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  • Writer's pictureEmma Vogelmann

Who is 'The Wheelchair Activist'?

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Hello and welcome to the first post on my brand-new website, The Wheelchair Activist!

Artwork by Kitty Strand Designs

For those of you who don't know me, I am Emma Vogelmann. I'm nearly 28 years old, I have 2 beautiful dogs and I have a condition called spinal muscular atrophy which causes me to use an electric wheelchair. In 2009, I contracted the swine flu when I was living in Chicago which left me needing a tracheostomy and a ventilator. I know, that's a lot of equipment for one person! But hey, it keeps me alive and doing the work that I love which is activism.

I first came across the term 'armchair activism' back in 2019 when it was criticised for not being 'real' activism. Essentially, “armchair activism” is being vocal on social media about causes and campaigns but not going out into the community to volunteer your time or physically lobby politicians. As a disabled person and someone who loves a Twitter rant, I was angry that this type of activism wasn't seeing as equal to physically chaining yourself to the gates of Parliament. (You'll soon learn I'm a fairly dramatic person!) Society creates so many barriers for us to go out and do anything so why was our contribution to causes that we care about deeply being undervalued? My full blog on 'armchair activism' can be found on Muscular Dystrophy UK's website.

I didn't realise this at the time but I started my career in disability rights as an 'armchair activist'. While I was at university I experienced discrimination from both the university administration and from my fellow students. This was the first time I had ever not been able to achieve and participate in the same way as non-disabled people purely because of my disability. One day I got so angry at the injustice of it that I called my best friend to have a rant. She told me I should write it all down and try and get my experience published so that other people knew what was going on and maybe that would make the administration care. (Spoiler alert, it didn't.)

But I did take her advice and ended up being published in The Huffington Post UK in 2016. I realised by an amazing platform the Internet was for getting my story and my lived experience out in front of people that I would never be able to connect with in person. I wasn't just doing it for myself, but for other disabled people who may not feel able or safe to do the same. It all sort of took off from there.

Since then, I have worked with organisations such as Muscular Dystrophy UK, Amnesty International, SMA UK and Scope to raise the profile of issues facing the disabled community. Over the next six years, I became someone who wouldn't even call themselves disabled to someone who now calls themselves 'The Wheelchair Activist'. I have written policy reports, met with Members of Parliament, recorded podcasts and so much more, while sitting at home on my laptop and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It's not about how you do something, it's about the fact that you're trying.

That is why I have created this beautiful corner of the Internet called The Wheelchair Activist. I want to shine a light on the amazing disabled community I have come to be a proud member of. This website will not only share all of the work that I am doing, but will also introduce you to some other pretty amazing disabled people who are changing the world in their own way. Want to know more? Head over to my podcast page.

I can't wait to see you there!


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