From the 2nd to 17th April, the 2016 Level Playing Field (LPF) Weeks of Action will be celebrating initiatives that promote access and inclusion for disabled sports fans.On what is the opening weekend of the Weeks of Action, The Football League supported the campaign’s objectives at the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.
Established in 1998, Level Playing Field is a charity dedicated to disabled sports fans and acts as a campaigning and advisory organisation to its membership and other parties across all sports. Since its inception The Football League has enjoyed a close working partnership with Level Playing Field and will once again be supporting its Weeks of Action initiative which is now in its 11th year.
Disabled people constitute the country’s largest minority group at around 15% of the population and this number is increasing year on year. Naturally, a large number of people with accessibility needs are football fans too showing continued loyalty and dedication to Football League clubs up and down the country.
Already there is a significant amount of work being done at Football League clubs to provide disabled spectators a fantastic live match experience. Often this begins by ensuring disabled fans can access club stadia comfortably.
At Derby County supporters arrive at a dedicated car park area, complete with shelters, from where they are taken to their appropriate turnstiles via adapted golf buggies. This has been possible due to the strong relationships the club has forged with local transport providers, their Disabled Supporters’ Association, NGOs and other partners.
Once at the match, simple alterations can often make the world of difference to disabled fans. Like many other clubs, Barnet’s Hive stadium all kiosks have low level serving counters and shop staff are trained on disabled supporter expectations and also ready to assist.
Inspiring a new generation of fans remains a staple for any football club and a number of clubs provide special facilities for disabled children. Blackburn Rovers has teamed up with the AllTogether Social Trust to provide disabled children with a special play area and sensory room.
For Christine Peacock, Rovers’ Access Officer for disabled people, it is the realisation of a long-term ambition. “It means that families with a disabled child and siblings can have family fun together.”
Catering to different types of disabilities is also important and over in Essex, Colchester United became the first professional club to sign up for the Autism Charter, offering a commitment to provide the best possible welcome for those with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.
Like many other clubs, the U’s have been providing partially sighted fans with an audio commentary service and has now also begun to put key staff through sign language training provided by the Royal Association for the Deaf, who are based in the town.
Of course, while Football League clubs can count a great deal of successful developments in this area it is clear that many disabled people have yet to share the passion and pleasures of being a football fan.
With a commitment to inclusion, The Football League looks forward to welcoming more disabled people to League games in the future, proudly joining sports clubs, fans and organisations across England and Wales who are all #united4access and have chosen to share one common message - access and inclusion for all.
For more information about Level Playing Field (LPF) and this year’s Weeks of Action, please visit www.levelplayingfield.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 621 2403.
Alternatively you may wish to send a message of support to @lpftweets and @football_league using the hashtag #united4access.