According to the last census, there are 9.4 million disabled people in England (never mind the US) – that’s almost one in five of the population. In difficult economic times, simple economics might suggest sports clubs would do all they can to open up to all fans – including those with disabilities. The reality is that this simply is not happening.
As a result of recent changes to the law – and especially the Equality Act 2010, it is now illegal for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than other customers. As part of this, sports and golf clubs are required to look at their facilities to determine what adjustments are required to achieve equality (e.g. loop hearing, audio visual descriptions, ramps, suitable toilets, etc.).
Despite the passing of the Act, disability access is still a problem across many sections of the leisure industry – as was demonstrated in a recent survey from the charity, Vitalise. On looking at 52 of Britain’s 100 most visited tourist attractions, the charity found 63% were not fully wheelchair accessible. Shameful!
Other findings included the fact 44% of sites offered no discount for disabled people and 26% of attractions failed to give accessibility information on their websites.
To some extent, catering for everyone may pose difficulties at historical sites, surely it’s a different story at 21st Century sports stadia? Not always – according to a recent BBC report on the Premier League. Since 2004, English Football’s top tier has had guidelines in place setting minimum standards for grounds in terms of provisions for disabled fans (about time!)
The report showed only eight out of 20 Premier League clubs currently provide the required number of wheelchair spaces specified under the guidelines. As part of the BBC investigation, disabled fans reported problems such as having to suffer extremely restricted views and not being able to sit with their own team’s supporters. Some clubs were also shown to have specific disabled fan ticketing policies – meaning disabled supporters were faced with restrictions that do not apply to non-disabled fans.
It seems the R & A (Royal & Ancient Club) is doing more than the PGA in the golf arena in this regard including recently at the Open Championship. Provisions were set up for wheelchair friendly stands on the 8th, 15th, 17th and 18th greens. Wheelchair-accessible toilettes were also provided and marshals were requested to assist in asking spectators to allow wheelchair users to access the front of the rope line where possible. Not totally thought out yet, but a move in the right direction.
Just how difficult is it to achieve equality of provision?
If the richest sporting organization in the country is failing disabled fans, what hope is there for clubs at grass roots level? In fact, with a little common sense, a lot can be achieved; that’s the message from the English Federation of Disability Sport in their recent guide, Access for All: Opening Doors.
The guide will make welcome reading to sports club trustees who want to make changes but are put off by ‘health and safety’ fears (e.g. fire risks) and the assumption that the cost is going to be prohibitive. As the guide puts it, “much can usually be achieved with either modest physical adjustment and/or the introduction of appropriate management practices”.
The providers of sports insurance solutions can also perform a very useful role in helping clubs become more accessible. This is especially the case when it comes to risk management. The approach taken by specialists in this area is not to see disabled people as a ‘problem’ to be dealt with.
Rather, it is often about helping clubs work out the most effective ways of making sure everyone who wants to get involved with the club is able to do so.
Bluefin Sport is one of the UK’s leading independent insurance brokers, providing specialist insurance and risk management services to individuals and businesses.