To highlight the important role Disability Access Officers (DAOs) can play in improving access and inclusion within football, CAFE spoke to Laura Wright, who has worked as the DAO at Wolves since 2018.

How long have been in the role of Disability Access Officer at Wolves?

I am in my third season of being a DAO here at Wolves and I have loved every second of the role. It feels like I have been doing it forever, and I am proud to have experienced home, away and international games in these years.

What were the areas of improvement identified when assessing disabled fans’ matchday experiences at Molineux?

When I started, Wolves had recently been promoted to Premier League, so the list of improvements was quite substantial. Working with the operations department we set out to tick off the main redevelopments.

We started by creating new wheelchair bays, adding barriers to the front row wheelchair bays and creating a sensory room. We also added a branded Changing Places toilet, which is situated between home and away stands for all to use.  

What have been some of the highlights of the progress achieved so far?

One of my favourite successes has been the audio programme, which we launched in November 2020. Still in its infancy, this project took months of planning, consultation and working with other departments to get it together.

Each home game, we work with Alan March Sport to have the matchday programme recorded in audio format which is then accessible on the Wolves app and Spotify. It means anyone can access the information in the programme at a time and place suitable to them.

Although we were initially aiming this programme at partially sighted and blind supporters, we now know it can benefit more disabled supporters and anyone worldwide.

How has the pandemic impacted your work and changed your focus?

The pandemic has given me more of a focus to think outside of the box, on what supporters need to enjoy the game via a digital platform. As we are living in a world where we can only watch football from our homes, it made me think that I owe it to supporters to give them as much access as possible to the games.

For example, with games being shown on TV, I was aware that audio-descriptive commentary was not provided as standard for live games. We worked as a team to offer the audio-descriptive commentary that we provide on a home match to the world, through the Wolves app and website. The commentary team are the same and by streaming live from the ground, the atmosphere is that much better.

What are the ultimate goals and objectives that you are hoping to achieve at the club?

My ultimate goals and objectives are to remove all barriers for disabled fans to enjoy an all-encompassing match experience. I want to make myself and others more aware of the scope of disabilities that can affect our supporter base and increase the level of communication options.

On a more personal level, how have these experiences shaped your understanding of the barriers faced by many disabled football fans across the globe?

I have learnt that although I may be aware of disability, I didn’t understand the frustration involved when people in the wider community couldn’t communicate with their fellow supporters. This has given me even more enthusiasm to achieve the objectives I have set myself and help other clubs achieve access for all supporters.

What would your advice be to anyone starting in a similar role to yourself?

If anyone was starting in a role similar to mine, I would advise them to contact other DAOs and get ideas on what works well at their clubs. I would also encourage them to stay in touch with other clubs to build on expertise and when risk assessing to go through your venue thinking of as many different access requirements as you can, to think about how differently disabled people would access a matchday.

Getting to know supporters is the key to building a successful matchday experience as we can all work together on new ideas, discuss what works well and change what doesn’t.

Wolves Disabled Supporters Association (DSA) Chair, Steve Daniels, also spoke to CAFE about Laura and the impact she has had since joining the Club as DAO.

“Access and Inclusion at Molineux has always been a priority even before Laura arrived, but having Laura solely in control of matters has progressed matters on, which is great for all us disabled fans. Laura has a great input into our DSA and works very closely with us, and all of our disabled fans.

Laura has certainly improved the topic of access and inclusion within our club and I think all fans now understand how important this issue is."

Speaking on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the Wolves DSA, Steve highlighted the efforts made by the Laura and the Club to engage with disabled fans throughout. 

"I think we all know the impact that the suspension of fans not being allowed to go to games, but most have completely understood why with the environment we live in at the moment.

While we are playing our games behind closed doors, Laura has introduced an audio match day programme which our DSA promote and are proud to sponsor. She also sends out e-mails to all our disabled fans keeping them updated, so all in all Laura has done a fantastic job. She has been an excellent addition to our Molineux team, and long may that continue."

For more information on access and inclusion in England and Wales, please visit the Level Playing Field website. Level Playing Field is our sister organisation, working to remove the barriers that currently exclude disabled people within sport.

Published 15/01/2021