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.

Castle and Falcon, Birmingham

Of course we had to have a new number 1 after this review went live. I just…so simply brilliant. Bought a ticket, got in (via step free entrance), watched the gig, went to the bar and managed to use the accessible bathroom. All without having to ask a single question or worry about a single thing. A refreshing venue experience and just the way gigs should be.

Bristol Bierkeller

The number two 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.

O2 Institute2, Birmingham

Other than a small issue getting in (which could have been partly my driving as well as an access issue) and a minor argument with security about a metal barrier, I would rate this venue highly for accessibility and would feel very comfortable going back.

Lyric Hammersmith

Next up is 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. This is another venue that’s been refurbished since I did this review so it would be interesting to know how access may have changed with the refurb.

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.

York Hall, London (Bethnal Green)

My main issue was the dodgy looking stairlift that looked old and ready to break at any given moment. I worry what will happen when that stairlift does give out, and what they will have in place for access as and when it does. I suspect the answer is “there is no plan UNTIL the inevitable happens”. But I really believe all venues should have a plan for when their access fails, if it involves lifts/stairlifts particularly, because the mechanical elements WILL fail eventually.

BEC Arena, Manchester

Whilst there were no major accessibility issues in regards to booking tickets or my seats, The one area where this venue falls down is safe travel to and from events. As a wheelchair user, taxis often refuse to pick me up, and have refused multiple times from this venue. That combined with limited late night public transport means I am often faced with a 45 minute walk back to even the nearest hotels, not the safest option as a solo, female, disabled traveller.

Charter Hall Colchester

Whilst I found this venue to be quite accessible when I got in. Getting in was quite an issue as neither the ticket sellers (Eventim) or the venue initially seemed to know who was in charge of accessible ticket sales. Furthermore, it seemed that ticket sales had started BEFORE accessible tickets were actually sorted and available, and I firmly believe that tickets shouldn’t be on sale until you’re able to put both standard and access tickets on sale AT THE SAME TIME.

Camden Electric Ballroom

I feel this venue is the perfect example of “accessibility doesn’t just mean getting into the venue”. I was able to physically get into the venue fairly easy. But it was quite an isolating experience in a way. The only way off of the  wheelchair access platform was to exit the venue entirely, with no independent access to merch or the bar. My friends were also told to leave the platform immediately when they came to say hello.

O2 Academy2, Birmingham

I feel like this was another example of “accessibility doesn’t just mean getting into the venue”. I was able to physically get into the venue fairly easy. But, once I was in the RIGHT ROOM, the access platform was quite tight and there was no real way to get away from that, as the only other way out was to leave the room entirely. We as wheelchair users also had no access to the merch stall and were only able to get merch by effectively yelling our order down to merch staff for the entire venue to hear.

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.

O2 Academy Birmingham

The reason for this ranking where it does is simply that (other than the hassle regarding the last minute tickets), there wasn’t really too much to report in terms of good or bad accessiblity. This means that, like the Resorts World Arena review above, it’s difficult to rank O2 Academy Birmingham at either the “good” or “bad” end of my accessibility scale as there wasn’t much that was memorable about the experience TO rank.

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. This is another venue that’s been refurbished since I did this review so it would be interesting to know how access may have changed with the refurb, although I know I still can’t access that upstairs level.

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 the 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).

Cardiff Castle

My main issue with Cardiff Castle as a gig venue (and why it ranks so low here) is the lack of cover for the access platform. It just seems somewhat ridiculous to me to have an outdoor gig. In Wales. Where it rains A LOT. Tell us NOT to bring umbrellas and have no cover AT ALL. It seems particularly dangerous too when many disabled people are immunocompromised and cannot be out exposed to wet weather for as long as were were. This meant some people at the gig I attended left before the main act even came on because they weren’t physically able to cope in the torrential rain any longer. It’s also quite dangerous given that some disabled people (like me) attended these gigs in ELECTRIC wheelchairs, and we all know electrics and water don’t mix. This issue with the lack of cover was compounded by the fact that stage times for the show were never publicised and the first band started an hour and a half after gates opened, so we were sat exposed to the weather for significantly longer than necessary.

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.

Utilita Arena Birmingham

This may seem like a bit of a low ‘mean’ ranking. However,  between the VERY dodgy looking accessible entrance (wheeling through a car park to wait outside an unlit entrance really isn’t fun), the fact there’s was only ONE wheelchair accessible entrance pointed out in an arena size venue, and the fact I had to battle with staff to be able to re enter to exit through that ONE accessible entrance, when it wasn’t well signposted in the first place, makes this ranking fair in my mind.

O2 Institute Birmingham (main room)

The reason this falls so low in the rankings is a combination of 2 things: One being the lift breakdown which stopped wheelchair access to 2 of the 3 rooms within the venue (the main room being one of those rooms). However, I know that lift breakdowns are just part of using mechanical equipment. The more frustrating part of this was the lack of communication. There’s nothing more gut wrenching than watching everyone walk into a gig you have a ticket for but can no longer access. Especially when you booked the access just hours earlier and no one raised an issue.

Alexandra Palace

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

HMV Oxford Street

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

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)

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

I recently headed to London (O2 Academy Islington, to be precise) to see Picture This (an Irish band I’m mildly obsessed with) in concert. This involved taking a train from Chippenham to London Paddington (and back again the following day). This post recounts those journeys in full.

Outbound

Ticket Buying, Assistance Booking & Getting on at Chippenham

I bought my ticket on Trainline, my go to website (and app!) for train tickets. All I had to do was select the stations I’d be travelling from and to, add my Disabled Persons railcard to get the discount and pick my train. I chose an open return ticket because I was going to a farewell get together for one of my university friends the day after the gig so was not sure what time I’d be leaving London. It remained to be seen whether this open return would prove a problem when booking wheelchair assistance for the journey. These tickets were also mobile tickets which was not something I’d encountered before.

On Train

When boarding the train, I realised it was one of the old style GWR trains so I was sat in standard class , which isn’t a problem, and I was aware of where I’d be sat because I’d prebooked a wheelchair space and the wheelchair space is in a different carriage depending on whether it’s an old or new train) so I guess that’s more just a note for everyone else (I’ll let you in on a secret, the wheelchair space on the new style trains is… IN FIRST CLASS!) . The one problem I had onboard was minor issues with luggage being placed in the wheelchair space around/ in front of me. When it comes to situations like that, it’s difficult for me to know how to react because I understand that there’s limited luggage space on trains, but also that wheelchair space is my space, I wouldn’t put my luggage in your seat, so I don’t really want your luggage in my spot.

Disembarking & Leaving at London Paddington

On arrival at Paddington the assistance was a little late turning up. This made me nervous as I didn’t want to end up stuck on the train going the opposite way and end up back where started. When assistance did turn up I almost had to disembark and drive straight into a wall because of how the train had lined up with the platform (I moved to the next carriage and disembarked there obviously). Once finally off the train, I headed to the Tube.

Return

Assistance Booking & Getting on at London Paddington

I booked my return assistance 24 hours before the train as is always requested. There was a miscommunication which meant my assistance was initially booked for the wrong train, but I managed to get that fixed. When I arrived at Paddington Tube station I was taken from the Tube station to the main train station by a member of Tube staff. However, I then found I couldn’t get on my booked train because the coach I’d booked had been locked out due to water damage & the other coach with a wheelchair space wouldn’t fit on the platform at Chippenham. This is the kind of situation I should have been prewarned about, it’s why train companies take your phone number when you book assistance! Needless to say, I was not best pleased about the extra half hour wait for the next train.

On Train

Onboard the train, it was an old-style train, so I was in standard class. Other than that, nothing really much happened. I tend to find my issues with train travel involve getting on/off the train and not the onboard experience.

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham

On arrival at Chippenham, I found they did not get the message about me being on a different train than stated on my original assistance booking, because the assistance just didn’t not turn up (mostly likely BECAUSE I was not on my booked train). Thankfully, the guard was able to get me off the train and I made my way home.

Thanks to Picture This for putting on a super cool show and one of the best I’ve ever been to. I hope this post gives an insight into travelling into/out of London on the train as a wheelchair user!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Three MORE Accessibility Issues With the London Underground

photo credit: @devplacephotos

While I’ve already discussed issues with the London Tube as a wheelchair user. I recently encountered 3 extra issues on my trip to North Greenwich station to head to the O2 for Arctic Monkeys live with my best friend Dev. This was certainly an eye-opening experience for Dev as to what it’s like travelling with me on the Tube.

The 3 issues were:

Step vs Gap

Some stations which are advertised as step free still have a gap between the platform and the train. As an example of how bad this problem is, we took 4 tube trains for this journey (Uxbridge – Wembley Park then Wembley Park to North Greenwich, and the same journey on the return), and had issues on 3 of them. These issues all ended with my front wheels getting stuck in the gap between the train and the platform. As can be expected, these situations left me terrified that I was going to fall onto the tracks. TFL (Transport For London) DO write the platform gaps at stations onto the map they hand out, so you can check platforms gaps at stations before you travel. But there are 2 problems with this: Firstly, I don’t explicitly know the dimensions of my chair, so I don’t KNOW what platform gaps it could handle. Secondly, why is the onus on me to have all this information about wheelchair dimensions and platform gaps to be able to travel safely? Can we not just make stations accessible or correctly label those that are fully accessible?

Arriving at Station to Lift Out of Service

When we arrived at North Greenwich station, we found that the lift from our side of the station to ticket level was out of order for planned maintenance. We were not informed of this when Wembley Park radioed through to inform North Greenwich we’d be turning up. This issue was compounded when North Greenwich refused to send assistance to meet us off the train, seen as how I didn’t need a ramp and therefore apparently didn’t need assistance (I mean, if I ask for assistance, I NEED assistance, but whatever). Thankfully there was a backup plan to get us out of the station using a different lift, but this was a backup plan we weren’t informed about. As you can imagine, this lead to quite the panic when we got off the train to the sight of no apparent access out of the station and no idea how we’d get to the gig.

Staff Instructions Not Matching Signage

Some stations have a sticker on certain platform doors stating, “board here for level access at such and such other station”. In our case we were at North Greenwich and the sticker indicated the carriage for level boarding at Wembley Park (our destination). Having noted this, I headed toward the sticker, because surely it would be the safest place for me to board? Apparently not, as a member of TFL staff redirected me to the other end of the platform. This decision led to issue 1 (where my front wheels got stuck in the platform gap) both when boarding and disembarking this train. My takeaway point here is to make sure that staff training, and communication matches the signage at stations because, after incidents like this, I am ALWAYS more inclined to follow station signage than staff instruction!

I hope this provides more insight into the issues with the London Tube system as a wheelchair user.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Islington O2 Academy Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Ellie Hart

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

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

Purchasing Tickets

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

Travel

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

Experience & Seating

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman on Wheels)

Lost Evenings II Wheelchair Accessibility Review (The Monarch, Roundhouse and Dingwalls)

Photo Credit: YoshiKyon

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

The Monarch

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

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

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

Roundhouse

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

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

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

Dingwalls

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

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

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

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

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

ANOTHER O2 Arena London Wheelchair Accessibility Review (For UFC Fight Night London 2018)

The view from W108 in the O2 arena. There are empty seats directly across the arena from this spots with 3 large screens at eye level and then the cage some distance below in the the centre of the arena.
The view from W108 in the O2 arena. There are empty seats directly across the arena from this spots with 3 large screens at eye level and then the cage some distance below in the the centre of the arena.

I know I’ve reviewed The O2 Arena before but this one specifically focuses on my experience at UFC Fight Night London 2018, which was so different to all my previous experiences. As usual, I’ll be splitting it into the ticket buying process, the journey to/from venue and seating/general experience at the event.

In terms of the ticket buying process, it was no different than my other O2 Arena experiences, other than the fact I got these tickets on presale rather than general sale.

Travel was way more complex due to Tube upgrades meaning Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines both didn’t run from Uxbridge. Getting there involved taking the U3 bus to Heathrow Central, then the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to Green Park and THEN the Jubilee line to North Greenwich. The return journey involved getting the Jubilee line to Bond Street where there were “access issues” to put it politely (dragging a powered wheelchair off a tube train to avoid being crushed by the doors is no mean feat , add to that the pathetic apology I received on the night and post complaint about the access issues and you have a a pretty standard Tube trip in a wheelchair. These are issues I often face as a wheelchair user on the Tube. There was then a loooooooooooong trip on the N207 back to Uxbridge (Night buses on St Patrick’s Day also no fun!)

The experience & seating was where I noticed the most difference. We had a much poorer view from W108 as opposed to W101 where I’ve been every other time. We were placed right at the back of the venue and were not guided or directed to our seats or even to the lift to get to our seats. Neither were we directed out towards the lift to exit when the event ended, (even though it was PRETTY obvious we were struggling to make it through the droves of people who were also trying to exit), despite having asked multiple staff about the location of said lift. Out of sight, out of mind I guess if you’re a disabled guest with a seat at the back of the venue? And to top it off, we were almost crushed trying to get back into North Greenwich station after the event. (For a tube station right next to a major venue, crowd control measures at North Greenwich don’t really seem to exist, and neither does the decency of fellow fans to not crush me as they try to re-enter the station. Lack of crowd control lead to the access issues at Bond Street that I described above.

*I can now add to this that, having also sat in W105 at UFC London July 2022, W101 is still the best access platform view wise as it is the only access platform on the ground as far as I am aware. Whereas W105 and W105 are on both of the first floor of the arena and this means that, for the fights particularly, you have to watch the big screens rather than the cage itself to understand the intricacies of the live action. Feel free to compare the view from 108 (image at the top of this post) with the views from 101 and 105 (photos below) and let me know what you think!

View from W101 access platform at the O2 arena shows the arena from ground level with the UFC Octagon directly ahead in the centre of the arena

View from W101 access platform at the O2 arena shows the arena from ground level with the UFC Octagon directly ahead in the centre of the arena

View from W105 access platform at the O2 Arena. The view shows all the way down the tiered seating of the 105 section as well as the majority of the floor seating before the UFC Octagon can be seen on the far side of the arena. There are also 2 large screen which are placed at the other side of the arena but eye level with the W105 platforms

View from W105 access platform at the O2 Arena. The view shows all the way down the tiered seating of the 105 section as well as the majority of the floor seating before the UFC Octagon can be seen on the far side of the arena. There are also 2 large screen which are placed at the other side of the arena but eye level with the W105 platforms

*It’s worth adding to this that, according to the experience in this (linked) tweet thread from one of my Twitter followers, you might as well not bother trying to get a drink FROM the bar if you need to use the wheelchair accessible/lowered bar section. Staff (by their own admission) haven’t been briefed that the lowered bar is meant for wheelchair users, and the tills and pay points in that section of the bar don’t work so you’d have to have someone head to the standard height section of the bar to pay on your behalf anyway! Even if you do get served at the lowered bar, it will likely require someone from the standard height section of the bar pointing the bar staff in your direction.

I feel like the experience in this tweet thread is just more evidence that venues often think of access as purely getting disabled people INTO the building and don’t think beyond that. Accessibility means disabled people being able to access EVERY part of an event the same as everyone else.  That also means being able to go to the bar and get a drink independently should we so choose.

The joys of just trying to see some MMA action as a disabled fan! I’m genuinely a little disappointed in you, O2 Arena… I always hype you up as a great venue for access and customer service as a disabled guest, and this time you let me down.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)