For the launch of the DAO Newsletter we were inspired to look back at an important success story of international DAO collaboration: the Arminia Bielefeld Sensory Room project.

In August 2018, representatives of BBAG (the German umbrella organisation for Disabled Supporters Associations) and a number of German DAOs, including Peter Heckmann of Arminia Bielefeld, visited London to meet with CAFE and visit Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium.

This guided tour focussed on the stadium’s accessible facilities and services and included a visit of Arsenal’s sensory viewing room which was opened in 2017. It is this part of the visit that provided the necessary inspiration for Peter Heckmann, who immediately recognised the potential of such a facility at Arminia Bielefeld.

Accessibility is very much a priority for the German Club with over 30,000 disabled people living and working within the district of Bielefeld Bethel. It therefore seemed obvious to Peter that the creation of a sensory viewing room was necessary.

Only two months after his visit to London, Peter presented the idea of a sensory viewing room to the Arminia Bielefeld directors, explaining the needs and benefits of this type of facility. To support Peter in his request, we provided the CAFE Guidance Note on Sensory Viewing Rooms.

In light of Arminia Bielefeld’s commitment to access and inclusion, and much to Peter’s delight, this request was approved and work began immediately. It was decided that two of the stadium’s existing hospitality suites could be repurposed as a sensory viewing room.

The facility was constructed in close collaboration with Arsenal, as well as two local NGOs that focus primarily on autistic people, Autismus OWL e.V and Westfälisches Institut für Entwicklungsförderung und Autismus.

After 9 months of design finalisation, equipment sourcing and construction, the Arminia Bielefeld Sensory Viewing Room was officially inaugurated in July 2019 at the pre-season friendly fixture against English side Barnsley FC.

view of the newly built viewing room overlooking the pitch

The Sensory room includes a sound water bed with a built-in audio system that vibrates when music is playing, a gel projector that displays varying content onto the wall which can be relaxing as well as providing sensory stimulus.

Other features include light tubes and water bubble columns which provide a softer light source; beanbags for sensory viewing room users to relax on and a music system. A sensory viewing room should be completely sound proofed with the music system available to be used to play music of the user’s choice as an alternative to any noise from the stadium bowl.

Light tubes and bubble water columns in the Arminia Bielefeld sensory viewing room

An important feature of a sensory viewing room is the view that they have of the pitch and the access that they can provide to seating in the stadium bowl. This allows users to move between the stadium bowl and the sensory viewing room, as is the case at Arminia Bielefeld.

Tickets for the sensory viewing room are sold for 8 euros each, which includes a companion ticket, and are available on a first-come first-served basis, with the provision of a proof of disability necessary for the first purchase. For each fixture, Arminia Bielefeld reserves one ticket for a supporter of the visiting team.

The facility is managed by two fully trained volunteers on matchdays and has been extremely well received by the home supporters, with tickets selling out for each home fixture.

The aim is to provide disabled fans with a great matchday experience and, depending on the access requirements of each individual fan, to work towards transitioning into other areas of the stadium including the main bowl.

Arminia Bielefeld sensory viewing room was the first of its kind in Germany and therefore gathered a lot of interest not only from local and national media, but also from other Bundesliga clubs, with a number of DAO visits arranged during the facility’s first season of operation.

The Club has not stopped there in its aim to provide an inclusive matchday experience and support for the disabled community. A Disabled Supporters Association for autistic dans was established in March 2020 and sensory hours have been introduced at the club shop, another initiative also implemented by Arsenal FC in England. A lowered counter at the local sports bar Rockcafe Bielefeld has also been installed.

CAFE like to congratulate Peter on this fantastic achievement and all of the work that he has done to improve stadium accessibility over the past few years, particularly for autistic fans. This project is a perfect example of international collaboration between two European Clubs and the sort of regular exchange between DAOs that CAFE aims to facilitate.

For more information on Sensory Viewing Rooms, please see our Guidance Note on the topic, as well as the recently published report on Non-Visible Disabilities.

Find out more about the DAO Network Group, and visit the CAFE DAO Portal for further information and guidance for DAOs.

Published 03/12/2021