Like any abled-bodied person with their head in the sand, I thought all wheelchair users problems were solved when I saw that more and more London tube stations are becoming step-free from street to train or from street to platform. Obviously, not all the issues, but certainly a step in the right direction. Seeing the new symbology on the map is just about as much thought as I put into the issue… until recently.

My mom is a wheelchair user and accessibility at home has never been a big issue as we drive everywhere, her chair is manual (meaning the driver can push, lift and wiggle the chair into tight spaces as needed) and the U.S. infrastructure is a lot more recent than in the U.K., especially in Arizona.

I accompanied an electric wheelchair user to a concert in London, taking public transport from Brighton. Here’s how it all went down:

As you may know, I’m a healthcare assistant. Basically, I go to clients’ houses and help them with whatever they require, which could range from administering medication, getting ready for the day, making meals, etc. One of my clients, let’s call them Jordan (a nice, gender neutral pseudonym as to not breach any privacy concerns), had tickets to a Foo Fighters concert, but their friend/ companion could no longer make it and was struggling to find someone to go with them. I half-jokingly said I’d go with them and their eyes lit up. I was only half-joking because I wasn’t sure if my company would let me. I’ve never done anything like that before and my company is quite thorough in my responsibilities and boundaries; nothing like this has ever even come up. After I voiced my concerns to Jordan, I said I might not be able to go, but someone else from out company might, but they insisted I go as they thought I’d have the most fun. I was flattered and my company was surprisingly okay with it. After a few e-mails exchanged about minute details, we were on our way the following afternoon.

Jordan and I set off from their house in Brighton headed towards the Brighton train station. As they sometimes have limited fine motor skills, I walked alongside steering the electric wheelchair, walking us to the bus stop. Luckily, a bus came quickly that took us directly to the station. The bus can lower itself quite a bit to match the level of the curb for those with limited mobility. Furthermore, it has an “ironing board”: basically a fold out ramp, that takes seconds to engage. The bus was actually the most pleasant experience of the journey. The driver was friendly and really took initiative making sure Jordan was settled before taking off.

Then, we took a Thameslink train from Brighton to London Bridge. Getting a ramp at Brighton station was easy as we made our needs know to rail officers as we went through the barricade, but once we arrived at London Bridge, there was nobody waiting for us with a ramp as they should have been. It took several minutes to get someone’s attention to put a ramp in. All in all, not the worst thing that happened all day.

Then… the tube. The Jubilee line going east was meant to be step free from street to train at our stops: London Bridge to Stratford. First of all, the elevator was a battle to find, there were absolutely no sign postings. I’m glad Jordan had a rough idea where it was because I hadn’t the foggiest. Then once we got to the platform, it was certainly not step-free from platform onto the train. This is a rough design of Jordan’s chair. As you can see, the larger middle wheels are the power wheels and the smaller front and back four wheels provide the steering. There was about a 6-inch horizontal gap and about a 4-inch vertical gap between the platform and the train, which may not seem like a lot, but with such small wheels, we were both afraid they would get stuck and cause delays. After examining different carriages on the passing trains, we realized there was no easy point to board and went to the call point. I requested a ramp on our platform, to which their reply was, “You don’t need a ramp, it’s step free.” You know what, you’re right, thanks for that! (Sarcasm doesn’t really come through in text, does it?) Anyway, after insisting for several minutes that we couldn’t board the train, we got a ramp on the platform. Right before we boarded the train, I made sure to tell the rail officer to relay the message that a ramp was needed on the other end at Stratford.

Once we got to Stratford, surprise, there was no ramp waiting. I shouted for a rail officer and it took them ages again to find a ramp as they didn’t have one handy at this “step-free” station. Even though Stratford is at the end of the line, people were boarding the train to go back the way we came, and since we were still stranded on the train without a ramp, everyone had to de-board for another train leaving earlier. I could see the embarrassment in Jordan’s face. They shouldn’t have had to go through this. I made it exceedingly clear that we needed a ramp again at 2030 after the show, but I wasn’t optimistic in their service at this point.

At least our experience at the venue was really pleasant. We ran into no trouble and enjoyed the show! An accessible shuttle took us from the train station to the venue (London Stadium) that had plenty of lifts, accessible toilets and seating. Jordan seemed pleased.

We left the venue to get back to the tube station at about 2045 with, surprise, no ramp. We were again told that we “don’t need one because the station is step-free”. Jordan’s chair is not manual in anyway and even it if were, it would take a Hulk to haul their 200-kg train on board. I insisted we need a ramp and after 15 minutes, there was still no ramp. Jordan decided to take their chances with the gap and with the help of about four men, we were able to board the tube. Back at London Bridge, the gap was quite small, so Jordan was able to make the jump. It was a bumpy ride and Jordan shouldn’t have had to compromise their comfort for the convenience of everyone else when this station should have been accessible in the first place, but they were so fed up at this point, they just wanted to go home.

Little did we know, our problems were far from over. The direct train to Brighton was cancelled, but we were hoping to hop on one of the several other trains south and change at East Croydon to catch a different train to Brighton coming from London Victoria or St. Pancras. Again, it took about 10 minutes to find staff to help us with a ramp to board the train. Then, our train got cancelled. It took another 10 minutes to find staff to get a ramp. Then, the train got reinstated, so it took another 10 minutes to get a ramp. At East Croydon, there was staff readily available on the platforms, so the train transfer was smooth and upon our arrival to Brighton there was somebody waiting at our carriage door with a ramp in hand: how every leg of the journey should have been.

About 20 minutes away from Brighton, I booked an accessible taxi for 140, saying both “one-forty” and “twenty to two” on the phone. We arrived right on time, but our driver got impatient during the 3-minute walk from the train to the taxi rink and left without us. We had to wait another 20 minutes for an accessible taxi. Once Jordan was in, the rear door couldn’t close: an extension on the chair that could not be easily removed was obstructing the door. After shifting around the chair in the taxi, we were finally able to get it to close, but Jordan’s feet were quite squished. Again, even in something that’s supposed to be wheelchair-friendly, Jordan finds themselves compromising comfort thanks to inflexible accommodation.

Finally, we were home and I helped Jordan into bed. Although the hurdles public transit kept throwing at us, they insisted they had a really good time at the concert and it was well worth it. I’m glad I could accompany them and I’m even more glad I kept my cool (well, at least on the outside).

Now, the final evaluation:

  • The buses in Brighton are quite wheelchair-friendly from our experience. The ability to lower the bus and engage the ramp quickly makes boarding a breeze and there was sufficient space on the bus for Jordan’s large chair.
  • National Rail infrastructure is wheelchair-friendly enough, with plenty of space for a large chair and seats for a companion, but lack the platform staff to back it up.
  • The tube was by far the worst part of our day. “Step free” stations were not step free and the staff were rude, if they were about at all.
  • Taxis seem to be wheelchair-friendly enough, just make sure you know what kind of taxi is required for the specific kind of chair being used (i.e. I should have requested a bigger taxi) and call ahead of time.

My three biggest takeaways from this experience are:

  • Don’t tell wheelchair users what they do/ don’t need. Every wheelchair and every user’s capability is different.
  • Talk to the wheelchair user, not the companion. Although Jordan is quite soft spoken, they’re more than able to speak for himself if the staff had an iota of patience or respect. While some wheelchair users are happy to let their companion speak with/ for them, don’t assume this is so.
  • And finally, we have a long way to go before the world is accessible to all. Try to take notice of the little things next time you’re out somewhere that claims to be accessible. I’m proud of Jordan for going out and demanding to be seen and accommodated to even though it can be hard.

Photo by Josh Wilburne.

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Can you believe we are halfway through 2018?! I can’t! This month has been a whirlwind…

My brothers left the last day in May after we had an amazing week together, but it wasn’t long before I saw family again… my dad visited in mid-June on his way back from a business trip in Norway. We had a relaxing few days in Brighton as I wasn’t keen to travel after the hectic week I had with my brothers. We went around town, the marina, all sorts of restaurants and had a night out with Diego. It was so good to see my dad again, I miss him so much.

Also… my dad helped me buy a car! It’s a 2006 Ford Fiesta that I desperately needed for work. My life is so much easier with it and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve had about half a dozen viewings this month and I’m happy to say that I found an amazing shared house. My new landlady is going on travel for a year and renting out her bedroom in the family house. With that, my roommate will be her daughter who is around my age. However, the daughter may move out at some point to which I’l have the house to myself… and my landlady’s cat, Princess. I’m excited for a little change of scenery, but I’ll miss living with Diego.

Speak of the devil, Diego left to Spain for the summer a few days ago and I miss him loads already. But before he left, we had a nice day at Kew Bontanical Gardens and watching the World Cup. He went to the Gardens for me and I tolerate football for him, that’s compromise!

One of my clients required a wheelchair companion to a rock concert in London as since it was such short notice, none of their friends or family were available. With that, I suggested they could go with someone from our company and they said they would feel most comfortable with me as we’re both into the band preforming. With that, I accompanied them to Foo Fighters at London Stadium. Although it was a whale of a time getting there and back on public transit (a post on that to come), we both had an amazing time and it was well worth it and I’m extremely flattered they trusted in my carer abilities and social skills to be the one to accompany them.

Days later, I saw one of my favorite bands Billy Talent in Luxembourg for the first time. You can read all about it here.

I’m looking forward to a more relaxed July focusing on dissertation work with my friend Alyssa visiting at the end of the month.

What I’m watching: Submarine, Looper, Arrested Development (season 5), Love Island (season 1)

What I’m listening to: It Comes and Goes by Dream on Dreamer, Everybody Down by Kate Tempest, Statues by Black Peaks, beer bongs and bentleys by Post Malone, Ctrl by SZA, We Cool? by Jeff Rosenstock, Dreamhouse by Tides of Man

What I’m reading: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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After being an avid fan for about seven years, I promised myself that 2018 would be the year that I would see one of my favorite bands, Billy Talent.

I was hoping to go to a festival this summer in the U.K., but no line-up made me say, “I must go,” so I decided to spend the money on airfare to see the Canadian punk rock band band Billy Talent at an intimate venue in Luxembourg. I have actually been to Luxembourg before with my grandpa for a day in early 2016, you can read about our time here (apologies for the lack of pictures, just now going through and adding them to old posts).

Tuesday, 26 June: First off, a notably horrible outward journey. After driving myself to Stansted Airport, I arrived to a delayed flight, which was fine by me because as long as there’s food, a toilet and WiFi, I could wait ’til kingdom come. We departed about two hours late and were airborne by 9PM. However, in the air, we were informed that the Luxembourg airport has a curfew of 11PM, so we could not land there. We landed at Frankfurt Hahn airport and were put on a coach to Luxembourg that took about an hour and a half. The ultimate piss-take? They dropped us off at the closed airport, where there was no public transit and no taxis available. Luckily, someone booked a taxi ahead of time and told the driver to call his other driver friends and we were all in shared taxis in good time. My original flight was meant to land at about 10PM, but I didn’t even get to my hostel until 3AM. Unreal.

Wednesday, 27 June: After having a nice lie in, I went for a short walk into town for a bite to eat. I was still tired and had a bit of a headache, so I took a short nap until my friend Nils messaged me saying he was in town after travelling from Stuttgart. I walked to the venue and met Nils in line. After a few hours, the doors opened and we hung out, got a bite to eat and enjoyed the opening band.

Before I knew it, Billy Talent took the stage and I was filled with adrenaline. They played an amazing set and I moshed and crowdsurfed throughout. Actually, I got cut off after about 6 or 7 times. They played an amazing set, sounded great and brought incredible energy. One of my favorite moments was when they brought their original drummer on to the stage to play a few songs. Aaron has been taking breaks from the band since 2016 as he battles his struggles with an MS relapse, which my mom also has.

After the show, I waited outside the venue to meet the band and get my CD (I brought all their albums, but didn’t want to be a pain so I only had them sign one) and ticket signed as well as Nils’s CD as he had to leave once the show ended. First Aaron (drummer) came out and I told him how great it was to hear him play as I’ve seen how hard MS can be. Then Jon (bassist) came out and said he saw me crowdsurf all those times. Then Ian (guitarist and back-up vocals) and Ben (lead vocals) came out at the same time. Ben complimented my Anti-Flag shirt and Ian told me how he was actually born in London. As far as I could hear, I was the only native English speaker at the small show and they certainly noticed. The members noticed my accent and asked if I was Canadian, to which I told them I’m South Canadian (American) but I lived in the U.K. It was great to have a quick chat and have them sign my ticket and CD. I was so elated, I probably skipped the first 100 meters the way back to the hostel before walking the rest of the way, getting back around 1AM.

The first video below is my Snapchat story with pictures and short videos taken throughout the night and the second video is during Viking Death March, my favorite song, where we all stayed low leading up to the final big chorus.

Clip 1) my ticket; 2) the venue; 3) This Suffering; 4) The Navy Song; 5) Rusted from the Rain with Aaron on drums; 6) Nothing to Lose (I think Aaron might have been on drums for this one too, I can’t remember)

Thursday 28 June: After relaxing in the morning, I took a stroll through the city center at lunch time and then called it a day so I can rest up for my drive after I get to Stansted Airport, whenever that may be.

I had an amazing time, one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, and I’m glad I could share it with Nils! And now I’m no longer a Billy Talent virgin and I’m sore all over. You know what they say: your first time always hurts!

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During my year abroad, I made a few posts about the differences in the U.K. vs. the U.S., including stereotypes, university and student housing with a more recent related post was about spending Christmas in the U.K. Now, this segment back with a bang with comparing roads and driving now that I got a car! When my dad visited, he helped me buy a used 2006 Ford Fiesta to use mainly for work as I’ve been spending my entire life on the bus.

Now, the differences and similarities with driving and roads:

Obviously, the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing is a big game-changer. When I first started driving in the States, I struggled with not staying in the lane going too far onto the curb as I was weary about oncoming cars in the other lane. I’m doing the same here: I get nervous that there isn’t enough space for cars to pass on smaller streets and end up hitting the curb to overcompensate or, in the case of my test drive, nicking a mirror from cars park on the side of the road. That’s probably my biggest problem driving on the wrong side. Other than that, I’ve adapted quickly and at the moment, I’m proudly over a week of hitting no curbs!

In the U.S., virtually everyone gets their license sooner rather than later at sixteen. Everyone I know back home has a license and a car to use, whether it’s a family car own their own. In the U.K., about 30% of people my age have a driving license and only a handful have a car to use. With the widespread public transit, there’s hardly a need for a car for a typical university student.

Another big difference is that most cars here are manual transmission rather than automatic. Luckily, my dad taught me how to drive one and even at home, I use a manual just as often as an automatic so I was always in practice. However, something funny is that the gears are in the exact same position despite the steering wheel be on the opposite side of the car. Meaning, rather than the first gears being closest to you like they are when the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, they are furthest from you when the wheel is on on the right side of the car.

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In the U.K., there are a lot more give way (a.k.a “yield”) signs rather than stop signs. On my daily commute, there are zero stop signs: all give way or traffic lights. However, I have to stop about 50% of the time anyway. There’s also the unsaid give way where if you’re on a narrow residential street, the car on the same side as the parked cars pulls to the side to let the oncoming vehicle pass.

Parking is also a bit different. Not all houses have driveways and even fewer have garages, so most people park in the street. Luckily, I live in a residential area so parking is free and limited to residents, except on match days where we non-permit holders have to move their car as I live about a 15 minute walk from the football stadium. However, football season is done for a few months so I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes… Elsewhere, I often have to parallel park, especially at one of my client’s houses who live off high street. I’ve probably parallel parked more in the last two weeks than most suburban-dwelling Americans have in the last year. Parking lots are also rare. Even the mall has a parking garage instead of a spread out lot. All in all, parking in Brighton is probably comparable to parking in a midtown area of the U.S.: some free parking if you can be bothered to find it, otherwise it’s a small fee.

The U.K. is roundabouts galore. There are maybe two in Tucson, where I use probably about five a day on my short commutes. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about them…

In the U.K., I find few people own cars bigger than an SUV for recreational purposes. I see maybe one truck a day that’s not marked for business use. The roads here are quite small and might be hard to drive through with such a big car. I find it quite preposterous that my brother has a pick-up truck even though he’s in it alone more often than not and uses the bed to it’s full extent once in a blue moon.

Finally, the actual amount of driving greatly differs at least for me personally. Brighton is a lot smaller than Phoenix or Tucson. I find things in the U.S. are a lot more spread out. My average driving time for any given trip in Arizona is about 15-20 where that is my absolute maximum driving time around Brighton to my further clients.

I’ve become quite comfortable with driving and am so happy that I have a car to make life a bit easier.

Photo by Austin Neill.

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I’m thrilled to feature another one of my favorite blogs Word of Rachel by the lovely Rachel this month! My name and degree twin, she blogs about everything from beauty to university.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Rachel-35Hi, I’m Rachel, hobbyist lifestyle blogger and full time student. I’m currently in my final year of my Marine Biology degree, and hope to work in marine mammal conservation in the future. Right now, I split my time between assignments, lectures, blogging, and playing The Sims way more than I should. I also have a kitten, Peggy, who enjoys cuddles, licking all the taps in my flat, and biting my feet when I’m not giving her enough attention!

How did you get into blogging?

Blogging is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never really had anyone around me that didn’t think it was anything other than a waste of time. As the New Year came around, I decided 2017 was the year to finally give it a go!

I started out as a beauty blogger, before having a re-brand last November and moving into Lifestyle full time, with beauty and student life spotted in. I only create content I love, and try not to worry too much about who’s reading it.

Tell us about your favorite blog post.

I have 2! The first one is the first time I introduced Peggy to the world. The second one is about how I’m done with numbers, as not only did I have a lot of fun writing it, people really connected with it and I met a lot of amazing people because of it.

What are you doing when you’re not blogging?

I should be doing my uni work, but more often than not I’m playing with my cat or playing The Sims. I’m mildly obsessed with The Sims…

What has been some of your favorite university courses?

Every year since second year I’ve taken a module all about conservation biology, and these are my favourites. They don’t hold back and make you consider everything about conservation with a very “Real-Life” approach. I love knowing every side of a story before I had to come to a conclusion, so these modules work so well for me!

How did you choose your degree?

Like all marine biology students, I was obsessed with dolphins as a child. When I found out most people that study them are marine biologists, I knew that was what I wanted to be. I actually fell out of love with biology during my A levels, thanks to a poor teacher, and tried to go into chemistry instead. After I dropped out of my first degree, I spent years working as a waitress before deciding to go back into education. Marine biology has been the best choice for me. I love it!

Where else can we find you?

Twitter || Instagram || Facebook || Bloglovin’

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