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Alumni

Alumni profile - Emily Rose Yates

I love anything that’s quite investigative and explorative, and I’m lucky that anything to do with travel and accessibility, or current disability issues, is often exactly that. Wherever possible, I use my lived experience as a wheelchair user to add an authentic viewpoint to whatever I’m writing on.

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What influenced your decision to study English at Queen Mary? What modules did you enjoy learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I always loved English at school, and really enjoyed both Language and Literature elements. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do in the future, but knew that being able to read critically, write well and sustain an argument would be good skills to have in a Government role, Law or Journalism. I am a wheelchair user and was desperate to study in a city but also needed an easily accessible campus, so Queen Mary was an easy choice in that sense! I was surprised at the opportunities that living and studying in London granted me; I met new people – both professionally and personally – on an almost weekly basis and learnt how to network and present myself at events. I genuinely enjoyed all my modules, but my third-year ones of Foucault, Lawrence and the Bible as Literature really stood out.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments or favourite places on campus? In my first year, I joined the QM SIFE (now Enactus) team, and worked on social, environmental, and economic projects in the local area. This enabled me to experience life at University outside of academia, and all the opportunities that offers. My friends and I were also big fans of the Farmers’ Market on campus, and admittedly spent one too many nights in Drapers when we just couldn’t quite force ourselves to make the journey into central London!

As part of your degree, you spent a year at The University of Melbourne. How did you decide to take a year abroad, why did you choose Australia, and how did you benefit from studying abroad for a year? I did, and absolutely LOVED it. I had previously travelled to southern Africa in my teens with a group of other disabled people and was craving that sense of adventure again so, when the opportunity presented itself, I just had to apply. I originally applied to study in New York, with Melbourne as my second choice. But I think it was meant to be - my wheelchair wouldn’t have been too happy with New York snow!

Studying abroad just broadened my horizons so much. Coming from a small town in North Yorkshire, London was such an incredibly exciting place to be, but going to the other side of the world without a family and friend support network changed the game entirely. I had to grow up, learn to be a savvy traveller and make friends…fast!

What were your early experiences like after graduating from Queen Mary? Did you find interesting work straight away or was it more of a journey? After graduating I worked at the Student Union for three months, co-ordinating volunteers for Fresher’s Week. It was a lovely and very supportive environment to work in but whilst there, I was invited to Rio de Janeiro by the British Consulate to present on access and inclusion for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I then ended up living in Rio for two years and working as an accessibility consultant for the Games, so was just incredibly lucky to land my dream job in the strangest of circumstances. (I should say, though, that the invite to Rio wouldn’t have surfaced had I not volunteered at the London 2012 Games, so I’ve definitely got the close and convenient location of Queen Mary to thank for that!)

Can you tell us how you got into your work as an accessibility consultant? What does this work involve? My consultancy work started in Rio in early 2014, when I worked for the underground transport system in the city, MetroRio. That role included conducting access audits and risk assessments, sourcing modern and reliable accessibility equipment, training staff in disability awareness, and supporting design teams and architects who were working on a new underground transport line that would take users straight to the Olympic Park. Since then, I’ve worked with train companies, premier league football clubs and most recently Heathrow Airport. I work with a consultancy firm in London called CCD Design & Ergonomics, and run disability awareness training with the brilliant Enhance the UK.

You’re also a journalist. What types of stories do you enjoy exploring – does your work focus on a particular area or topic? I love anything that’s quite investigative and explorative, and I’m lucky that anything to do with travel and accessibility, or current disability issues, is often exactly that. Wherever possible, I use my lived experience as a wheelchair user to add an authentic viewpoint to whatever I’m writing on.

What's the most memorable story you’ve covered and why? Last year, I was asked by Guardian Cities to visit Breda, a city in the Netherlands that had just won an accessibility award. It was great to be a tourist for a few days in a space that I felt really catered to me and my requirements and, it’s true what they say, Dutch people are lovely!

You were recently listed among the Shaw Trust’s Power 100, an annual publication containing the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK. What does it mean to you to be included on this list? Ah, I’m so very grateful. The whole list is curated by nominations from the public so that makes it even more special. There are so, so many brilliant disabled people doing wonderful work that aren’t on that list, though, so I’d really recommend diversifying your social media feeds and following great disabled people who you feel really ‘speak’ to you.

In your work, you often act as a representative or a voice for other disabled people. What are some of the key issues or topics that you want to raise more awareness about when it comes to disabilities and accessibility? Firstly, that access and inclusion isn’t just a ‘kind’ or ‘ethical’ thing to do. The Purple Pound, or spending power of disabled people and their households is currently worth £274 billion a year to UK businesses, so to be accessible and inclusive is also a very savvy, and profitable, business move.

And secondly that social access, or an empathy and positive perception around disability, can mean just as much as physical access. Yes, as a wheelchair user I require step-free access, but the most physically accessible venue in the world doesn’t mean much to me if staff and others do not treat me well whilst I’m there.

What’s the most exciting thing about what you do? There are two things that I really adore: the ability to be able to travel regularly (COVID permitting!) And being my own boss. And the latter is something that I’m just starting to reap the benefits of now; being your own boss is hard work when you’re just starting out, and there’s often a pressure to scream ‘yes!’ to every single slither of an opportunity that comes your way and pitch as hard as you can to everyone you meet. But, once businesses start contacting you with great offers and you can really choose what you want to agree to and how you’d like to structure your week, it’s well worth it.

Do you have any disabled role models that you look up to? Oh, so many. I’m fortunate enough to work with a disability awareness charity called Enhance the UK and be able to call some brilliant, beautiful deaf and disabled women my friends as well as my colleagues. They are exactly the kind of people I wish I’d had in my phonebook at age 15 when I was trying to navigate the world of disability, relationships and everything in between.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates interested in studying English or going into Journalism? Take any and all opportunities to network, as it’s often those people you meet who will offer you that commission, or suggest a direction of working or thinking that you hadn’t previously considered. Try to find and work on your writing niche early (I write on disability issues and accessible travel, for example) so that you’re able to present something that’s both exciting and considered when the time comes.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Emily or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.