Camden Electric Ballroom Accessibility Comparisons – Collaboration with Artie Carden

The accessibility reviews are BACK! well sort of. Today I’m collaborating with Artie Carden (check out their Instagram and Youtube too!) to compare our experiences with accessibility at the Electric Ballroom in Camden at 2 different types of event, comparing my experience at a club night to their experience at a concert.

The first thing to say is that Artie and I have different disabilities which means we have different access needs. Those different access needs will of course make our experiences somewhat different, alongside attending different events.

Now, in terms of those differing disabilities, those of you who know me personally or have been following for a while will know I’m Em, I’m a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and this means for events I usually need a wheelchair accessible venue with a wheelchair accessible spot for me alongside a carer/assistant ticket. In terms of their disability, In Artie’s own words:  

“I have Crohn’s disease, hyper mobility syndrome and Takayasu’s arteritis. I am able to walk and stand but not for long periods of time, and occasionally use a walking stick (I normally will use one for concerts). I need to know if a venue has loads of steps, as I can walk up and down them but not  many of them so lifts or ramps are better for me. I have been to a few gigs without a carer/assistant but I think I would prefer to go with someone after my few experiences. I would need a chair with a back, at least, and an easily accessible bathroom. My Takayasu’s has also led to limited mobility in my dominant arm which can make it hard to walk with a stick and carry something (drink or ticket etc). Access to water is also really important for me in case I feel like taking pain medication is necessary.”

In terms of the ticket buying and collection experience, for the club night you could either prebook a space on the guest list via social media or pay on entry on the night. There was no specific accessible ticket. In terms of the gig, it was a case of sending a form of evidence of disability (such as receipt of disability benefit ) and then the venue stated they would sort an accessible seat and Artie would not have to queue. All seems fine right? nope, there was then a problem collecting ticket from the box office as the staff were not aware that accessible tickets were for box office collection and were therefore, how to put this “less than helpful” and quite dismissive and tried to insinuate that accessible tickets couldn’t be picked up at the box office.

On arrival at the club night, I made myself known to security and was then led to a separate entrance to get in, that meant going over the famous Camden cobbles which my back did NOT appreciate. Artie’s experience at the gig was somewhat similar in terms of the risk of injury because, unlike most venues which let those in accessible seating areas in first to get situated before the rush of the general standing and seated ticket holders, Electric Ballroom just let everyone in at once which of course risks injuring people, especially disabled patrons and those with extra needs who may be more prone to injuries.

In terms of my overall experience at the club night, I had to stay on one level of the club as there was no lift to the upper level. This was kind of an issue since there were different types of music playing on each level and the kind of music I like was on the level I couldn’t reach. The night out becomes somewhat pointless if you can’t do what you want to do or listen to the songs you enjoy most.

Artie’s experience at the concert was even more inaccessible as the “accessible seating” was upstairs (bear in mind my “no lift” comment from earlier) the concept of seating upstairs is a very inaccessible version of accessible seating, at least check the access needs of your patrons so you can provide them with an actual accessible experience! The toilets were also inaccessible as they were down more stairs, which is quite the issue because those of you who’ve tried singing along to an entire concert without at least water to keep you hydrated will know it’s pretty near impossible (and also not the best idea in general). There were also no backs to the “accessible” seating which caused Artie an injury. Yet another instance of “actually ask the access needs of your patrons so you can provide an accessible experience that doesn’t, you know, actually injure them!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this collaboration and it provides some insight into how our experiences at different types of events within the same venue can present both similar and different issues.

Stay Invincible!

Emma and Artie

London Underground 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)

How NOT to Travel From Euston to Uxbridge as a Wheelchair User

Those of you who’ve been with me for a while will remember my post about my first train trip up to Birmingham for Cage Warriors 98. Now what I didn’t tell you is what happened AFTER we got off the train, between Euston and Uxbridge. Well here’s that story, strap in and prepare because it’s a whole roller coaster ride!

On Train

It all started while we were still on the train back to Euston. I saw on the Metropolitan line twitter that the Euston Square tube station (the station I intended to use to get home) lift was broken. That was fine, as I’d just roll on to Kings Cross, which wasn’t that much further. I then saw on a different twitter account that the Euston Square lift was fixed so I reverted back to the Euston Square plan as I originally wanted to. On arrival at Euston, after my incredibly sarcastic answer to “do you need a ramp?” (I mentioned that in the other post but it’s the sassiest I’ve ever been so I shall forever mention it), we made our way out of Euston. In hindsight, we should have probably waited for clear concrete confirmation that the Euston Square lift was working before heading off, but they say hindsight’s 20/20.

At Euston Square

On arrival at Euston Square, we found out that the lift was actually still broken. So, with that knowledge, I told the staff I needed a taxi to the next accessible station as is the rule in these situations. I was then told this was not protocol, something that I continued to be told even after I’d shown the staff member a screenshot from the TFL website, and so that staff member disappeared to locate their manager, convinced I still wasn’t telling the truth. Granted, at this point, I probably should have just walked on to Kings Cross about 10 minutes away but I was quite annoyed about being told I was incorrect and essentially lying about being entitled to a taxi to the next accessible station, so I decided to stand my ground. Eventually, the manager returned and said yes I was entitled to a taxi (I knew THAT) and we waited like an hour for said taxi.

In taxi and at Kings Cross

Before I hopped in the taxi, I confirmed that TFL were paying for it, and this was confirmed for me, because the taxi company had a contract with TFL for these kind of trips from an inaccessible station to an accessible one. However, when we got to Kings Cross, the driver requested payment from us, despite already being paid by TFL as far as we knew, and wouldn’t let us move away until we gave him money. So I had to pay £10 I knew I didn’t owe him personally, to be able to go get the train.

At Kings Cross – Metropolitan and Piccadilly line

Once we were actually inside Kings Cross, we first tried to use the Metropolitan line, but that was out of service between Kings Cross and Uxbridge, so we had to use the Piccadilly line for the same route. This meant my friends phone died and she wouldn’t be able to tap out on exit despite having tapped in on her phone.

On Piccadilly line

When we finally get on the Piccadilly line, I was aware my friend and I were exiting at 2 different destinations, However, that was fine, even though I was in my manual wheelchair, because I knew I was going straight to my destination on a single train and had someone to meet me there. EXCEPT, it didn’t happen like that, the train terminated early at an inaccessible station, even though TFL are not supposed to terminate trains early at inaccessible stations when they KNOW they have a wheelchair user onboard! Luckily, I was able to contact my friend Nikki who was waiting for me at Uxbridge so she could let them know and have them coordinate the situation with the station I was at on my behalf (shout out Uxbridge station for always being super helpful with access in my 4 years living there, and particularly in this situation). I was then then taken off the terminated train and put back on a different train going all the way to Uxbridge, and EVENTUALLY made it back to Uxbridge about 4 HOURS after I left Euston

Hopefully, this gives some insight into what is probably the worst inaccessibility debacle of my time in London

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Cage Warriors 111 (Train Travel from Birmingham New Street to London Euston as a Wheelchair User, and Indigo At The O2 Wheelchair Accessibility Review)

An absolutely mammoth train travel/access review post for you today. Birmingham New Street to London Euston and back with West Midlands Trains and Virgin Trains (which now no longer exists) and an access review of Indigo At The O2 for Cage Warriors 111.

(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!)

Train & Tube Outbound

Tickets

Tickets were booked through Trainline as usual and I booked the train assistance through Cross Country Trains. I did it this way, despite Cross Country not being one of the companies I travelled with, because both West Midlands Trains and Virgin trains insisted on having my wheelchair dimensions before booking the ramp and this was not something I’d ever previously been asked for before on any journey with any train company so it wasn’t information I was willing to suddenly have to give.

Birmingham New Street to Euston to Uxbridge

I arrived at the New Street assistance reception 20 minutes before the train and was taken to the platform and put on the train with a ramp by assistance. There are no wheelchair space reservations allowed on West Midlands Trains (operator for this leg of the journey) but luckily there was a free wheelchair space for me to occupy. The catch was that it was next to the toilet, which is interesting when the toilet door slams every 10 minutes and you have a ridiculous startle reflex like mine. When it came time to get off the train, I had a short wait for assistance before the ramp turned up, then it was time to head for the Tube. Specifically, I headed for Euston Square. I made my way through a gate line and to the platform to find there were no staff anywhere to call ahead to Uxbridge and confirm I could disembark. The only staff member I could see was stood at a gate line which was up some stairs, which meant I had to sit at the bottom of said stairs and shout for assistance (it’s a good job I’ve learned to yell loudly over the years). However, the staff member did inform that the wheelchair access at Euston Square was only in one direction so in order to make the return journey for my train home I’d have to go on to Kings Cross on the Metropolitan line and then come back on myself, oh if only the return journey was that simple!

Indigo At The O2 Access Review

Tickets

Initially, I phoned Indigo At The O2 for a wheelchair space ticket and carer ticket for Cage Warriors 111 and was told there were none left, with no mention of possible single wheelchair space tickets being available. Of course, as is standard in 2020, I headed to Twitter to express my disappointment at not being able to secure a ticket. I was particularly disappointed as there was a specific fighter (shout out Paddy Pimblett) who I was desperate to see fight live (and still am). That tweet kind of exploded and gained reaction in a way I never expected with many people trying to help me out (shout out, Paddy, Molly McCann and MMA Twitter for helping me secure an answer and a ticket from the venue). Through this reaction, I was put in touch with the venue who were able to tell me there was a single wheelchair space (no carer) ticket left for what I believe was the venue’s only access platform. Forget Cinderella shall go to the ball, Em shall go to the fights!

Travel

Travel was pretty similar to all my other trips to the O2 complex. I took the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Wembley Park with no ramp used, although they do have ramps. I could have used Finchley Road but they refused as it would be “easier” to use Wembley Park (easier on them I assume). I then went from Wembley Park to North Greenwich on the Jubilee line and was met off the tube and guided out of North Greenwich station. On the way back into the station post event, I was bumped and barged repeatedly whilst queuing to enter the station and on my way through the station. I then HAD to get on the busiest tube out of North Greenwich to make sure I didn’t miss the last Metropolitan line train out of Wembley Park towards Uxbridge. This meant I had to sit in the middle of the train not in the designated wheelchair space (because people were stood there). THAT meant I had to just lock my arm straight to hold onto the central pole and steady my chair in case it slid around. My arm was also repeatedly leant on to the point I thought my joints might dislocate. Thankfully I made the last Metropolitan line from Wembley to Uxbridge and then had a short wait for the ramp at Uxbridge.

Experience & Seating

On arrival at the venue, I went through a ticket check and was then led to my seat on the platform. In terms of view, I had probably one of the best views of fighter walkout that I’ve ever had, with fighter walkout being immediately to my left, I was, however, a little further back than I have been for other shows in terms of view into the cage. There was also only the one small platform which meant it was quite packed and full. I did hear an assistance staff member say the platform was “not meant for so many big wheelchairs” which baffled me completely because wheelchair dimensions had never been mentioned when I bought my ticket an, let’s face it, if access is only accessible for those with certain sizes or types of mobility aids, it’s not REALLY access. The good thing about this platform was it was right next to an accessible toilet which meant toilet trips didn’t involve trekking across the venue.

Tube, Bus & Train Return

For the beginning of my return journey back to Birmingham, there were maintenance works on Metropolitan line between Wembley Park and Aldgate. That meant that my journey back to Euston was as follows: Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Wembley Park, then the Jubilee line from there to Bond Street, THEN the Central from there to Tottenham Court Road and finally a bus to Euston station. I made myself known at the Euston assistance desk and was then told to make my own way to the platform. I waited there and was then met by assistance staff who used a ramp to put me on the train. As per my usual gripes with Virgin Trains, there was a tight corridor and door to navigate to make it to my seat, but there was more space in the wheelchair space than I expected given how insistent they were about knowing my wheelchair dimensions prior to my attempted assistance booking. Once I arrived back at New Street, I was taken off the train pretty immediately and was able to wheel away out of the station and back to university accommodation.

I hope this shows my adventures as a wheelchair user for a weekend in the capital for the fights. Thanks as always to Cage Warriors for putting on a brilliant show and I can’t wait to be back in March for CW113

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Travelling from Birmingham New Street to London Euston as a Wheelchair User? Here’s How I Did It

Another train travel blog! This time Birmingham New Street to London Euston (with West Midlands Railway) for an interview!

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

Tickets were booked through Red Spotted Hanky which meant I had to physically print them at the station. On the day of travel, I arrived at the Birmingham New Street assistance desk 20 minutes before departure, having prebooked my assistance, and was put straight on the train when it arrived with no hassle.

On Train

On the train, the wheelchair space gave me a large amount of space and was situated directly opposite the accessible toilet. Speaking of toilets, wheelchair – toilet transfers on moving trains are bloody difficult with just one grab rail!

Disembarking & Leaving at London Euston

On arrival at Euston, there was a delay with getting the assistance for me to disembark. I must say thank you to the fellow passenger who found and unlocked/ moved the ramp and attempted to put it down for me himself, I appreciate that you understood I had places to be and couldn’t wait forever for assistance and I’m sorry you were yelled at. It was also quite difficult to find and get out to the buses from the station to continue my journey.

Return

Getting On at London Euston

On arrive back at the station, I had to get all the way across the main area of the station from the entrance to the assistance area. That’s quite a long and difficult way through people when it’s busy, e.g. Friday afternoon (can ANYONE guess when I travelled?!) . I must thank the assistance staff at Euston for working to put me on an earlier train than my assistance was booked on.

On Train

It was VERY busy on the train. I managed to getting into the wheelchair space but the train then very quickly became standing room only with people crowded into every space on the train.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

When it came to disembarking, working out how to move safely to the doors of the busy train from the wheelchair space was a worry. However, I’d like to say thank you to my fellow passengers for helping me get through to the doors and to staff at Birmingham New Street staff for being there at the train door on our arrival and not making me wait for assistance.

I hope this post gives insight into travelling between Birmingham and London as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Kaiser Chiefs at Kingston Pryzm (Travel, Hotel and Venue Wheelchair Accessibility Review)

Another access review (of sorts), for this, I’m reviewing my entire experience as a solo, disabled, travelling gig goer for Kaiser Chiefs album release show at Kingston Pryzm. This means I’m putting a train/tube travel review, a hotel review and a venue access review all in one, so it’ll be a little different to my usual access reviews, but hopefully give a fuller picture of my experience.

(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!)

Train/Tube

Travelling on the hottest day on record (or the hottest July day on record? Either way it was bloody warm) , I expected to have travel issues using the train from Chippenham to London Paddington and back and then tubes and a bus across London, but to my surprise there were no issues. My tickets were booked through Trainline as usual. Then I ended up getting on an earlier train than my booked assistance, on both the outbound and return journey to try and negate any potential travel issues, and getting an earlier train proved to be no issue. Once I arrived at Paddington it was a case of taking 2 tubes and a bus to Kingston. Specifically, I took the Circle line from Paddington to Hammersmith, the District line from Hammersmith to Richmond and then a bus to Kingston and a short walk from there to the hotel.

Hotel

 I had some issues with my stay at Travelodge Kingston Upon Thames Central. Simply that I was not provided with the accessible room I had booked due to a system issue, but I made the situation work. On the whole, the room was functional, it was basic but good for a one night gig stay over sort of situation like I was doing. The one thing I couldn’t fault was the location as it was just a short walk from both the bus stop and the venue. It’s also worth saying that since this experience I’ve had a 50% refund on this stay and have had another stay in this hotel where I stayed in an accessible room with a full accessible wet room.

Venue

I hadn’t been to a Banquet Records show since the venue switch from the Hippodrome to Pryzm had been made. However, buying tickets was the same process of buying through the Banquet Records site and leaving a note re access needs in the booking notes. On the night, once I’d been through the ID check I made myself known to Banquet staff who took me around the metal detector and through the bag check. I was then taken up in a lift where the button had to be held the entire duration of the ride up. I think this is a better access format than it was at the Hippodrome as those who’ve read my Hippodrome review will know that access to the accessible viewing platform there was via a slightly questionable ramp. I was then taken to the specific disabled access boxes at Pryzm which I believe are higher up than the access platform at the Hippodrome and therefore provide a better view, they also involve not having to go down any sort of ramp like the one I mentioned earlier from the Hippodrome!

I hope this guide to my entire experience of this gig is helpful!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheel

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.

51F79754-0DA3-4891-8183-C60CEB36BC25

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

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)

Travelling from Chippenham to London Paddington (via Swindon) as a Wheelchair User? Here’s How I Did It

Time for another train blog! This time it’s from Chippenham to London Paddington and back again for Arctic Monkeys at The O2

Outbound

Ticket Buying/ Assistance Booking & Getting on at Chippenham

I bought my ticket on Trainline including my Disabled Persons railcard discount. I booked an open return as I wasn’t sure when I’d be coming back the next day, I was aware that that may cause issues with booking assistance. When it came to booking assistance for the outbound journey, I was warned assistance was not guaranteed because I had not booked 24 hours in advance (my train was at 8:40am the next day and I booked assistance at like 10:30am the morning before or something!). The idea of not being assisted on to or off a train already scares me so I would appreciate it if train companies didn’t make it worse. Besides which, where’s the idea of spontaneity for wheelchair users if they HAVE to book 24 hours in advance?! I was however, told I could book my return assistance later and not in one call. When I arrived at Chippenham to travel, the train I was supposed to catch had a long delay, so I was put on a train to Swindon to catch it there. However, when I got off at Swindon, I found that my original train was cancelled, so I was just put on the next train to Paddington.

On Train

Onboard, the train I was originally booked on was a new style train, but this one ended up being an old-style train. Because of this, booking actually felt pretty much pointless as the wheelchair space I’d reserved was no longer reserved, thankfully there was one free. This train ended up also being standing room only, so I worried about getting assistance off such a busy train, but the GWR Twitter team assured me Paddington knew I was on the train and I would be met.

Disembarking & Leaving at London Paddington

On arrival at Paddington, my worries were well founded as no assistance turned up. I had at least a 10-minute wait and had to ask for help from multiple other passengers and the train manager (or driver I’m not quite sure) to get assistance off the train. Once off, I headed to the Tube to head for Uxbridge.

Return

Getting on at London Paddington

For the return journey, I arrived at Paddington 30 mins early as requested and was pretty much put straight on the train. When I booked assistance, the train I was getting was supposed to be an old-style train, but it was actually a new style train. This meant that the wheelchair space reservation I’d made AGAIN didn’t exist. 

On Train

Onboard the train, I was able to get a free coffee because I HAVE to sit in 1st class on the new style trains as it’s where the only wheelchair space is. Free coffee is a small perk, I guess. This whole disability thing has to have SOME perks, right?

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham

When I arrived at Chippenham, the assistance to get me off the train was already there, and I was able to disembark and leave the station straight away 

Thanks to Arctic Monkeys for putting on a fabulous show and reminding me why I love them so much! I hope this post gives another insight into travelling into/out of London on the train as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)