Premier League football clubs have fallen under fire from the BBC due to their lack of sufficient wheelchair accessible seats. The Accessible Stadia Guide indicated that new stadiums with “capacity between 20,000 and 40,000 must have a minimum 150 wheelchair spaces, rising by three for every 1,000 seats above the 20,000 threshold.” According to the BCC, “old stadia are not exempt”, even if their antiquated stadiums require more effort. Currently three Premier League clubs (Swansea City, Southampton and Cardiff City) meet the requirement for wheelchair spaces, proving that clubs are not adapting quickly enough to the needs of fans with disabilities, and may face legal action following the implementation of the Equality Act in 2010. The Equality Act legislates that service providers not “treat disabled people less favourably than other customers”.
According to statistics from MPH Group, currently 11 million people with disabilities live in the U.K., or to put in another perspective 1 out of 5 inhabitants are affected by a disability.
Premier League clubs’ focus should expand beyond providing ample amount of wheelchair spaces. The Guardian quoted Mike Penning, the minister of state for disabled people, who called the stadiums “woefully inadequate” for not only wheelchair access, “but access for people with all kinds of impairments.” The reality is one third of NHS users face some form of disability; however, the majority of impairments are not visible, “less than eight per cent of disabled people use wheelchair.” Therefore, after clubs accommodate the requirement for wheelchair spaces, more focus should spread to the broad degree of disabilities faced in the U.K.
In the UK alone, people with disabilities have a combined spending power of £80bn (www.gov.uk)
- 1.87 million people are affected daily by visual impairments
- 10 million people have some form of hearing impairment or deafness
- 3.7 million of those between the ages of 16-64; 58,000 people with learning disabilities are supported by daily care services
- 1 in 6 people have a reading level below an eleven year old (BBC).
These figures represent a large proportion of citizens with disabilities who may need a little extra information to help make informed choices such as accessibility of:
- The stadium and services available
Often it’s the environment and lack of appropriate information that disables people. The Office for Disability Issues found that “around one third of disabled people experience difficulties related to their impairment in accessing public, commercial and leisure goods and services.”
Joyce Cook, Chair of Level Playing Field, believes football clubs can do a lot more. According to BBC, other conflicts arose because “several clubs in the league have different ticket policies for disabled supporters, with restrictions that do not apply to non-disabled fans”. These differences discriminate and create unequal experiences.
Tottenham Hotspurs F.C. improved their grassroots participation with PhotoRoute, an inclusive, picture-based way finding service that offers step-free access as well. Applications like PhotoRoute enable all citizens to navigate quickly with “sat nav and geo located images together with photos, arrows and written directions.”
The focus for stadiums should not be built on one idea or one change for the stadium because not every problem will be answered. Much more broader ideas are needed as well in order to create services as inclusive as possible. With eleven million people affected by disabilities in the U.K. the solution for stadiums does not lie within one refinement. Rather, a variety of smart designs and clear thoughts will be needed to create an inclusive, equal experience among all differing fans. Joyce Cook knows “it’s time we all come together and really put this right once and for all.” We need everyone’s help to gain more awareness to influence more inclusion for everyone in the U.K.