Hi Emma! First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview as part of my Diversity in Travel series. Could you begin by telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
My name is Emma Dobson. I’m 24 and a wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy. I run a blog called InvincibleWomanOnWheels where I blog about travelling as a wheelchair user, venue accessibility reviews and wider disability issues.
You moved to Birmingham at eighteen and decided to stay after finishing your degree. Birmingham doesn’t get much of a look in from the travel community. I’d love to hear what you enjoy about living in Birmingham?
I guess it’s how close I feel to everything and how connected I feel to the city. Where I live right now doesn’t stress me out like I thought, but I’m still not too far away, a 5 minute walk and this wonderful city is right there. I feel there’s always going to be so much to explore around the city and new places to find as well, which is exciting.
Are there any great, accessible attractions you would recommend in Birmingham?
I would recommend the Peace Gardens and Centenary Square. They are quite simple and not exciting places to recommend, but we’ve been in lockdown for most of the time I’ve lived here so I haven’t been able to go too far. I have also found the outdoor space of these places very welcome. Peace Gardens particularly, I just seems like some secret hidden piece of greenery in the middle of the city that I wasn’t expecting. A much needed escape in these times. Speaking of escape, I’d also recommend the Gas Street Basin, I have been wanting to find my nearest access to the canal ever since I moved here and this is it. Honestly I’m not actually bothered about the shops or restaurants around there, I love just love the sight of the canal. There’s something so calming about the water.
Do you think there are things Birmingham can do to be more accessible to disabled people?
My main thing would be to add more drop kerbs and to improve the access to shops. I’ve noticed this is a big problem in places like the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth, which is annoying because these are big well known areas and places I want to explore but can’t because of inaccessibility.
And – as someone who grew up in Birmingham I have to ask – have you learned much regional Brummie slang?!
I haven’t learned much, and I’m not sure if it’s specifically a Brummie thing or a wider Midlands thing, but I have picked up “bab” as a term of endearment. This probably sounds a bit excessive, but the first time I lived here and someone called me bab, it felt like a real moment of acceptance, like I’d officially been adopted by the city.
You’ve talked openly about travelling with cerebral palsy, providing some fantastic insights and resources. What inspired you to start blogging about this?
This is something I actually discussed in my first ever blog post. I had been travelling with friends on a road trip around Sicily and those friends told me they’d learned a lot about how I approach things as a disabled person and the issues I face. They encouraged me to share so that others could learn what they had, so that’s what I did.
What are your aspirations as a blogger, or your career aspirations outside of blogging?
In terms of the blog, my main aspiration is to make a difference, whether that’s through helping to improve venue accessibility or opening people’s minds to what disabled people are actually capable of. In terms of my wider career, I want to gain a PhD and then progress onto a career in academic research.
Have you ever seen yourself as an activist through the important work you do with your blog?
eehhhhhhh yes and no. I don’t WANT to get angry and be seen as someone causing issues in the way everyone seems to associate with an activist role. I’d rather just write about my life and use that to open people’s minds about disability. But at the same time, if I need to take on that “typical angry activist” role in order to get change, then that’s what I will do.
What can the travel community do to make opportunities for accessible for disabled bloggers? (Opportunities could include working with attractions, accommodations, and local tourism boards.)
I would basically say to actually SEE a different side to the travel community, see that accessible travel reviews like mine can be a thing, as I don’t think disabled travellers have much of a voice within the community. Yes accessible travel reviews may be not a good thing for some locations (because they may show the place to be inaccessible) but locations should take that as a learning opportunity. When it comes to accessibility on trips. I think the main thing, particularly thinking about trips with brands or tourism boards more specifically, would be to always include disabled people, not have 2 different itineraries where one’s the “normal” itinerary and the other is the accessible itinerary. Either it’s accessible or it doesn’t happen.
You were recently nominated for my blog listing inspiring and inclusive travel bloggers. I later regretted the use of the word ‘inspirational’ – it was initially intended to reference the travels and content creation, but later realised it could have connotations of ‘inspiration p+rn’.
How do you feel about being called ‘inspirational’ and do you think there are better ways to reference disabled people in the public eye?
I think inspirational is an odd word. On the one hand, part of me wants to “inspire” other disabled people and show them that things are possible which they might have previously ruled out for themselves. But at the same time, I’m not inspirational for doing the simplest things. Other words you could use are “informative” or “educational”. They might seem a bit boring but it’s what I intend to be and what I want my blog to be.
What do you think of the image of ‘disabilities’ in the media?
I think there’s still a very one sided view where wheelchair users are seen as the “stereotypical disabled person. I also think TV and media makes too much of a point and a fuss when including disabled characters, where every storyline focus on their disability. Characters should just be able to have storylines, and people be able to have lives, without the entire focus being their disability.
Can you recommend any TV shows, books or movies which have good representation of people with disabilities (Or is there any that you really dislike).
I can’t really say anything either ways here in terms of recommendations or things to avoid. I tend to avoid shows with advertised disabled characters unless it’s been recommended by other disabled people, because I assume it’s going to be portrayed wrongly.
What extra things do you have to bear in mind when planning a day out that a non-disabled person might not think about?
This might be a bit TMI, but where I can pee and when, and conversely how much I can drink. Some places don’t have a disabled toilet which means I can’t drink when there in case I need the bathroom. Also planning the route between locations as I have to account for drop kerbs and construction works (which are often inaccessible).
Any top tips for people with cerebral palsy who are planning a holiday or day trip?
Know your absolute limits in terms of what level of accessibility you can make work and how. For example, I can know I can stay in a standard hotel room (instead of an accessible one) for 1 night if the doors are wide enough to accommodate my electric wheelchair and it is only for only 1 night. Another example would be the hotel I stayed in in Liverpool. This was not accessible, but I had my manual wheelchair and assistance from a friend so I was able to make it accessible. It’s a case of defining your own ideas of “fully accessible” and “workable”, because if a venue says it is accessible, It might not always be accessible for you.
What’s your dream holiday destination and why?
Prague for sure, my dad went and raved about it when he returned. So I feel like I have to go now he’s no longer with us.
What message do you hope people will take away from your blog?
That disabled people are just as capable as everyone else when given the appropriate accommodations.
What is something you are looking forward to?
Honestly, I’m just looking forward to exploring Birmingham more with my friend Lizzie (who’s lived here longer than I have). I’ve fallen in love with the city already and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Finally, are there any amazing bloggers or creators you’d like to shout out today?
Firstly, I’d like to shout out Shona Cobb whose content I have always found really resonates with me. I’d also like to shout out Carrie Ann Lightley, who is someone I definitely see as an inspiration to me in terms of creating content about accessible travel. Last but not least I want to shout out my friend Alex from The VI Critic, who is always teaching me something new about what it’s like to live with a visual impairment.
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Social: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/invinciblewomanonwheels/