January 29, 2015

Disabled Access At Gigs Must Be Improved – Why Not People?

Disabled music fans are back in the news and fortunately this time it’s not because they’ve found themselves unintentionally on the wrong end of an ill-conceived Kanye West rant. This week we’ve seen disabled people putting themselves in the news in order to both criticise and offer a solution to the terrible lack of disabled access at live music events (although it is noticeable that a well organised grass roots campaign around disability issues still doesn’t attract the same number of column inches that one ego-maniacal rapper can). It’s all part of a brilliant new idea to create a way for disabled people to enjoy going to gigs as much as their able bodied friends and fellow fans are able to.
Research has highlighted the dire state of access at live music. Although a degree of accessibility is now common at most live venues, it’s often a box ticking exercise and fails to provide real solutions. For instance, 77 per cent of young disabled people believe that booking tickets for a live music puts them at a substantial disadvantage to non-disabled people. Perhaps this is because fewer than 1% of seats (and often 0% of tickets in standing areas) at the UK’s biggest concert venues are accessible for wheelchair users? For this to be the case in the country’s biggest venues is really quite concerning.
We’ve reviewed a selection of concert venues on our website, but we have tended towards medium to small venues, assuming that the real powerhouses like the O2, Manchester Arena, the Barclaycard Arena etc would be more accessible due to demand, pressure on them and the fact that they’re not short of money to make alterations. It’s shocking to see how wrong that assumption was and how limited access is at all venues.
Even the country's biggest venues are offering little for disabled fans

Even the country’s biggest venues are offering little for disabled fans

When we reviewed Concorde, Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Hammersmith Apollo we found that all offer reasonable, but limited access. The second two were examples of a repetitive problem where disabled gig-goers are finding themselves isolated from the rest of the audience and often from the friends they came with. At far too many venues wheelchair users are prohibited from mingling with the rest of the crowd but must watch from a designated viewing platform. This separation obviously prevents disabled music fans from having the same enjoyable experience and doesn’t send a very inclusive message in any shape or form.
Things were worse at other venues, such as Brixton Academy where our reviewer found that “The 02 Academy ticks the majority of ‘access’ boxes, however, as is often the case, this does not translate smoothly into a fully inclusive, dignified experience…Unfortunately, the Academy operates a zero tolerance policy: prohibiting wheelchair users from mixing with the crowd and enjoying the arena. When I tried to get close to the stage, I was forced to return to the disabled viewing platform at the side of the pit and threatened with eviction if I did not comply; despite the fact I was not inebriated, am over the age of 21 and was covering the event for a music website.”
Similarly we found that at KOKO in Camden:”Wheelchair users are required to watch from the balcony and are unable (due to the myriad of staircases), as well as forbidden, to join the rest of the crowd on the dance floor. Watching other people have a good time is not my idea of fun”
Brixton Academy felt the wrath of our reviewer

Brixton Academy felt the wrath of our reviewer

One noteworthy exception is The Camden Roadhouse, where rather than isolating wheelchair users on a designated platform, they are ‘free to roam’ throughout the hall. Of course, this is can cut both ways as it might mean you don’t get the best view, but then that’s the case for everyone in standing areas at gigs, save for John Cleese, Peter Crouch and NBA Basketball players. The Roundhouse is fabulous venue which did a remarkable job of providing disabled access and maintaining its original Grade II* listed features when it was redeveloped in 2004-6. However, it is a rare exception to the usual problems which are leaving young (and old) disabled people feeling unequal and unable to attend the gigs they want to.
Step forward BBC Radio One DJ Jameela Jamil who has created a new music and events members club, Why Not People, to make music more accessible. The project is about getting music venues to put on gigs for disabled people and massive stars including Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Mark Ronson are headlining a series of gigs to launch the company. It’s going to operate as a private members club for disabled people who can then invite able bodied friends to gigs. It’s a fantastic initiative to open up concert venues to all people whether disabled or otherwise and to give disabled people the full gig experience that they just can’t get elsewhere at the moment.
Why Not People membership opens on the 1st of February and is going to cost £15 per year. Alternatively there will be the option to pay £20 for a 5 year membership. A first concert in the Indigo at the O2 is on the horizon, as is a collaboration with yours truly at Blue Badge Style. We’re huge supporters of this exciting and pioneering project which Jameela Jamil has described as “a chance for us all to party with the people we should have partied alongside all along. With accessible venues, the finest talent on the planet, we promise to put on gigs, events and club nights that you will never forget.” It’s a message for music lovers that sounds well worth listening to!
Hubbard & Bell

January 28, 2015

Hoxton Hotel Comes To Holborn – Good Access At Hubbard & Bell, Complications In The Hotel Pricing

I recently went to Hubbard & Bell – the restaurant at the Hoxton Holborn hotel (sister to original Hoxton hotel, which was one of the most disabled aware venues I have ever visited) which has lived up well to the original version in terms of style and access.

The decision to keep the Hoxton hotel name as they branch out the Hoxton brand into new areas may seem potentially confusing to some, but the image of Hoxton hipster style is now so well known that the name gives you a good sense of what to expect. At the Hoxton Holborn, the trendy Shoreditch vibe has been transported into a more central London location and given the slightest polish to fit in with the new surroundings. While the urban chic style remains, complete with vintage furniture and an embarrassment of coolness, you’re less likely to find as many beards here as you would back in Hoxton.

I only went to Hubbard & Bell restaurant on my visit, rather than staying in the hotel, but it was a great place to eat – not too expensive and really stylish. I recommend the salmon with horseradish and truffle flavour chips in particular. The restaurant has flat access and plenty of room even when it’s very busy (as it was when I visited). There’s also a disabled toilet there.

Access at Hubbard & Bell was excellent and the hotel itself sounds good too, even if the accessible options are a little pricey. Having moved from Hoxton to Holborn, they say that space is at an even greater premium than ever, so many of the hotel’s rooms (described as Cosy, Snug and Shoebox in size) are too small for reasonable wheelchair access. As a result it’s only the top rate rooms that have been made fully wheelchair accessible. These ‘Roomy’ rooms have larger bathrooms, grab handles and emergency buttons and also connect to Snug rooms for a carer or family member. I can see where they’re coming from but it’s a shame that access is only available in the most expensive rooms.

It leaves me with a problem: should I credit or criticise Hoxton Holborn?  It’s not the first time that difficulties around accessibility will mean paying more and, based on how inclusive the original Hoxton hotel is, I’m sure that they have the best of intentions here. However, after weighing it up, I think that points do need to be deducted for lack of accessibility and facilities in a good deal of the hotel.

If I was just rating the Hubbard & Bell restaurant I would give a higher score as I had a great meal, but overall the Hoxton Holborn gets 2 BBS Ticks for Hoxton style and at least having some accessible rooms (not always a guarantee!).



January 27, 2015

The James Dyson Awards – Solving Problems With Assistive Tech

The James Dyson Awards celebrate, encourage and inspire the next generation of design engineers. The competition brief is simple: design something that solves a problem. After all, it has been said that that is the essence of good design. One area where we still have many problems to solve through design is disability and, as a result, there are lots of exciting new assistive ideas to look at from ‘The Dysons” (presuming that somebody, somewhere has called them that before). Here are the best designs we saw in the 2014 awards:

The Luke Stairwalker is an assistive device to help elderly and disabled people who have trouble climbing stairs. The device is an adapted hand grip that can lock onto customized handrails and provide a more ergonomic support for walking upstairs. The gripping device gives extra support on the stairs and has mechanism that means it won’t slide back in the wrong direction. Additionally, there is a backrest that can be positioned in the rear to rest on when necessary and to act as a safeguard from falling. It could be a cheaper alternative to having to have a full stair-lift installed and the design was awarded with a top 20 place in the competition.


Luke Stairwalker – good idea, not sure about the name

The creatively titled Vehicle For The Disabled is a re-imagining of a wheelchair, specifically designed for transporting paraplegic people in a standing up position. It’s a concept for an electric wheelchair which would be more adjustable and practical than the majority of wheelchairs are at the moment. The idea would be for the vehicle to mainly function with the user in a standing position but with a lifting system in the chair that could raise and lower the user, as and when necessary, and a swivel function to make getting into the chair easier. As you can see below, it’s very much just a concept at this point but it’s a bold one for a real alternative to standard electric wheelchairs.


Vehicle for the disabled

Great minds were thinking alike at the Dyson Awards, which lead to another design in a very similar vein to the ‘Vehicle for the disabled’ in the form of Qolo - one of the overall winners of the James Dyson Award and the best performing design relating to disability. Qolo is also a wheelchair device for upright locomotion and sit-to-stand transfer but the really remarkable thing is that it allows for hands free movement. The device is controlled by small movements of leaning forwards and twisting left and right to control where you go. This means that the experience closely replicates standard movement behaviour of the ‘not yet disabled’ and restores three locomotion functions used before getting lower limb disability. It really is an innovative new idea.



20:20 is a Universal Timepiece which uses both visual and tactile methods to tell the time. Obviously it’s the tactile function which makes this watch innovative and assists people with visual impairments. The outer minute dial and the inner hour dial rotate about the fixed reference dial, all of which use indentations to indicate their relative positions. This means that you can feel what time it is rather than needing to watch the watch hands go round. It’s a good idea but it is one we’ve seen before in the form of the Bradley Timepiece which is a bit cooler, a little bit clearer and crucially is already available to buy.



Another James Dyson Awards design which reminded us of something we’d seen before is The moveker C1 - which was awarded a top 20 place at the Dysons (still not sure anyone calls them that). It’s a clever wheelchair design, using a lever system to mean you can go further and faster. By generating power through levers, attached to each wheel, the difference in effort required is remarkable and this wheelchair looks quite cool too. Having said that, it also looks quite a lot like the Leveraged Freedom Chair which applies a very similar mechanism and has been around for a while. Of course two people can have the same good idea separately but we have seen this sort of thing before, which rather takes away from the ‘wow factor’ for us.


The moveker C1

Two designs for prosthetic limbs featured and we’re going to group them together as they’re vaguely similar although very different at the same time. Limbitless is an affordable, functional, 3D printed arm replacement, for children who are lower arm amputees. It has an inbuilt mechanism allowing the wearer to pick up objects and use their arm as they could before amputation. The other prosthetic design was KLIPPA, a prosthetic leg designed specifically for amputee rock climbers. It’s unique design has a high level of flexibility and articulation compared to standard prosthetics. Both fill their own niche and have new approaches to increasing function and mobility through prosthetic limbs, although most people would probably agree that Limbitless is more ground-breaking.

Klippa (left) and Limbitless (right)

Klippa (left) and Limbitless (right)

Finally, there were four different designs for walking aids at the Dysons, which again we’ll group together. Firstly, there was the Sit & Stand - a hands-free walking assistance device which is worn by attaching it to your leg. Somewhere between a crutch and a prosthesis, this is an innovative solution, but more for short term injuries than long term mobility problems.

Then there was the WALKO design for a collapsible assisting walking stick, which uses the aid of hydraulics system to ease and support the user through walking, standing up and climbing up stairs. It’s practical for storage but perhaps the hydraulics system is aiming a little to high for the market at this stage.

Less innovative but more attractive, the Handycane and Kiklo are quite similarly styled walking sticks with looped handles and muted colours. Both are ergonomic and look appealing. Once more we’re seeing that great minds truly do think alike as, not only are these two designs so similar, we’ve also seen other variations on the Handycane/Kiklo theme from other designers prior to the James Dyson Awards. So many designers can’t all be wrong so were sure something like this will be available to buy soon.


There were many interesting assistive designs featured at the James Dyson Awards. It’s wonderful to see a design titan using his profile to highlight innovative new ideas from young designers in the world of assistive tech. The process begins all over again next week when this year’s competition opens and we look forward to seeing the exciting designs that the next generation of designers come up with in 2015!

The Jam Tree

January 26, 2015

The Jam Tree, Chelsea – Good Atmosphere But No Access To The Superb Garden

I recently visited an eccentric gastro-pub on Kings Road called The Jam Tree. The bar is pretty trendy but was not the best experience for a wheelchair user such as myself.

The pub was a Time Out Love London award winner in 2014 and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The food good was and not too expensive. It’s a mix of British and Colonial-inspired food (curries, battered squid and the obligatory pulled pork burger) and they also make signature cocktails made with Jam as an ingredient. On top of that, The Jam Tree had great atmosphere, although perhaps there were a few Made in Chelsea wannabes.

Unfortunately the pub’s superb garden – which should be one of its key selling points – has no wheelchair access to it as there are loads of steps down from inside and even more steps around the garden. It’s a shame because you can see how it’s become one of the area’s most popular beer gardens. On a more positive note, the main bar is more accessible and step free. There’s just a small ledge at the front door but otherwise there’s smooth floor. There’s not a lot of space inside but I did manage to sit comfortably apart from there being no disabled toilet. So I was comfortable but couldn’t stay comfortable there for too long!

The Jam Tree is cool but is let down by its accessibility (or lack thereof). It gets 1.5 BBS Ticks – almost purely on the basis of stylishness.


January 23, 2015

Prepare For The Weekend With The BBS 3 Tick Wish List

The 3 BBS Ticks are the gold standard for style and accessibility. Today we’re giving out 3 Ticks for the following…


What to know…

Bradley Cooper is currently on cinema screens, starring in the Oscar nominated American Sniper, but it’s also recently been announced that he’ll be crossing the Atlantic this summer to star in a West End version of The Elephant Man at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Cooper, who was once named the best looking man in the world, is not the first person who would spring to mind to play the title role (AKA John Merrick – AKA Joseph Merrick which was actually the Elephant Man’s real name). Even more surprisingly he doesn’t use any make up to become the Elephant Man but relies on movement alone to play the role. Nonetheless, his performance was well reviewed on Broadway and will make interesting viewing.

It should be a fantastic show and is bound to reignite the debate about able bodied actors playing disabled roles, which has been brought up lately surrounding Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking (which earned him an Oscar nomination up against Cooper). There are only two wheelchair spaces in the theatre which will mean tickets go quickly for this 12 week run.

Book tickets for The Elephant Man via http://elephantmanlondon.com/


What to eat…

Stop! Haggis Time.

Some say that the mixture of sheep’s heart and stomach makes haggis the food they simply can’t touch but it’s an important part of what makes Burns Night so special. This year it seems particularly pertinent to celebrate Burns Night after the Scottish Referendum result kept us all part of the same United Kingdom. And anyway, when did anyone need an excuse to indulge and drink good whisky?

A variety of BBS Rated restaurants are celebrating Burns Night with distinctively Scottish menus and many are also providing pipers and speakers to address the haggis. Some of the options we’ve picked out are Blueprint Cafe (2 BBS Ticks) where they have a special 3 course menu, Boisdale Belgravia (1.5 BBS Ticks) for an unrestrained celebration, J Sheekey (2.5 BBS Ticks) which will even be sending guests away with a small bottle of Chivas whiskey for the road on Burns Night and Quo Vadis (2 BBS Ticks) for something a little more subtle. That’s just a handful of ideas but whatever you’re doing this Sunday don’t forget to raise a glass to Rabbie.


What to buy…


Mahabis slippers are a new brand of adaptable, comfortable and stylish shoes for inside and outdoors. They’re modern, cool and it appears they might be really suitable for people who find finding shoes to get on of easily and wear comfortably difficult. They’re made of 100% soft, sculpted, sheep’s wool which is substantial enough to provide warmth, but light and short enough to prevent overheating.  They also have detachable soles that can flick-on and clip-down in seconds. Collapsible heels make the slippers easy to slip-on and more practical for anyone who has difficulty with shoes. Combining style with practicality is what we love to see – they look excellent.

They’re available online for £59 http://mahabis.com/pages/the-slipper