Commonwealth Games: Spectators, volunteers and Paralympian unhappy with disabled accessibility

This Commonwealth Games is the most accessible ever - but perhaps not for everyone, as Andy Bevan reports.

Paralympian, volunteers and spectators have spoken out about the lack of accessibility at some Commonwealth Games venues in Birmingham.

For one 6-year-old boy from Sutton Coldfield, dreams of watching global stars playing the sport he loves - wheelchair basketball- were crushed, after he had to crane his neck to try and see over metal bars.

The young boy trying to watch the games

Eventually he 'slumped' back into his wheelchair, after trying his best to see over the bars.

Bobby suffered a spinal cord injury during a difficult delivery in 2016, and is unable to use the lower half of his body as a result.

'It was just a shame that we had these issues'

The 3x3 basketball arena at Birmingham's Smithfield venue has wheelchair-accessible viewing. However, the area is at ground level, behind a fence covered in hoardings.Bobby’s frustrated mum, Amy, said: “This type of thing happens a lot, but we had hoped for better at an accessible Games including para sports.”

Amy said she flagged her concerns with staff at the court, who said they would feed back her concerns.

Bobby trying to watch the games Credit: BPM Media

But they said there was nothing more they could do to help at that time so Amy and partner Robert ended up having to sit Bobby on their lap for most of the three hour session.Helene Raynsford, Chair of the Paralympics GB Athletes’ Commission, saw the picture of Bobby and shared it on Twitter, writing: “How can we improve events planning and solutions for disabled spectators to avoid this?

"This young lad couldn’t see over the barrier and branding. Next generation turned up to watch their heroes but unable to see! I experience this myself often.”She added: “This isn’t just a Commonwealth Games/Birmingham 2022 issue so please don’t pile on and shout at them… let’s be constructive and make change!”

But, Bobby isn't alone.

'If you're going to accept volunteers who are wheelchair users or disabled, think about how they're going to get from A to B.'

Tully Kearney MBE, a gold medal para swimmer, volunteered at Sandwell Aquatics in Birmingham for the games. On her first day she parked in her allocated blue badge space, to find it was 0.9 miles away from the venue.

Tully said, "That's a 23 minute walk or push, it was up hill, and loads of paving slabs, and lots of cars parked because it was a residential street, so it was really hard for me to get there."

When Tully arrived at the venue, she found parking wasn't the only problem.

She added, "The concrete is all different types, there's different level, there's dips every where. So it is quite difficult to get around, so I wanted someone with me incase I fell out of my chair."

'It shouldn't be on a disabled person putting effort in just to participate.'

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown travelled to Birmingham arena from Leeds to watch the gymnastics. But a lack of accessible tickets meant she had to buy ones without blue badge parking.

Hannah said: "When we did find somewhere, it was just over half a mile away. And then I found people weren't interested in telling me where the lifts were and expected me to climb flights of concrete steps."

Hannah has tickets for the closing ceremony, and is hoping for a more stress free visit.

'There was only one disabled shower for athletes' - Charlotte Moore, wheelchair basketball.

Helene, a former paralympics and world rowing champion said the issue still occurs at major events.

She said: "I would like to try to find a solution, it is not just Commonwealth Games 2022 and I don’t want to be overly critical of them, I want to see how we can influence event organisers to make things truly accessible, sometimes having people with disabilities as part of the design workforce is helpful."

A Birmingham 2022 spokesperson said: “Our Games is the first to have a dedicated accessibility team and we have also worked with our Accessibility Advisory Forum to provide feedback to us in planning.

“We work with our venues to continually improve the experience for everyone, and we would encourage spectators to speak to our team to see how we can enhance their visit.”