The Culture, Media and Sport Committee is currently running an inquiry into the issue of accessibility at sports stadia across a range of sports, including football.
Despite years of campaigning many disabled sports fans have reported that facilities at sports stadia are often inadequate or inappropriate.
Investigations by organisations such as Level Playing Field, United Discriminates and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have highlighted the woeful lack of accessible access for disabled fans.
Many grounds fail to provide the minimum number of wheelchair spaces as recommended by the Home Office and are letting their disabled fans down badly.
On 24 May the Committee heard evidence from Level Playing Field chair Joyce Cook OBE and general manager Ruth Hopkins who spoke about the need for better access for disabled fans. Joyce Cook said, ‘clubs need to at least meet their own minimum standards’ as well as ‘increase their disability and access awareness’.
Cook also spoke about some of the excuses put forward by sports clubs to improve access at their grounds, including the high cost cited by clubs.
She also criticised the lack of information available to disabled fans on club websites which tend to focus only on wheelchair users, and not on other disabilities, and to bury information away, making it difficult for disabled fans to plan their trips to matches.
Many websites are completely inaccessible for fans with visual disabilities, with only 35% of the 92 football clubs providing audio description. Deaf fans and the hard of hearing are also missing out at matches as stewards have often not been trained in using hearing loops.
Cook also described a distressing incident where a father with an autistic son was eventually arrested at a match because his son was not allowed to take a small stick flag into the stadium because stewards had been instructed to remove all flags from fans.
Other learning disabled fans have reported to Level Playing Field that they have been thrown out of grounds because their slurred speech led stewards to believe they were drunk.
Ruth Hopkins spoke about improvements that have happened at some football grounds, including at Bristol City where stewards meet ambulant disabled fans and escort them the their chairs. She also praised Derby County who have demonstrated a commitment to access and inclusion as they develop the ground. They have installed platform lifts and viewing platforms for disabled fans and in 2014-15 reconfigured the away section completely during which time they did not forget their disabled fans.
The Committee also heard that clubs who provide training in disability awareness and etiquette to their staff and stewards mean that disabled fans have a much better experience on match day.
Discrimination lawyer Emma Satyamurti, who has written a user’s guide for disabled sports fans and accessibility to stadia, said:
“As Euro 2016 approaches what better time for football clubs in particular to up their game on accessibility. The Disability Discrimination Act came into force 20 years ago but many sports clubs are still failing to provide their disabled fans with decent access to their grounds.”
“Disabled people make up some 15% of the population and they are missing out on sporting occasions that others take for granted.
“Disabled fans don’t necessarily want to sit in segregated sections of the ground, but want to enjoy the match and engage with the action with their family and friends.
“Disabled fans deserve a better level of service from their clubs and I hope that this inquiry will prompt improvements to access around the UK for disabled fans of all sports.”