Lyric Hammersmith Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Accessibility Review Time! This one’s about the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in well, Hammersmith. 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!)

Now, I recently went to the Lyric with my friends Aoife & Ellie (yes, the girls from my earlier Sicily travel blog) to see Things I Know To Be True (which I highly recommend you go see if it’s being performed at a theatre near you at any point, it was mind blowing and made me remember how good theatre can be!). Here’s how the whole experience was:

In terms of ticket buying, it’s just the standard accessible ticket line in order to be able to purchase a wheelchair space ticket along with a carer and another standard ticket. They made sure to find us a spot to seat all 3 of us together which was a welcome surprise because usually venues will only seat the disabled person and carer in the wheelchair areas and then other party members have to sit elsewhere (because disabled people only have that 1 friend right?)

The travel is also really rather simple, it’s just a bus to the Uxbridge station and then the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith for me (and then making sure you walk out of the easiest exit from Hammersmith station to head to the Lyric, I had my friend and Hammersmith local Jess to help me out with that one!)

With regard to seating and experience, we were in the stalls on the ground floor right at the back which the girls, who have been to the theatre a lot more than me, assured me was basically the best view in the house so yay disability perks! Staff were also great constantly guiding us on where to go which I found to be very helpful as I much prefer saying “oh yeah we’ve just been told where to go by xyz person” rather than consistently having to ASK where we need to go. The one thing I would say is they could do with a lowered section to the bar where the water is, so I can get my own water rather than having to rely on someone else to get it for me. However, the automated exit/entrance door was greatly appreciated as it made everyone’s lives and I thought it was particularly nice of the staff to wait for us to leave (yay for being the last out as we have to go in the complete opposite direction to everyone for an accessible exit) before leaving themselves.

So, thanks to everyone at the Lyric Hammersmith for making it super easy for me to enjoy a night at the theatre with my gals!

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

KOKO Camden Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Another accessibility review, this one is about KOKO in Camden. 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, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric/manual wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Buying tickets was pretty simple, but it was also probably different from even your usual disabled access ticket buying situation for this venue, that’s because this was the venue where I saw Corey Taylor solo on his “You’re Making Me Hate You book tour. So, I was able to book my ticket through the O2 priority website (literally the only reason my phone contract is with O2!) like everyone else. I then emailed KOKO with what show I’d booked for and what access accommodations I’d require, for me that’s a carer ticket on their 2 for 1 carer ticket system and access to some kind of disabled access viewing platform (they offer wheelchairs that you can hire I believe, but I have my own snazzy wheels so that was not needed for me). The manager of KOKO then response confirming that my accommodations were in place and that his response email counted as the carer ticket

Getting to the venue was also wonderfully simple, we took a cab to Uxbridge Station followed by the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge (where, as per every single time, a ramp is  required) to Kings Cross Station (which is completely step free). We then took as bus to near Mornington Crescent Station then a short walk to the actual venue

In terms of getting seated and general gig experience, I made myself known to the management/ security who then escorted us inside the venue and up to the viewing platform and made sure we were comfortable and had a good view. I’m also told they were constantly watching and checking on us to make sure we were comfortable throughout the gig, not that I ever looked away from the stage BECAUSE COREY TAYLOR (those of you who know me personally will know Corey Taylor is basically my favourite musician in the universe and this gig made my millennium)

And that’s basically it! Oh, how I love a short accessibility review because that means very few access issues! I find it funny how small venues with less than 1500 capacity (aka KOKO) can present fewer access issues than larger 10,000 standing venues (*cough* Alexandra Palace *cough*)

Kudos to KOKO for making it as easy as possible for me to be the #invinciblewomanonwheels and shout out to Corey Taylor for making the gig I’ve been waiting years for totally worth the wait!

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

Top 5 Issues with The London Underground as a Wheelchair User

As every Londoner knows, it’s compulsory to complain about the Tube system. So naturally, I blogged about it:

This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as issues go, to explain every issue with the Tube I’d be writing a novel (but since my editor only has the attention span suitable for a blog post, that’s all you’re getting)

General Inaccessibility

Only a quarter of Tube stations are accessible, a fact stated on the TFL website! (Update: As of the end of 2021, there are 90 step free Tube stations, which means this stat is now 33%). I know I’m the #invinciblewomanonwheels but even I am not going to try driving my wheelchair down a set of stairs just to access Camden Town. As my friend Nikki said when I brought up the issue, if you put the prospect of only being able to use a quarter of the Tube network to anyone else in London, they’d think you were insane. Yet TFL boasts that very figure on their website like it’s something to applauded. This makes it seem like the disabled community, particularly from my view as a wheelchair user, are expected to “just deal with” inaccessibility.

Uninformed Staff

Ironically, this issue stems from TFL trying to update Tube stations in terms of accessibility by adding lifts. I’ve had issues interchanging at certain stations (*cough* Wembley Park *cough*) because they refuse to put me on a train to my destination (Bond Street) because Bond Street staff say there aren’t lifts at the station, when I know there are, and I have in fact used them! The last time this issue arose, what resulted was a 20-minute “discussion” with the station staff (I argued that there WERE lifts, and they were giving me incorrect information until it was confirmed that were in fact lifts). Welcome to me being stubborn as hell about proving I’m right. At the point of this incident, the Bond Street lifts had only been in for about a month and it turns out the online TFL Journey Planner, which I use to plan all my journeys, had been updated to reflect the new lifts at Bond Street, but the paper maps in the station that staff are given had not. So, TFL, it’s all good upgrading stations to make them accessible, but inform your staff of those upgrades or for pity’s sake it’s 2018 give them updated electronic Tube maps!

Definition of “Accessible”

A stations’ definition of accessible can be a little “interesting” at times. Take my recent experience at Stanmore station, for example, making me (a small, disabled young woman) travel through an unlit car park and then up a road with no path to separate me from the oncoming cars, seems pretty dodgy, right? Yet that’s exactly what I had to do. Now I know my wheelchair is seen as a road worthy vehicle but if it comes down to it and it’s me vs car, the car wins every single time. I’m glad I had someone with me leaving that station because I don’t think I’d have been comfortable leaving alone, and the most irritating thing? When I was discussing how we were supposed to get out of the car park with the person I was with, he suggested the road, I was arguing that there MUST be a safer way out and some strange woman says, “oh yeah that’s your way out” and smiles, again like I’m just to supposed to deal with access like this. You don’t think me having to walk through an unlit car park is a problem, no problem at all no?

Communication Between Stations

So so so  many times I’ve had staff at the station I’m leaving from “ring ahead” to my destination station to tell them an MIP (Mobility Impaired Person, i.e. yours truly) will be en route to their station so they can expect me,  and then I get to my destination to be told “oh no one told us you were coming .  It transpires the staff at the station I was leaving told the line manager, who then told no one (even if they’re supposed to pass the message on to the destination station) So TFL, here’s a revolutionary idea that will save everyone hassle, how about we inform the people that are going to be dealing with me that I’m going to be on a train and skip the line manager middle man I never see? And yes, I know protocol and red tape and stuff, but things don’t seem to be being done the way they’re supposed to anyway so what difference does it really make?

Refusing my accommodations

Yeah, you heard me right, station staff have literally refused to give me what I need to be able to safely board a train. When I’m asking for accommodations I’m not asking to be carried to the train on a golden throne (although if you want to I’m not complaining) all I’m asking for is a ramp, and yet some staff (I emphasise SOME staff, shout out to those who actually give me the accommodations I ask for) however, certain stations (e.g. Wembley Park) refuse to give me the ramp. For example, I’ll ask for the ramp to get on the Jubilee line because my front wheels have previously gotten stuck in the gap between train and platform and my request will be met with “you don’t need that you’ll be fine”, at which point my front wheels precede to get stuck as predicted as the staff member gets my “I told ya” face. Now I realise some people will probably see me as the naïve, young disabled girl, but believe me, I’m 100% aware of what my chair can and cannot do, and likelihood is, if I’m requesting to do something a certain way, I’ve tried and failed with the usual method and don’t want to have the issue again. And only fools make the same mistake twice, right? This gal, not a fool!

Feel free to add your own Tube issues on the comments of this post, and I guess the last thing I have to say is, while you’ll never make me leave this brilliant city, there are so many ways its’ Tube network needs to be better for disabled Londoners (or visitors).

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

The Problem with Brunel University London’s Blue Badge Parking Policy

I know I said I wouldn’t post about university issues often on here, but this parking policy and its enforcement is an ongoing issue for disabled students at Brunel and this blog is a platform for issues to be voiced so voice issues I shall.

Now, first thing’s first, I use the term ‘policy’ loosely when discussing Brunel’s disabled parking because policies are defined as involving action and, as far as I can tell, there’s very little action happening when it comes to the enforcement of this policy.

Before the inevitable comments roll in, I understand that disabled parking issues aren’t entirely the university’s fault and there will always be people who park where they want, when they want, regardless of whether they’re Blue Badge holders or not.  What really needs to change here is how that’s dealt with and how the policy is enforced as a whole.

The first issue is that, when the policy’s enforced, it’s only enforced between 9am and 5pm despite security officers (who enforce the policy) being available on campus 24/7, like disabled students don’t need their Blue Badge after 5pm or I can just hop out of my wheelchair and go for a stroll past 5pm?! Disability isn’t time constrained, so I don’t see why disabled parking policies are, particularly when there are people who can enforce the policy.

You, like me, are probably wondering why the policy isn’t enforced after 5pm, well, students have been told that the policy can’t be enforced after 5pm as there is no machine available for parking tickets after this time, this is, however, known to be untrue as student have seen the machine in use after 5pm when they’ve persevered and made security use it, so it seems not enforcing the policy after 5pm is more an issue of won’t than can’t.

When it is mentioned to students that they’re parking in a disabled bay without a badge there tend to be 2 main responses. The first is “I park here all the time”, that’s the problem, you’re not supposed to, so just don’t, those spaces are meant for those who physically don’t have the mobility to park elsewhere, not those who physically can’t be bothered to walk a few extra feet (and with the layout of Brunel’s halls parking it really is no more than a few extra feet).

On the subject of not being able to park elsewhere, the other response is “You can park somewhere else”, no no no, the entire point of a Blue Badge is that you are judged to need to park in a Blue Badge space. There are Blue Badge eligibility criteria, and if you meet those, there’s no argument about it, you NEED that space, and I bet if you asked Blue Badge holders if they’d swap their Blue Badge for the mobility to be able to park anywhere, I’m pretty sure they’d say yes, I know I would.

You’re probably asking, “Why not just say something?” or “Why not just bring it up with the university?”, and the short answer is, the issue has been raised but it’s been acknowledged and ignored. Brunel’s viewpoint on this (and other disability issues) seems to be, as my friend Sean put it, “it’s a problem but it’s not my problem”.

I never want to bash my university and expose their faults, but I hope this post opens their eyes as to how much of an issue disabled parking is at Brunel.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

 

Alexandra Palace Wheelchair Accessibility Review

Photo Credit: Dev Place Photos

Time for my second venue accessibility review, this one, as the title suggests, is about Alexandra Palace in Muswell Hill. 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, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric/manual wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Now, with the number of times I’ve visited Alexandra Palace for events (always concerts), my experience as a disabled concert goer at this venue seems to get worse and worse every time, to the point that, from now on, I will travel to other cities for concerts if Alexandra Palace is the London venue, and here I’ll explain why.

Ticket Buying

Alexandra Palace has probably the easiest ticket buying system of all the venues I’ve been to. You can buy disabled and carer tickets for the disabled platform online, just the same as a standard ticket, rather than through a dedicated accessible phone line and while this seems like a small thing, it’s nice to be able to order my tickets like everyone else does. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the best part of Alexandra Palace as far as disabled gig goer experience is concerned.

Travel by Car

Travelling to and from the venue is an experience in itself, and, since I travelled there by both car and public transport, I’ll give you both experiences. While car journeys with Dev are always fun, this particular one was a journey and a half, firstly, the North Circular is a pain in the backside to travel on, but that’s a problem for everyone who drives to the venue and I guess unless you move the entire venue there’s not really much that can be done. There also seemed to be very little signage directing towards the venue for such a large venue (again not sure if that’s something the actual venue can change or whether it’s a local area problem) AND THEN, when we actually got to the venue, we were told there was no Blue Badge disabled parking in the car park right next to the venue (even though the sign at the car park entrance said there was) THEN we were almost waved away from the other Blue Badge parking area because the stewards didn’t think I was disabled (I was sat in the front seat of Dev’s car and my manual wheelchair was VISIBLE in the boot), the only way to exit that car was by walking down a road ( you know, like an actual road that cars drive on!) or by using stairs (am I the only one that sees the glaring irony in having stairs in the “wheelchair accessible” car park? Stairs and chairs don’t mix).

Travel by Public Transport

The public transport journey there is looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong. For me it means getting the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge (where a ramp is required for me to board) to Kings Cross and then the Piccadilly line from Kings Cross to Caledonian Road (which really needs a ramp to safely disembark a wheelchair from the carriage but apparently doesn’t have one) THEN 2 buses and a 20-minute walk to the actual venue. The return journey is just as loooooong back, for me it’s a bus to Finsbury Park Station, a bus to Euston Station, a walk to Euston Square Station and then the last Metropolitan line train back to Uxbridge. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd that’s finally it for the accessible public transport travel to the venue, I did not realise how complicated those trips were until I wrote it down!

Seating and Experience

And now here’s the FUN bit (note the sarcasm here this, the seating and experience as a disabled gig goer was NOT fun) now that’s nothing against the music that was actually happening on stage (shout out to Enter Shikari for putting on one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen) just an issue with stewards and handling of the event from my view as a disabled gig goer. Firstly, we had to walk through the guestlist queue as there was no accessible way to access the standard ticket queues (cue feeling super awkward standing in a queue I wasn’t supposed to be in).

Our tickets were then taken in exchange for wristbands for the disabled platform (completely fair and fine) but then weren’t returned to us at the end of the night despite us being told they would be, as the self-confessed nerdy girl who likes to put her gig/convention/event tickets in a scrapbook, that put a bit of a dampener on the night.

Someone also climbed on the disabled access platform railings where we sat, and security did the sum total of NOTHING until Dev literally pulled the guy off the railings BY HERSELF, there are 2 problems here: 1. Dear railings climber dude, you are, to put it EXTREMELY politely, a complete idiot and I SINCERELY thankyou for partially ruining my view of Shikari! And 2. My best friend shouldn’t have to be doing security’s job for them, or does crowd control not include dragging idiots off climbing the disabled platform railings?! Please explain because I am rather confused.

So, the gig finishes up and I decide a bathroom trip before we set off trying to get through London traffic is probably a good idea, and THAT’S when we find out there’s only 1 disabled toilet in the whole venue! 1 disabled toilet total in a 10,000 capacity venue, really?! Now I get that not every one of those 10,000 people would need to use the disabled toilet, but that platform has been packed out every single time I’ve been to the venue, and surely even THAT amount of people potentially needing a disabled toilets warrants having multiple of them within the venue?!

Then, just when you thought the issues were over, we were made to wait ON THE ROAD down to the car park in the cold for lorries to drive up (lorries that we could not see)  because there was no drop kerb for me to be get onto the actual path and the only way we got up there was through some fellow Shikari fans lifting my chair onto the path (yet again the FANS and not the STEWARDS helping me out here) Now, anyone with Cerebral Palsy (the condition that I have) knows that waiting in the cold + Cerebral Palsy = muscle stiffness = ouch, which isn’t a fun equation and definitely put a massive dampener on the evening.

I was really rather shocked at the poor customer service, as a disabled gig goer, that I got from Alexandra Palace, particularly with it being such a large venue. I hope this blog can show the venue where things need to be improved so I can continue being the #invinciblewomanonwheels at every gig I go to.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

“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!)

*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.

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)