Here's what it's really like travelling around Birmingham in a wheelchair

Whether it’s taking a train to visit a friend, a spot of retail therapy in the Bullring or a meal at one of Birmingham's new high-end restaurants, it’s easy to forget that for the 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, a simple day out is far from straightforward.

For wheelchair users, getting from A to B requires time, patience and - quite often - bravery.

An inconsiderately-parked car might leave a wheelchair user with no other option but to venture onto a busy street into oncoming traffic, while the lack of a dropped kerb can make the simple act of crossing the road a nightmare.

But just how accessible is Birmingham to someone in a wheelchair? And how could it be improved?

We spoke to Emma Dobson, 25, a pharmacologist with cerebral palsy about her experience travelling around the city.

She said there was a lot to be done to ensure disabled people felt included in Birmingham.

Emma says there are some parts of Birmingham which are particularly inaccessible to people with mobility issues.

“The main thing that bothers me is a lack of dropped kerbs in the city” she says, “in areas like Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter especially.”

Work is currently underway along Digbeth High Street to extend the tram network, which Emma says makes navigating the area "very difficult".

When we meet in Digbeth, Emma talks us through the difficulties she faces. 

“The lack of dropped kerbs and ramps in the area mean I’m always having to go down a side street to find a dropped kerb to then go back up,” she says.

“Digbeth is such a nice area with lots of cool things to see so when I’m invited there I want to go, but I also know what I have to tackle to get there.”

The narrow pavements of Gibb Street pose a particular problem to Emma. 

At one point, she encounters a parked car blocking the path. 

While many people, myself included, were able to squeeze past the car, or quickly hop onto the road without a second thought, Emma had no option but to turn back and drive on the road.

At the busy junction between Gibb Street and Heath Mill Lane, Emma is left stranded in the middle of the road with cars roaring by and no dropped kerb in sight to allow her to alight the pavement to safety. 

“It’s really frustrating because it’s such a simple thing to fix", she says, "it’s so easy to put a simple dropped kerb in and it would make such a big difference.”

“I see certain things like this and think I’m not supposed to be here - like this city isn’t designed for me.”

Birmingham City Council said residents can request that dropped curbs are created on older pavements and for pavements to be made level for accessibility reasons by completing this online form.

Residents can also report road surface defects or pavement obstructions.

A consultation was launched last year to ban antisocial parking with offending motorists potentially being issued 70 fines should they block a footpath by parking up on the kerb.

Emma is on her way to Erdington for a job interview. 

As her train pulls into the station, she’s faced with a recurring problem - there’s no ramp or member of staff in sight.

Emma resorts to pulling the emergency assistance button. 

A "visibly annoyed" train guard tells her to “just wait” next time - but Emma knows just waiting for help to arrive is rarely a viable solution.

“You’re always hoping someone is there on the other end of the line waiting to help you off the train, it can be very nerve racking," she explains. 

“If anything goes wrong, or the train guard hasn’t been told I’m on the train, I’m stuck on this train and who knows where it’s going?”

According to the Department for Transport, disabled adults in England make 26 per cent fewer trips than those without a disability.

For Emma, getting on and off the train requires a great deal of forward planning - she has to be at the station 20 minutes before departure time. 

“You’re supposed to pre-book your assistance for the train - even if it’s a train within Birmingham.”

“I try to pre-book as best I can but, obviously, I have a life and plans can change at the last minute sometimes.”

“All three of the major stations in Birmingham (New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill) have disabled access, but when you go to some of the smaller stations outside the city centre, the likelihood of them being accessible decreases.”

According to research conducted by disability charity Leonard Cheshire, 41 per cent of train stations in Britain don’t have any step-free access.

Emma has lived in Birmingham for nearly two years and says she is "sick of feeling excluded all the time.”

“We’re not seen, we’re not thought about at all," she says. 

“We’re always an afterthought, I’m always going through the back door of places or down some dodgy alleyways to get where I need to be.

“Disabled people are part of the Birmingham community, and we should be treated as such.”

“People think when I’m outspoken on issues around accessibility that I’m attacking the city, but I don’t want to attack anyone - I love this city, I just want better.”

She has called on Birmingham City Council to meaningfully engage with disabled people when it comes to public planning.

“Before you start regenerating an area, make sure disabled people are involved in the plans,” she said.

“If disabled people were involved and access was thought of from the start, I wouldn’t feel the need to point out the problems. 

In response, a Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “All new construction work conducted by Birmingham City Council on its highways, must accord with the Equality Act which enables all members of the public to use all of the facilities, wherever possible.

"This means the council must create dropped-kerbs at all new road-crossings.

"Additionally, we spend over £30,000, every year, in response to accessibility requests. Most of this budget is spent on creating disabled bays in response to public demand."

Emma, also known as the Invincible Woman on Wheels, runs a blog where she documents her life as a disabled person in Birmingham.

She posts venue reviews, travel guides and offers advice and support on a range of issues facing the disabled community.

She says she wants her blog to “make a difference” and raise awareness around the issues people with disabilities face in their day-to-day lives. 

“I want to show other disabled people they’re not alone and that, even if they're on the other side of the world, people are having the same experiences,” she says.

“I also want to show people what it’s like to live here in Birmingham.”

“I think that’s something a lot of people miss - disabled people aren’t just existing, we want to live. We want to go to places and see things.”

“Disabled people are just as capable as everyone else when given the appropriate accommodations.”

Emma's blog, which she launched in 2016, has been read by more than 10,000 people in over 70 countries.