In the UK, venues such as sports grounds are legally obliged, under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t disadvantaged when it comes to accessing and enjoying their facilities.
Last month, however, the BBC reported that several Premiership football clubs, including Chelsea, Liverpool and Watford, are likely to fail to have altered their stadia to meet the required standards by August 2017, the date by which the league had promised its clubs would be compliant.
It’s not just the UK’s football clubs that are falling short when it comes to providing disabled access and facilities either. County cricket clubs, premiership rugby union clubs and even Twickenham, have come under fire. So how are sports grounds failing their disabled visitors and what can be done to redress the situation?
Disabled Access to Sporting Venues – What Issues do People Face?
According to a report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, titled “Accessibility of Sports Stadia”, a survey carried out by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) amongst people with disabilities, the results of which were published in 2015, “showed a shocking lack of provision for supporters with disabilities of all kinds, including in some cases a failure even to train staff in basic disability awareness.”
The survey results showed that people with disabilities faced a range of obstacles when trying to attend sports venues, including:
- Being unable to access clear information about fixtures, disabled access, facilities and transport links
- Being unable to book wheelchair places online
- Lack of appropriately positioned disabled parking facilities at sports venues
- Lack of appropriately positioned wheelchair places and places for carers
- Lack of appropriate seating for people with other mobility issues
- Uneven walking surfaces
- Lack of accessible toilet facilities
- Limited support for spectators with hearing impairments
- Limited support for spectators with visual impairments
- Lack of disability awareness amongst staff at sporting venues.
According to the report, Level Playing Field, a campaigning and advisory organisation for disabled sports fans, receives more than 400 complaints about UK stadiums each year.
What Can Be Done to Change Things And Which Clubs Are Leading the Way?
Perhaps surprisingly, according to the clubs surveyed by the ODI and DCMS, cost doesn’t seem to be the issue when it comes to improving venues and facilities. So are sports clubs just too busy focussing on winning trophies, or are other issues preventing them from meeting the needs of disabled fans?
According to the Select Committee’s report, “the sports clubs consulted by Government appear to have been largely unaware of the inadequacy of the overall response to the needs of disabled spectators.” It also states that some clubs claimed that the age, design and location of their stadia limited the improvements that they could make.
The Premier League issued a statement, quoted by the BBC, claiming that:
“At some grounds, particularly older ones, there are challenging built environment issues and, given that stadiums are in use throughout the football season, there is a limited period in which significant structural work can be done.”
Watford FC, in a statement produced in collaboration with independent disabled supporters group WFC Enables, even claimed that they would not be adding the 61 extra wheelchair spaces required in order for them to meet the requirements set out by the league, as there wasn’t a demand for them. They added that doing so would antagonise “700 able-bodied supporters” who “would be displaced from cherished seats that they may have occupied for many years”.
However, there’s no doubt that some clubs could improve the experience they offer disabled fans dramatically – and some of the changes needed could be made with relative ease. Website redesigns, for example, or changing booking systems to enable wheelchair users to book places online could be carried out quickly and simply, while providing staff disability awareness courses is inexpensive.
One of the football clubs praised for the efforts that they are making to cater for disabled fans is Wrexham AFC. The National League club installed the first of three planned viewing platforms for wheelchair users at the Racecourse Stadium in August 2015, for example, and puts “announcements about substitutions and extra time on the scoreboard, to help those with hearing difficulties.”
As Damian Collins MP, the committee’s chairman, told the BBC:
“Sports fans with disabilities are not asking for a large number of expensive changes, only to have their needs taken into account in the way sports stadia are designed and operated.”
Surely, therefore, many sporting venues in the UK could be doing more?
Are you a disabled sports fan? How do you think sports grounds can be improved? Leave a comment or tell us on Twitter or Facebook.