“Person-Centred Disability Support” Seminar at Brunel University London

The words "Brunel University London" written one below the other in blue text on a white background

As most of the readers of this blog will know, I am currently working my way towards a joint honours degree at Brunel University London. Now, while I promised myself I’d try not to put university issues and discussions on here, I just thought I’d give my view on a recent disability seminar held at Brunel.

First up, Credit to Ash, the 1st year law student whose idea the seminar was, for fighting to bring this to fruition. Her personal story really struck a chord with me as her outlook was similar to mine in that “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” attitude instilled in both of us by our parents, the very same attitude which is the ethos of #invinciblewomanonwheels.

Now, while there were many eye-opening stories told by speakers at the event, the most eye-opening aspect for me was the response of university management figures, both speakers and audience members, to disabled students and the issues raised. One example of how little, I believe, Brunel properly engages with its disabled students was when Sean, one of the speakers and Brunel’s Disability Officer, was introduced as member of Brunel’s champion wheelchair basketball team (of which I am also a member), but we are not yet champions, and while it’s nice to think about being champions, I can’t help but think the introduction would have been accurate if they’d have been introducing a member of an able-bodied Brunel sports team.

The issue was also raised that some students who are wheelchair users couldn’t access the lift for the upper levels of one of the university buildings due to it being too small (the John Crank building for those of you at Brunel) This luckily is not a problem for me. One of the speakers at the event questioned whether it was financially worth making the necessary changes to the lift to allow all students to access it, and given that I take all my exams in the computer rooms in the upper levels of that building, I interpreted this question as questioning whether me getting to my exams (and therefore completing my degree!) is worth financial investment from the university, and that made it feel as if the university were prioritising finances over the experience of disabled students.

An audience member, who identified himself as a Brunel staff member, stated that is was worth supporting disabled students and the accommodations they require because, if disabled students don’t choose Brunel as their university due to lack of disability support, the university will lose £9,250 per year per student in tuition fees! Statements like these seem quite narrow minded to me because, as well as losing money if they alienate disabled students, the university seems to forget they’ll also lose excellent students. I hope I’m worth more to this university than the money I give them and, as I said on the night of the event, I’m not a cash cow!

A question was posed to one of Brunel’s disability advisors about the state of funding for the university’s Disability & Dyslexia, this question began with the statement “I know you’re going to say it’s underfunded” which begs the question, if you know the service is underfunded, why not shift funding away from less key aspects of the university and fund the service so it can work more effectively?!. This seems to be another example of Brunel’s “it’s a problem but not my problem” attitude towards disability issues at the university.

So, while it’s good that disability is finally being discussed at Brunel, there is still work to be done and I hope this post highlights some of the areas that can be improved so that Brunel can help me continue to be the #invinciblewomanonwheels.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels) 

London O2 Arena Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Louise Hill

Ah accessibility in London, always a topic of discussion. I always struggle to find people’s personal experience of venue accessibility as opposed to the venues’ account of their own accessibility (and as we know, how accessible venues say they are doesn’t always match how accessible they ACTUALLY are) so I decided to start adding into this blog my views on accessibility of venues that I’ve been to. This first one is, as the title suggests, a blog about the accessibility of O2 Arena London in Greenwich. I’ll be splitting it into the ticket buying process, the journey to/from venue and seating/general experience at the 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!)

O2 Arena London has the fairly standard disabled booking line that you ring in order to request whatever kind of accessible seating you need, for me that means a wheelchair space and a free carer ticket but the person taking your booking will ask what you need to just tell them when they ask. I also find it’s a “call the minute tickets go on sale” situation to avoid tickets selling out, but that’s obviously if circumstances permit and it’s probably just me being overly eager to get tickets as well! The tickets I get are the disabled & carer ticket on one of the disabled platform, I’ll talk more about the kind of view I get from that area later on but there are 2 platforms I believe so your view etc will obviously depend on which platform you’re on. Buying tickets with this venue (and most venues now) actually gets easier the more you buy tickets for that venue as they (as far as I’m aware) keep a record of the requirements you ask for when you book so when you book with them more than once (i.e. me) they can just pull up the profile from your previous booking of what you asked for and work from there (obviously changing details if you ask them to).  

Getting there is simpler than I initially thought, obviously the accessible route takes longer than a “normal” route because it always does but the number of changes is pretty simple,  for me, it’s a bus to Uxbridge station (not using public transport is an option but I’m a student who likes to take advantage of free buses sooooooooo…) and then it’s Metropolitan line from Uxbridge (where a ramp is 100% required) to Wembley Park, not Finchley road because staff have told me that there’s hardly ever staff to interchange an MIP (Mobility Impaired Person, i.e. me) between trains; then Jubilee line from Wembley park (which supposedly, according to TFL’s own signage, only has disabled access from platform to street so a ramp is  needed but barely offered and sometimes refused when if it’s requested so I’d certainly be persistent about that if you need it) to north Greenwich which is completely accessible then a short walk to the actual arena (and the Jubilee line has Night Tube now so I only have to worry about making it back to the Metropolitan line at Wembley Park for like 12:30am to get the last train back to Uxbridge!

In terms of seating, I luckily always get tickets in the first disabled access platform closer to the front of the venue, so my view’s always really good but that obviously depends on which platform you’re on. It also depends on what event you go to, as for concerts the stage is right at the front of the venue compared to where I’m sat so I get an excellent view can really great sound, whereas for sporting events, like UFC London that I went to, the Octagon was right in the middle of the arena so, while I could see the standing stuff really well, I spent most of the groundwork time watching the big screens to get a clear view (although that’s probably the same for anyone who wasn’t sat in the cage side seats).

In terms of experience, once we arrived at the venue we were spotted by staff who led us through security then back on ourselves and around to a separate door to get to the disabled access platform, I wish there was a way to get to the disabled access door without having to double back on yourself and pass through security sensors twice but OBVIOUSLY I completely understand the need for security at venues. It was impossible to get lost as we were led everywhere through the back of the venue to get to the disabled access door. Once we were settled in our seat, any food and drinks we requested throughout the night were brought to us which was a nice touch as it meant not having to leave the event and miss parts to go and get stuff (I’d recommend using cash to pay for stuff when it’s brought up cash as trying to complete a card transaction with a concert going on sounds tricky). When the event was over it would have been nice to have someone walk us out of the main venue area to get through the crowds but, because those on the disabled platform leave through a separate door and there’s a large concourse area before you leave the venue it’s not actually that crowded trying to leave (until you get to the tube station which is a whole different crowd control ballgame for EVERYONE!)

I hope this post is useful for at least 1 person and feel free to continue discussing venue accessibility in the comments, and kudos to staff and the O2 London for making concert going relatively easy for this #invinciblewoman!

 Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)