Chelsea Football Club has signed a landmark legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to improve disabled access at its stadium, which could pave the way for more topflight clubs formally pledging to invest in access solutions.
The agreement comes as the Commission’s final report into Premier League stadia accessibility is published and reveals the extent to which football clubs have improved facilities over the last season.
The report looked at what every club (23 in total) in the Premier League during the 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018 seasons has done to make their grounds accessible for disabled fans.
The Commission said that Premier League clubs “have shown that real change and substantial progress can be made by businesses to improve facilities for disabled people”.
The report found an increase in the number of:
- Wheelchair user spaces: from 3,024 in April 2017 to 3,724 in April 2018, with around 330 additional spaces due to be installed by clubs before next season.
- Accessible toilets: all 20 of the original clubs provide them to the required standard, compared to just 10 in April 2017.
- Changing Places toilets: 22 clubs now provide larger accessible toilets with changing bench and hoist system, up from just seven in April 2017.
- Sensory rooms: all 20 of the original clubs now provide support or sensory aids designed to support people with a range of sensory impairments, compared to seven in April 2017.
David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said that while the Commission met some resistance, it is “pleasing” that a club as big as Chelsea has taken its legal threats seriously.
“There was no excuse for the poor standard of facilities we saw at some clubs last year. As a result of using our powers this won’t be the case in future. Disabled people must be able to participate equally in all aspects of life.”
William Bush, executive director at the Premier League, said: “Premier League football is for everyone and clubs have a long tradition of welcoming disabled fans to their stadiums. In the last three years clubs have made huge improvements to disabled access for their fans.
“The scale and scope of the work undertaken – from enhanced car parking and ticket purchasing options to increasing the wheelchair bay provision – is unprecedented in any other sport or entertainment sector.
“All clubs will continue to engage with their disabled supporters and are committed to making future improvements to keep pace with rising standards.”
Burnley and Watford, two clubs with plans for significant improvements at their grounds, welcomed the opportunity to publicly declare their commitment to these improvements by voluntarily signing up to an agreement with the Commission.
Both clubs have plans in place that will see them meet the minimum recommended requirements and improve the provision they currently offer to disabled fans in time for next season.
Scott Duxbury, chairman and CEO at Watford FC, said: “Watford FC is delighted to have had the chance to share its progressive approach to improving accessibility at Vicarage Road Stadium with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
“The club values the Commission’s collaborative approach, as we undertake further improvements to meet the Premier League’s Accessible Stadia Guide commitment.”
Meanwhile, four other clubs still require improvement. Crystal Palace, Hull City, Manchester United and Sunderland declined to enter into an informal agreement, but have shared their plans for improvement.