Disabled people constitute the largest minority group in any population, with the World Health Organization estimating that there are more than one billion disabled people living today. This is a number that will continue to grow as people live longer lives, and it can be assumed that many of these people will be football fans – the World’s most popular game.
By Michael Rice
Football has a unique power to change the lives of many people, and to create memories that can last a lifetime. It is therefore hugely important that the game is accessible, welcoming and inclusive for all.
The Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) associate partner of UEFA, and we work together towards our aim of ‘Total Football, Total Access’.
But what do we mean by Total Football, Total Access? To us, it is clear – a game that embraces access and inclusion across all levels, with disabled people having the opportunity to take their rightful places as spectators, players, volunteers, coaches, administrators, leaders and as decision makers within football.
CAFE works with a wide range of stakeholders across UEFA’s 55 member national football associations, including leagues, clubs, stadiums, disabled fan groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We also work with groups who represent disabled fans on a national level where they exist, including in Scotland with the Scottish Disabled Supporters Association (SDSA).
The empowerment of disabled football fans to act as their own advocates is one of CAFE’s key aims and we support the growth and development of pan-disability fan groups on a club and national level.
Access and inclusion
There is plenty of great work taking place across Europe to improve access and inclusion, not least in Scotland, where many clubs and stadiums are working to provide a more welcoming experience.
Each year, CAFE hosts its Week of Action where stakeholders across Europe are invited to celebrate access and inclusion. During this year’s campaign, the SPFL and SPFL Trust worked with 12 Scottish clubs to provide 125 disabled people with the opportunity to attend live matches. Arbroath, Dundee, Forfar Athletic, Kilmarnock, Morton, Partick Thistle, Peterhead, Queen’s Park, Raith Rovers, Rangers, Ross County and Stranraer came together to promote inclusiveness and invited disabled people to join them at their matches.
It is important to ensure the matchday experience is accessible and welcoming to all. For some fans, including fans with autism and other sensory disabilities, attending a football match in a busy stadium can be a somewhat daunting experience. To enable fans to enjoy an inclusive matchday experience, Airdrie and Rangers have both created sensory rooms within their stadiums where fans with sensory disabilities can watch the match in a quiet and controlled environment.
Elsewhere, St Johnstone also held a CAFE Week of Action celebration with the club’s disabled fans, showcasing some of the accessible matchday services that the club has in place including audio-descriptive commentary for partially sighted and blind fans. This is just a selection of some of the great work that is taking place across Scotland to improve access and inclusion for disabled people through football. There are also active disabled supporters groups with at least 10 of next season’s 12 Scottish Premiership teams, representing the interests of the club’s disabled fans. Scottish clubs are also appointing Disability Access Ofﬁcers, as required under UEFA Financial Fair Play and Club Licensing regulations, to champion access and inclusion across all levels of the club structure.
If you are interested in taking part in the CAFE Week of Action 2018 or have any other queries, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 020 8621 2405.