Disabled sports fans 'feel frustrated and isolated' by unfit venues says charity

Disabled sports fans 'feel frustrated and isolated' by unfit venues says charity Credit: ITV News Central

A disabled sports fan says young people are often at a disadvantage attending live events due to poor layouts and accessibility in stadiums.

Harriet from Worcestershire took part in a UK-wide survey for the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers ahead of this week’s Paralympics.

The report found that many local disabled fans feel frustrated and isolated and concerned they're being shut-out by venues across the West Midlands.

Blog by Harriet Butler from the West Midlands, who is a Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazer:

I am a massive sports fan! I enjoy watching football, tennis, rugby, athletics and a whole host of other sports. Going to these events is a big part of who I am.

But, often, I face difficulties in attending sporting events. This is because I have a muscle-wasting condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Due to my condition, I now use a powered wheelchair to get around.

I am part of Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers, a network of 700 young disabled people who campaign to improve on social justice issues.

They've just released a brand new report 'Move the Goal Posts' which identifies the barriers young disabled people face when watching sport.

It revealed that young disabled people are often at a distinct disadvantage in attending live sporting events due to stadium layouts and accessibility.

Sadly, my experience backs up their findings...

My first hurdle is always getting tickets and often it proves impossible and I am not alone in this. Trailblazers found that nearly nine out of 10 of the young disabled people surveyed felt disadvantaged by the ticket booking system.

This is because disabled people, like myself, are not able to book online so we have to rely on expensive and undermanned phone lines. This is often a fraught experience as many venues have limited spaces for wheelchair users.

But even if you get tickets, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good experience. The report found that half of the young disabled people surveyed had to sit away from family and friends. This, unfortunately, does not surprise me.

When I go to a sporting event, I’m unable to watch sport with my family and friends. Instead, I am always limited to taking one carer with me. If I go with anyone else we are split up. Personally sport is all about being together and sharing the highs and lows but I end up feeling isolated.

In many cases the accessible seating area is open to all the elements. I had a rubbish experience watching the Worcester Warriors at Sixways because I was soaked through.

We have covered areas for people who require wheelchair access, which are available to pre-book, and we have a staff member dedicated to answering questions related to stadium accessibility.

Jim O’Toole, Chief Executive

In addition, I often have to contend with many obstructions to my view of the game.

When I attended the Aegon classic tennis at Edgbaston Priory Club metal railings blocked my view.

We are very sorry to hear of this fan’s experience and we urge them to contact us directly so we can address this issue.

Spokesman from the LTA

I’ve had spectators stood in front of me blocking my view of the home straight when I attended the diamond league at the Alexander Stadium.

We take provision for disabled spectators very seriously and are proud to offer excellent facilities for disabled spectators at all British Athletics events. We have received no complaints but would welcome any feedback that could help us to improve the experience of our customers.

Spokesman from British Athletics

It's not surprising that one of four of the young disabled people surveyed for the report say that venue access is the number one reason for not attending more sporting events.

There is undoubtedly room for improvement to enhance the experience of disabled sports fans.

Here are a few of the things I would change to improve my and other young disabled people’s experience:

  • Every fan should have the freedom to book tickets online and have more choice of seating with a greater number of spaces

  • Not just at the front where you are open to the elements and the view can be obstructed - this would also avoid segregation and enable integration

  • Disabled spectators shouldn’t be limited to having one person accompanying them

  • It would be helpful if more venue access information was available online to help me plan my visits

I love going to sporting events but there is so much that could be done to improve my experience. I really hope sport venues sit up and listen to what disabled spectators have to say and start to make positive changes.

Sport should be for everyone and no one should be disadvantaged in supporting their sport and team.

Read more: Rail network to step up disabled-friendly travel

These are the views of Harriet Butler and do not necessarily represent those of ITV News.