Joyce Cook OBE, Chair, Level Playing Field, and Ruth Hopkins, General Manager, Level Playing Field, recently gave evidence to the Accessibility of sports stadia inquiry. Read her comments in full, which include her concern about the amount of excuses that still abound that it is not possible; it is too expensive. She says that with smart, low-cost solutions very much is possible. But that it is not all only about infrastructure. There are lots of other aspects in regards to service and information.
Below is Joyce Cook’s opening statement. The full evidence is on parliament’s web site.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting us. We are really delighted that the Select Committee is focused on our topic. It is something we have been passionate about for a very long time and been aware that it has been a serious issue for a very long time. If we just reflect, the Disability Discrimination Act first came into practice 20 years ago and here we are, after all of this time, still in this current situation. Yes, there is rightly progress, but we still have a great deal to do.
One of the biggest concerns I have is the amount of excuses that still abound that it is not possible; it is too expensive. We have endless examples where with smart, low-cost solutions very much is possible. It is not all only about infrastructure. There are lots of other aspects in regards to service and information. If I may I will just touch on a few of those now.
Our primary focus has been over the years on football, but from 2008 we began to get involved with other sports. We have a feel for other sports, but our real intelligence, for want of a better description, is around football and our day-to-day work is largely on football, although we have had some great interaction and really positive steps with cricket, premiership rugby and rugby league more recently.
I think it is worth us all remembering that this is the largest minority group. We talk about disabled people; we talk about 15% of the population and rising. I think we often forget that. This is a very large number of people that I think at the moment are getting a really raw deal. What is clear to me and to us as an organisation is that disabled fans in particular realised from the great experiences and positive experiences they had around London 2012 just what they were missing at matches week in, week out. We saw a significant increase in complaints after that because, quite rightly, their expectations were raised.
It is also worth noting that it is much more than just being about a football match. It is about a sense of belonging, well-being, self-esteem. We often forget that. We quite rightly talk about the health benefits of sports participation for disabled people, but the well-being, social inclusion, removal of isolation and so on is critically important. We have examples. My own example: I spent two years when I became disabled just before I was 40 that I did not leave the house. I look back; I was probably depressed. I stopped engaging with life, yet I had had a really busy job—I had worked as a sales manager in Europe—a busy social life, and I completely withdrew from the world. A game of football gave me my life back and we have endless similar testimony. It is about so much more but, of course, it is about the basic right to be able to do what everybody else maybe takes more for granted.
We have issues with disabled people who want to go to matches with family and friends and have to sit in a different stand. We have issues whereby disabled football fans, where it is so important to sit with your own fans, are having to sit as away fans with the home fans, often complaining that they are asked to hide their team colours, not to celebrate goals. We have lots of incidents where disabled people go to a football match, particularly ambulant disabled fans and wheelchair users, whereby they sit and at every exciting moment of the game the crowd stands up to watch a goal being scored or to watch a free kick being taken or whatever it might be and they miss those critical moments. That is all part of being in the stadium and enjoying that. These may be fans that have travelled half the country and, with respect, although public transport is greatly improving, it can still be a real challenge as a disabled person.
That touches on another issue. If we think about a disabled person who decides they want to go to a sporting event, they have to think about, first of all, how am I going to get there; how am I going to get a ticket; what is it going to be like when I am there; I particularly need reassurance that I am going to be properly accommodated; will there be toilets I can use, all those things that most of us just instinctively accept that it will all be laid on for us.
Most of the websites are still inaccessible, some completely inaccessible. If I use voice-activated software as a blind person, for example, the websites are inaccessible. The places where the information lies around clubs and stadiums, if it does exist on the website, it varies where it is located. It is like a whole exercise in detecting to be able to find that information in the first place, and mostly you cannot.