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Emma Dobson, the Invincible Woman on Wheels, is a 26-year-old wheelchair user, disability activist and blogger from Birmingham, England. She started blogging in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend she’d road tripped around Sicily with. The friend learned so much about what travel is like for a disabled person, she thought that other people might benefit from learning those same things. InvincibleWomanOnWheels blog was born. A massive fan of live music and mixed martial arts (like the UFC), Emma often found that accessibility and information about accessibility to venues for these events was woefully lacking. Her blog also features venue accessibility reviews, which share her accessibility experience as an attendee in an electric wheelchair.
Best and worst travel experiences
My best travel experience was a girly road trip around Sicily with two of my close friends. This was the trip which inspired me to start blogging. And of course, the trip will always have a special place in my heart for that reason, but it goes beyond that. That trip showed me that I COULD see the world just like I’d always wished to, even if the accessibility wasn’t always to the best standard. It showed me that I COULD find solutions to any accessibility issues I experienced whilst on these adventures.
My worst travel experience would be my recent trip to Ebbw Vale in Wales. Train improvement works meant I had to take a rail replacement service (something I had heard mixed reviews about in terms of accessibility), so I was a little nervous. On arrival at my destination, the ramp for me to disembark the coach was dangerously steep. This resulted in my wheelchair tipping onto me, essentially leaving me somewhat crushed underneath it. I’m not sure you can have a worse travel experience than being almost crushed under your own mobility aid.
The place I most often return to (and would like to live in if I could) is Cardiff. I first visited in 2018 and instantly fell in love. As someone who is constantly on the go, I loved that there was enough of a buzz and enough places to explore to satisfy my constant curiosity, but not so overly busy that I became overwhelmed. Part of that buzz was having so much to explore, whether it’s typical tourist destinations like Cardiff Castle and the museums, record shops and book shops galore to satisfy my nerdy collector side, or just wandering around to admire the architecture. I’ve been to Cardiff multiple times a year for various events since that first visit in 2018 and still feel like I’ve seen about 10% of what there is to see in the Welsh capital. I also love how easy to navigate Cardiff seems. As someone with a terrible sense of direction, I love that getting lost in Cardiff doesn’t feel stressful and that I can actually fairly easily find my way back to somewhere I recognise. That means that I can get lost in Cardiff in the whimsical, romantic, finding- hidden-gems-you-didn’t-know-existed sense, rather than panicking that I am lost forever.
Travel or equipment advice
Know your travel route and have some backup options. As a wheelchair user, I am used to broken lifts necessitating a change of route or method of travel. Having a backup plan from the beginning means I am able to effortlessly switch plans rather than panicking and trying to find a secondary accessible route whilst already on the move. Also knowing my exact route beforehand means I can just relay that route to any staff and keep control over the route rather than following their suggestions. This is key to a wheelchair user as control is something we often surrender when we have to rely on others for assistance to travel. I also think that when I have certain things confirmed (e.g., route or method of travel), everything else will work itself out. That attitude has allowed me to be more spontaneous and reduce my anxiety. Equipment wise, I would say lean into who you are as a person and don’t turn into a travel version of yourself—unless you want to. For example, my friends find it odd that I pack so light with so few outfits and just basic toiletries for a trip. But that’s who I am at home, so I won’t pack fancy clothes or makeup specifically BECAUSE I’m travelling.
Advice to your younger self Dear Younger Emma, you are capable of so much. Always remember that. I know you’re anxious if you’ll really be able to see the world in the way you want to because of accessibility. But I promise that you will, because you’re the Invincible Woman on Wheels. It might take a while for you to realise that, but you are. There are so many adventures to have, so go have them all. Stop saying no because you’re too scared of the issues you MIGHT have to face if you say yes. You might think academia is your calling right now, but you’re meant for writing, for blogging, for advocating for accessibility, particularly in the music scene you love. And it might not seem like you’ll ever see change, but I promise it’s coming and it’s because of you. Know that even when it feels like you’re screaming into the void about these access issues. Those that matter ARE listening, and they need to hear your voice. Remember that annoying people isn’t all bad, it just means you’re telling them things they KNOW to be true but don’t WANT to be true (like, the world is inaccessible as hell). Be loud. Cause chaos. Change the world for those who will follow in your tire tracks.