Are football matches accessible for disabled people?
May 18, 2023
Football is the world's most popular sport, uniting people and bringing communities together. Whether you call it football, soccer, or fútbol, it can be a central focus for many people and families worldwide dominating weekends and tv schedules. According to the Premier League, more than 80% of UK adults watched, attended, or followed football in some capacity. This leads us to wonder what the accessibility is like around football matches for disabled people. We asked our followers if they watch in-person matches. 61% of our followers said yes - but how accessible is that experience? Let's find out…
Photo credit: Alex Steward
Yes, they are
The lack of accessibility in stadiums and matches for disabled people has apparently been a long-term issue for many disabled football fans. However, in recent years, there have been efforts to improve this situation. Here’s what we found, along with highlights of good examples of stadium facilities in the UK.
The main physical access requirement from followers seems to be step-free entry and seating. One follower shared they look for “clear sightlines, accessible toilets, access to concourses and the ability to be sat with own fans”. Although these features can be available - much like concert gigs, this can range depending on where you go. A great example of us is Arsenal Football Club's Emirates Stadium. This has over 200 wheelchair spaces, with designated areas for carers and friends. The stadium also has accessible toilets and changing facilities for disabled fans. We love to hear that!
Accessibility for disabled fans isn't just about the physical facilities in stadiums, however. Football clubs must consider the communication and support provided to disabled fans. For example, Manchester United FC has a dedicated accessibility team that works with disabled fans to ensure they have the best possible experience when attending a match. The team provides guidance and support before, during, and after the match, including information on accessibility facilities, assistance with purchasing tickets, and support on match day - which we love to see!
Another aspect some football clubs have introduced is an audio description commentary for blind/visually impaired fans. This service provides live commentary of the match, describing the action and providing insights for fans who cannot see it for themselves. This feature has been introduced in many UK stadiums, including Tottenham Hotspur FC's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Like anything though, it’s all about the promotion of facilities - how widely known is this?
Photo credit: Alex Steward
No, they’re not
When we asked our followers why they don’t go and watch football matches - one follower relayed “Just the thought of it seems too much to bother with”. A significant issue for disabled fans is the lack of sensory facilities in football stadiums. Many who experience sensory overload find the loud noises and bright lights in stadiums overwhelming. The crowds can be intimidating and not welcoming to everyone, which is a huge hindrance to attending a match.
In response to this, football clubs like Manchester City FC have created sensory rooms in their stadiums. These rooms provide a safe and calming space for fans who need to take a break from the excitement of the match. The sensory rooms are equipped with sensory toys, soundproofing, and comfortable seating to ensure fans can enjoy the match in a safe and comfortable environment. We definitely think there should be more facilities like this!
The future accessibility of stadiums
So whilst there are pockets of impressive accessible facilities within some football stadiums in the UK, there still seems to be a lack of consistency. This is a barrier we often see regarding most opportunities for disabled people. It often takes the effort of the disabled community to figure out what access is available and what the process is to book it. Our hope in the future is that stadiums are designed with disabled people in mind and leading the way. Choice is key, whether that’s about your seat, your refreshments or the use of an accessible bathroom.
As Alex rightly points out "Growing up disabled you can struggle to find suitable hobbies, attending sporting events is something that everyone can do and something I really recommend you give a go if you find yourself with a need to get out more". We hope in the future stadiums recognise the value of the 16 million disabled people in the UK, like Alex who love football and are eager to be part of this much-loved sport and community.
For more information about accessible football games - be sure to check out Alex Steward's blog.
Don't forget to Download the Sociability app and follow Sociability on our socials at the end of this page to learn more about disability and accessible venues across the UK!