The CAFE team spoke to one of Borussia Dortmund’s Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs), Antje Boedeker, who works to improve access and inclusion for disabled football fans.

How is your stadium accessible and inclusive for disabled fans?

Firstly, we are constantly trying to make improvements with regards to inclusion. However, due to some structural restrictions, this is not always possible. For example, the topic of emergency evacuation is an ostacle for us, which of course is important to address.

This is why we try to improve in areas in which it is possible for us to make progress again and again in the direction of greater inclusion.

Inside the stadium, we have different areas for disabled people.

We have a wheelchair user area in both the west and east grandstands. The wheelchair user area also has companion seats. There are accessible toilets near to the wheelchair user spaces, and there is a catering service available which takes drink and food requests and delivers your order to your seat.

We also have an area for partially sighted and blind fans, in the east tribune. Our partially sighted and blind fans are given an audio device including headphone. Fans in this area also have access to a catering service which takes orders and brings food and drinks to your seat. In this area too, companion seats are available.

Since 2017, we have also had an area for deaf and hard of hearing fans. A sign language interpreter is on site for every match, and translates the most important events around the game. In order for the fans to know when the interpreter wants to sign something, there are special devices handed out by volunteers (a transmitter and a receiver).

The kiosk next to the area is also specifically designed for deaf and hard of hearing fans. It has order cards with pictures, and the staff also partly know sign language.

Of course, we also have other areas for disabled fans. For example, block 9 is available because access to the area is easier and it does not involve many stairs. In addition, many disabled fans are seated throughout the stadium.

In all areas we have volunteers who are there to solve any problems. They wear yellow jackets emblazoned with the word 'Volunteers' and are therefore immediately recognisable.

What initiatives have you overseen and what would you like to achieve in the future?  

Our club works a little differently regarding the role of our DAOs. My colleagues and I are SLOs firstly, with the duties of a DAO part of our job.

In the past two years, we have already implemented a number of measures. For example, we created the area for deaf and hard of hearing fans, and we have made progress on the area for blind and partially sighted fans.  

We have made an important section of the "Barrierefrei" homepage accessible so that it is easier for disabled fans to access information on it.

Last year we also organised an inclusion matchday and an inclusion trip to Bremen at the end of the season. Amongst other things, a wheelchair accessible bus was used so that all fans could take part in the trip.

Of course, we have many more goals and projects that we will have to tackle in the future, while building on and maintaining the achievements of the projects that we have already completed.

What is the biggest problem you face as DAO?

The biggest problem we face is the structural layout of our stadium. It was first built in 1974 for far fewer supporters than it holds today. This means we face problems such as when trying to install additional areas for wheelchair users.

How do you currently collect feedback from fans, and what feedback have you had?

We have several disabled fans who have founded different fan clubs. There is a deaf fan club, a fan club for blind and partially sighted fans, and a fan club for wheelchair users. We regularly talk to these fan clubs, and ask for feedback from them.

We also have a group of fans called the ‘Fan Council’. We arrange meetings with them to discuss important topics. In these meetings, we regularly exchange ideas about inclusion.

In addition, last season we sent out a survey to all our disabled supporters about the stadium. We asked questions about the journey to the stadium, the conditions and service at the stadium, and also areas for improvement. We wanted to use the feedback to change and adapt our goals going forward.

We receive only positive feedback on our work. The fans were thrilled with initiatives like having a sign language interpreter.

Do you work with any disability NGOs?

The foundation ‘Leuchte Auf’ (Shine On), which was founded by Borussia Dortmund, engages with disability NGOs on a regular basis. It collaborates with several institutions and clubs in Dortmund and the surrounding area, supporting them in promoting inclusion and raising awareness of the importance of inclusion.  We as SLOs interact with projects linked to different NGOs. One example is ‘Die Paritätische’, who help us make Dortmund’s website more accessible.

Do you work with other departments at your club?

In order to continue to realise our goal of inclusion, it is necessary to work together with other departments. This means that we work together very closely with the foundation ‘Leutche Auf’, and also the ticketing department, the department of communication and many other departments.

Further partners that we work with are the "Fan-Projekt Dortmund e.V." and the "BVB-Fan- und Förderabteilung".

How is ticketing at your club inclusive?

There is a specific ticketing system for wheelchair users. Since we receive so many requests for tickets, we introduced a raffle system a few years ago to make the distribution as fair as possible. All fans who are wheelchair users can apply for individual games via the homepage.

All other disabled fans can apply for tickets by email. However, as the number of requests is increasing, in the future we will also introduce a raffle system to make the process as fair as possible.

Disabled fans buying a home-match ticket have a concession system regarding prices, enabling differently disabled fans from all backgrounds to buy tickets for matches.

The concession system was discussed with the club’s disabled fans, who voiced the wish to maintain this system rather than having a system of equal prices.

Does your club have accessible workplaces and an inclusive employment policy?

We have monthly meetings of a working group dealing with the issues of inclusion, at which our SLOs are present, as well as the director of organisation, the security officers, and a member of the ticket-sales office.

In addition, we exchange information of course with our team of SLOs and our network of partners.

Do you have any advice for anyone in a similar role?

During my first year as SLO I realised that awareness has to be increased around the needs and rights of all fans, especially disabled fans. We as SLOs and DAOs, alongside other employees of a professional football club, must regularly remind our clubs of the importance of inclusive actions and the empowerment of all actors.