice, but it’s best to try and remain calm. Believe me, I know this is easier said than done as accessibility issues are BEYOND frustrating. But, in the case of issues caused by system errors (this is why it’s important to identify the cause of the issue in point 1), it is likely not to be the staff’s fault and yelling won’t change anything. Obviously getting some kind of resolution is necessary but it’s probably easier to do if you’re as calm as possible. Again, I know this one isn’t easy and I’m not the calmest person in the face of accessibility issues. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I was a pushover when it comes to lack of access.

  1. Don’t Settle If You’re Not Happy

As I mentioned resolutions in the previous point. It’s important to remember you don’t have to settle for a hotel’s resolution to a problem if you’re not happy with it. For example, In my situation I was offered a move to another hotel with travel expenses paid for by the Travelodge, but I declined this as I’d picked my hotel due to its location, and by moving hotels I’d be losing the aforementioned location.

  1. Keep Record of Issue(s) and Find Out Complaints Procedure

Finally, find out the complaints procedure (in my case it was an online form followed by some emails with the customer services team and it’s probably likely to be like this but make sure you know). Also, keep a record of the issue(s) in case you are delayed in making a complaint (e.g. Needing to wait until you return from a trip and have decent internet connection. A record can be kept through messages to friends and family (like I did) or a note in a notebook… Orrrrrr you could start a blog.

Hope these tips are of use to someone

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Brunel University Experience as a Disabled Student – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Surprising

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 this Guardian article, 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)

Accessible Fashion

Wrestling hat? Check! Coloured jeans? Check! Boots? Check! Typical Invincible Woman On Wheels fashion Photo Credit: Nikki Barker

Fashion isn’t something I usually think about in terms of access and disability, to be fair fashion isn’t something I really think about full stop. But I realised in a recent shopping trip that I actually make a lot of fashion choices based on how my disability and that being a wheelchair user plays into wearing certain things.

With that in mind, this is going to be a head to toe run through (pun intended) of what I tend to where and the things I have to consider when buying new clothes.

Before you read about my fashion choices, why not check this out?

Disclosure: The link below is an affiliate link meaning I will earn a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through this link.

Want to display some #DisabilityPride or show support for the disabled community? shop Uncomfortable Revolution for great clothes, accessories, stationery and more! https://bit.ly/3gGEtsI

Shirts

When it comes to shirts and t-shirts, buttons and fasteners are difficult due to the fine motor control issues that come with cerebral palsy. This means that t-shirts are my  usual style as there are no buttons involved. Mostly I wear either band tees or MMA tees (see a small selection of my MMA tees below). Oddly enough, my other regular choice is a plaid shirt. These are usually worn open over a t-shirt, so I don’t have to deal with the buttons,  or I’ll just deal with the struggle of doing the buttons for the fashion and wear it buttoned up.

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A small part of my MMA tees collection (One UFC Liverpool shirt and 2 Cage Warriors shirts)

Dresses

These are not something I often wear for 2 reasons: a) those who know me personally will know I dress in what you’d probably call  tomboy style where it’s basically jeans and t shirt regardless of anything, but maybe that’s to do with b) how dresses look when you’re stood in them is different to how they look or sit when you’re sat down, which is kind of important considering I spend most of my time sat down. They also tend to ride up which means they have to be longer than they usually would be if I was stood up , which is not difficult given that I’m quite short so things generally tend to be long on me. It also means I’m constantly pulling dresses down or wondering how they look to everyone else which can make me quite self-conscious.

Shorts, Skirts & Jeans

Similarly, to dresses, shorts and skirts tend to ride a little higher when sitting down, which again leads to constantly having to pull them down. There’s also the issue of buttons (particularly on shorts) that I mentioned earlier in the Shirts section. A secondary point here is also issues with belts, mostly the issues of hand eye coordination when it comes to threading a belt through belt loops. The amount of times I accidentally miss a belt loop is ridiculous! My go to in this section would be jeans, specifically soft skinny jeggings type coloured jeans (red, burgundy (both pictured) green, and I’m pretty sure I had some purple ones at one point too). I prefer these as they’re comfier material to be physically sat in all day and involve no buttons. They also avoid the problem of heavy denim when wet (I’m a “jeans in all weathers” kind of girl!).

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My red jeans and burgundy jeans

Shoes

Once I’d gotten out of foot splints and therefore out of Velcro strap shoes (the only type that would fit over the splints) I said I would never wear those kind of shoes again . Nowadays, you’ll most likely find me in Converse style shoes, but not the high top sort as  a lack of  ankle flexion makes it difficult for me to bend my feet into the shoes. Similarly, with boots or sandals, those need to have a zip all the way down otherwise I can’t get  my foot in (again because ankle flex issues). With dolly shoes, it’s a question of how often I’m going to walk in them as I have to be  careful about whether they’ll slip off without an ankle strap to keep them on my feet.

Accessories/Miscellaneous

It’s  not often you’ll see me  wearing necklaces or bracelets as the chains and clasps can be difficult with the fine motor control issues I mentioned earlier. However, there is  one I do wear often which a bracelet with a ball which you push and pull to loosen or tighten the chain (pictured below). I’m also developing a small baseball cap collection (see below). I prefer these over sunglasses for keeping the sun out of my eyes because, being someone who already wears glasses, I’d have to have prescription sunglasses and I KNOW I’d forget to switch between the two when necessary. The other item, particularly worth talking about now we’re heading into the summer holiday season is bikinis. I can’t use most bikinis by myself as they involve straps you have to tie behind your back which is an absolute NIGHTMARE if you have  hand eye coordination issues as I’ve already mentioned I do. This means bikinis for me have to either have a clasp at the back like a standard bra or a clasp at the front like the one I just purchased!

I hope you enjoyed this rundown of how accessibility and disability affects my fashion choices. I could probably go into the accessibility of changing rooms here as well, but I feel that deserves its own post, let me know if that’s something you’d like me to discuss.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Disabled Not Broken

Cardiff, you are stunning! All photo credits: Keshia Asare

Time to chat about an assumption that’s been bugging me for a while. This whole idea that disabled people are broken and somehow need to be healed or fixed. This usually comes from people giving out leaflets about healers (usually religious healers or trying to persuade me to join a church, if we’re being specific). It also usually comes with the question “Can I pray for you?”. I’ve discussed why this particular question, among other statements, irks me before. However, I felt the need to go in depth on this one as, frankly I’ve had enough. I’ll discuss 2 specific incidents that broke my patience with this issue, but these aren’t the only times this kind of incident has happened.

The Post Cage Warriors 100 incident

Before I get into this incident, I must stress this happened when we were back in London AFTER returning from Cardiff, before anyone gets the idea that this happened coming out of the arena from CW100 or anything. Now, back to the story: We (my friend Kiki and I) were waiting for our first bus back to Uxbridge after returning from a weekend in Cardiff for Cage Warriors 100 when a man approached us and handed Kiki a leaflet, and then he started talking about how we should join the meeting at the church on the leaflet and various other church related things. At this point I’m thinking “oh here we go” because, when people start inviting me to church, their next line tends to be “Can I pray for you?”. Sure enough, those were the next words out of this gentleman’s mouth (or more precisely “can I pray for your healing?”), to which I (VERY politely, considering my internal monologue) responded “no thank you, I’m disabled, not broken” (yep, my blog post title is a quote from myself). The man certainly looked like my response had wounded his pride, but you asked, so I gave you my answer.

Now, before anyone brings up the “I’m sure he meant well”, “I’m sure he was trying to help/do good in some way”. It’s gotten to the point where I no longer care about “good intentions”. Because telling me you’ve basically decided I need to change a fundamental part of who I am is NEVER good. I’m thoroughly sick of this implication that I MUST be broken and suffering and need healing somehow.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some disabled people do want their illness or disability to go away and MAY want to be healed, but we need to stop generalising. Being disabled does not automatically mean I’m depressed about my life, or sad, or broken, or suffering in some way. Disabled just means I’m disabled, nothing else to it. If someone ASKS for your prayers, by all means give them, but stop assuming that JUST because I’m disabled, I MUST need healing!

This was also was particularly upsetting in light of the fact that I’d just come back from one of the weekends of my life in Cardiff. I don’t think I can ever fully articulate how demoralising it is to be riding high off the back off one of the best weekends of your life, a weekend where you were just one of a room full of people , of a FAMILY, all there to watch an MMA show, who didn’t care in the slightest about the chair, where it made no difference at all, and then have an incident like this happen. An incident that makes you realise “it doesn’t matter what I do, where I go or what I say, part of society STILL thinks I’m broken and need to be healed to be the best me”. When that realisation hit me, I genuinely wanted to cry a little bit. Definitely brought me crashing down from the Cage Warriors hype. But then I realised that if that man had seen what I’d just come back from in Cardiff he wouldn’t have thought I was suffering or upset with the life I have or wanting to change it AT ALL. And THAT’S why I write about all my adventures, to show the world this isn’t a sad or broken existence that need healing from. Far from it. It’s the only life I’ve ever known, the only life I ever want to know, and you do not need to pray for me.

The Tesco incident

Now, for a different story. One with quite a boring beginning. I’d nipped to Tesco with my friend Dev for some bits and pieces for our brunch, surely that can’t end in too much hassle? OH BOY WERE WE WRONG. As Dev’s unloading my wheelchair from her car, I see a guy trying to shove a leaflet in her direction, she stated that she was busy. Fine, I thought, assuming it was a leaflet for someone’s local cleaning business or something.

Then the next thing I heard was “do you not think it’s messed up trying to hand me a leaflet for a HEALER when you can OBVIOUSLY see I’m unloading my DISABLED friend’s WHEELCHAIR?! I spun round (and waved from the front, with a giant smile on my face, through the open boot to highlight my existence as said disabled friend because I’m kinda petty like that) eager to hear the man’s response to this whole idea of “disabled equals in need of healing” being raised.

His response did NOT help. He immediately became defensive and said, “all you had to do was take the leaflet”.  Very much a “just do as you’re told” response. I get that handing out these leaflets is someone’s job and they need a salary, but if your immediate response to someone’s no and bringing up a valid issue with the way you’re doing things is to get defensive and tell people to just take the leaflet, that’s going to make it even less likely for me to take the leaflet, just for the simple fact that I’m not gonna do what an angry defensive man tells me to in a supermarket car park.

Once the man had left, I noticed a woman walking towards Dev. I assumed she was coming to have a go at us for the refusing the man’s leaflet and everything else, but she in fact just came and said “that was very wrong of him” or words to that effect, and it was nice to hear those words of support. More to the point, Mr leaflet man, if WITNESSES who don’t even KNOW me, can tell that you approaching me with this healer leaflet is wrong, then doesn’t that tell you something?!

Also, I was literally just going food shopping, nothing extravagant, nothing spectacular, just food shopping like every other person, can I seriously not even go and pick up my dinner without society trying to somehow remind me that I’m broken and need healing?

The moral of these stories is: I don’t need your pity, I don’t need your prayers, I’m not broken, I’m not sad and I don’t need healing. Yes, I’m living life as a disabled person but that isn’t a BAD thing. I’m living my best life and I’m bloody happy about it!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Venture Competition Pitch Speech

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

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

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

Where did this start?

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

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

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

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

Where are we now?

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Invisible Woman on Wheels

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

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

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there”

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

“Watch where you’re going!”

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

“I didn’t think about that”

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

“We aren’t accessible”

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

Aaaaaaaand finally…

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)