Most Premier League football clubs have inaccessible websites and fail to provide audio-described commentary for blind and partially-sighted supporters, according to a new survey by a user-led charity.
The survey of the 20 Premier League clubs found only four of them provided in-house commentary by experts trained in audio-description.
It is just the latest evidence of discrimination at football grounds, particularly those belonging to Premier League clubs that have benefited from millions of pounds in television money.
Two months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that the equality watchdog was to write to Manchester United and the Premier League following concerns passed on by DNS that disabled fans had had their mobility aids confiscated by stewards.
The new survey by Level Playing Field (LPF), the user-led organisation that works to improve access to sporting venues, found that two clubs – Liverpool and Southampton – had refused admission to fans with guide dogs, while only one – Arsenal – provided a toilet area for assistance dogs.
Three clubs – Bournemouth, Liverpool and Chelsea – provide audio-description that has a 30-second time delay, so blind and partially-sighted fans can only hear the action being described half-a-minute after it has happened and the crowd has already reacted.
Another 13 clubs only provide links to local or hospital radio or television commentaries.
And at three clubs* – Crystal Palace, Manchester United and Southampton – away fans have to sit with home supporters if they want to listen to the commentary.
The survey found that most clubs’ websites were inaccessible to blind and partially-sighted fans, while Arsenal was the only club that offered a full match programme in an audio format, but even that was not available until after matches had taken place.
Arsenal fan Wayne Busbridge said some of his worst experiences had been at Manchester United (pictured), because he was forced to sit with home fans to listen to the match commentary.
He said: “It’s not pleasant, you can’t celebrate. I have got spat on and been verbally abused, at United and at Tottenham. But when you report it, they don’t do anything.”
He has also visited grounds with delayed audio-described commentary, which has meant hearing the crowd celebrating a goal before he can hear the relevant commentary, and then trying to listen to the description of the goal as it is drowned out by the noise of cheering fans.
He is also critical of clubs’ websites.
He said: “I don’t know how clubs get away without producing an accessible website. The law is quite clear: I should be able to do what everyone else does, and if I can’t there should be a reasonable adjustment.”
Some Premier League clubs are friendlier than others for away fans, he said. “Stoke couldn’t have helped more. One of their groundsmen drove me back to the train station in his car.”
But he said: “With all the money available to football clubs, it is basically time they pulled their fingers out of their backsides.
“When it suits the Premier League, they pretend they don’t have any influence at all. They should be ashamed of themselves.
“They should be saying, ‘We are the Premier League, with all this money, and we should be getting this right.’ They should set a minimum standard and make the clubs do it.”
Leigh Hutchings, a Watford season-ticket-holder and a Manchester City member, said that buying a ticket for an away match as a blind supporter was so time-consuming that it often “turned into a nightmare”.
He said his best experiences as an away fan had been at Arsenal, the Championship side Ipswich Town, and newly-promoted Premier League side Norwich City, whereas the worst had been a match at Wembley, the national football stadium.
He said: “Premier League clubs have the money, they have no excuse at all. It’s just apathy. We don’t want sympathy, we just want somebody to understand the problems.”
A Premier League spokesman said: “The Premier League is working with clubs to identify scope for improvement of disabled supporter access in their grounds.
“This includes digital services and other facilities for blind and partially-sighted fans.
“We are keen to ensure that all fans have the best possible experience at the match and will continue to work with clubs to develop best practice in this area.”
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said the government took the problems faced by disabled fans “extremely seriously” and was working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and sporting bodies to “address accessibility and improve the match day experience” for disabled fans.
She said: “It’s clear more work needs to be done in this area. A disability should not be a barrier to attending sporting events.
“We’ve sought views of fans with disabilities and will shortly be publishing these findings.”
*Contrary to the survey results originally reported by DNS, away fans at Spurs do not have to sit with home fans to listen to commentaries, which are audio-described by two commentators trained by the RNIB Soccer Sight programme