A devoted Derby County fan and wheelchair user, Alex Steward, 27, is expressing concerns about the inadequate facilities for disabled supporters at several League One stadiums. The dedicated Rams supporter has followed her team for the past decade but is now contemplating skipping away matches due to subpar conditions at various grounds.
Issues raised by Steward range from obstructed views of the pitch to insufficient access to toilets, impacting her ability to fully enjoy the matchday experience. Despite paying the same price for tickets, she emphasizes the importance of equal access for disabled fans, stating, "Disabled fans don't want special treatment, we just want access to the same facilities and have the same experience."
For Alex, supporting Derby County has been a significant part of her life, providing a shared passion with her father, Mark. They have attended games at Pride Park and various locations across the country. However, the relegation of Derby County from the Championship in 2022 meant visits to smaller stadiums, revealing inconsistent access to facilities and seating.
The Stewards have encountered challenges such as sitting at pitch level with obstructed views and being placed among home fans. Alex reflects on the emotional impact, stating, "I do get upset sometimes, but this is the first season where I have come away from an away match and thought 'I don't really want to go to away matches if they are like that.'"
The Level Playing Field charity, dedicated to advocating for equal access to sports for disabled fans, reported an increase in concerns about stadium accessibility during their 2022 fan survey. The English Football League (EFL) acknowledges these issues and asserts its commitment to collaboration with Level Playing Field and clubs to enhance matchday experiences across all competitions.
In response, the EFL states, "We are implementing a range of measures to enforce and improve disabled facilities. We are committed to a programme of continual improvement, in conjunction with our clubs and Level Playing Field, ultimately to help clubs meet their legal responsibilities under the 2010 Equality Act."
As discussions around accessibility in sports continue, Alex's advocacy sheds light on the challenges faced by disabled football fans and emphasizes the need for ongoing efforts to ensure an inclusive and enjoyable experience for everyone.