As you probably already know, I follow the mighty Rams both home and away, whilst a lot of clubs seem to have fairly good disabled access, going to away matches can still be a struggle.
I am lucky to have had a positive experience with Derby. When I decided to start going to matches I was able to go to the stadium with my Dad (who is my carer) to try out the different disabled seats available to find the best view for me. Derby have a lot of disabled seating, some were pitch side, some are on purpose-built platforms and some are built into the stands (this is where I sit now).
My experience is primarily in the championship, although I have been to a few premier league stadiums for cup games. This season I made the trip to Old Trafford for the Carabao Cup (quick reminder that Derby won on penalties), who have recently upgraded their disabled seating, in fact, I know the seating was new thanks to the free “Rolling Reds” disabled supporters’ magazine I was given on arrival. This is an example of a club really doing their best to accommodate supporters of all needs.
Unfortunately, not all away days are as positive as my trip to Old Trafford. Here are a few things which I believe clubs should think about when it comes to making sure visiting disabled fans will have a positive experience.
1. The ticket buying process
Disabled tickets are rarely available to buy online, you are required to either visit the ticket office in person or phone (often a charged number) to be able to purchase your tickets. This means I always run the risk of not getting a ticket due to the process being twice as long as a few clicks on the website would.
2. Number of tickets available.
Football Clubs are expected to make 10% of their seating, disabled seating. However, it is rare that you will find a club meeting this expectation. For this reason, I pay for an Away Membership to make sure I can get a ticket due to such limited wheelchair spaces.
3. Where will visiting disabled fans sit?
After the last few years of visiting over 20 stadiums, there is one particular question I have in mind when it comes to access. That is, will I be sat with fellow Derby fans? If I’m paying to go to a match I want to be a part of that buzzing atmosphere when you get a last-minute winner.
On more than one occasion last season, I found myself not sat anywhere near fellow Derby fans, on one occasion I found myself sat completely opposite them. Although it is great to be able to watch my team play, having to do it whilst awkwardly sat with the home fans is not what I planned.
Although there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to disabled access at football matches, starting to go to matches was one of the best things I did.
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.