Last month I was proud to open a unique disabled-friendly footpath between the famous birthplace of the Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury town centre. The 5km route has been designed specifically for those using wheelchairs and with mobility impairments and is an important addition to help people get out and about.
Fully marked and with dropped curbs, it runs almost entirely along public pavements and is equipped with clear signposting for those with vision impairments or learning difficulties – and has extra seating for those who need a place to rest.
These are the sorts of footpaths I would like to see rolled out at popular tourist areas across the country. And that’s not the only area of outdoor life that I want to see improvements made to accessibility for disabled people.
Football is part of Britain’s heritage – it runs through our blood – but sadly some of the biggest football clubs across our land are putting up barriers preventing disabled people enjoying the sport. And that’s a complete disgrace.
BBC Sport and charity Level Playing Field research shows that nearly half of Premier League football clubs – including the likes of Manchester Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea – don’t offer even half the wheelchair space they should for disabled people. It is believed the situation is even worse in lower leagues in England, Wales and Scotland.
That’s woefully inadequate and I’m blowing the whistle to make sure things change. I’ve written to every professional football club in the country to remind them of their obligations under law to provide adequate room and adjustments for disabled fans. I’m calling on them to take urgent action to redress the problem.
I’m working closely with the disabled football charity Level Playing Field to leverage change and have asked to meet Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke to make sure we stamp out discrimination in all football leagues across Britain.
The truth is we need a complete overhaul of many grounds and of how disabled fans are supported at every level of the sport – and that should start at the very top.
And it’s not only wheelchair access that falls short, but access for people with all kinds of impairments. The law means clubs should be making reasonable adjustments for people with all sorts of disabilities. This includes providing induction loops for people with hearing impairments, audio-description facilities for people with sight impairments and free tickets for people who support disabled people to come to a game.
Disabled fans got a real taste of what’s possible in accessible sports arenas during the London Paralympics and can see that scores of football grounds are simply providing a raw deal. I’m showing the red card to illegal and unequal treatment of disabled people – to make sure every one of us can enjoy the beautiful game.