News and fans' stories Disabled fans' stories Reflecting on 25 years of the Disability Discrimination Act 8 November 2020 saw the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) becoming part of United Kingdom law. To mark this landmark occasion, CAFE Fans Liaison, Access and Administration Officer Amy Wilson was invited on to BBC Radio Merseyside to discuss the groundbreaking piece of legislation and the impact it had both on her and on other disabled people. Following the interview, Amy shared some of her experiences and thoughts on how the DDA has shaped her life as a football fan, a student and later employee, and as a disabled person. Prior to the enactment of the DDA, disabled people in the UK had not legally been protected in relation to employment, access to education and transport, and in the provision of goods and services. The equal rights of disabled people prior to this point, were pretty much non-existent. I was 13 when the DDA came into being, and I remember myself and my family being hopeful that this would mean I would have greater opportunities in life, and more choices in what I could do in terms of education, employment and living independently. Up until then we had little choice in what schools I could attend, as so few of them in my local area were fully accessible and inclusive for a wheelchair user. So much so, I had no option but to attend a secondary school over a 20 minute drive away from my house because this was the only accessible school in my local borough, despite there being a school less than a five-minute walk from where I lived. It was impossible for me to have gone there due to its total lack of access. When I was approaching leaving 6th form college, five years after the DDA became law, there was only really one subject I was ever interested in studying at university - sports journalism. I enjoyed and was good at English in school, and had carried that on into my A-Level studies. I was also, and still am, a massive sports fan, and I thought combining two of my favourite subjects would be an ideal career path. Unfortunately, the DDA had still not impacted that significantly in education at that point and the options open to me were still limited. The universities that offered the courses I wished to study were not accessible in terms of either the campus or accommodation. The alternative courses that were offered to me just did not appeal. Careers advisors also told me that working in sports journalism would not be a suitable career option because it would be challenging to work at sports stadiums as a wheelchair user, as media tribunes were not accessible. It was so disheartening at the time, as I felt I was not able to have the same opportunities to carry on with my studies. Academically I was capable of doing the course, but due to my disability, environmental and societal barriers were placed in the way that stopped me pursuing my then dream career. I never went to university, which is something I now regret, but at the time I felt it just wasn’t going to be something that would be easily done and without having to fight to have the same opportunities and experiences as non-disabled students. The freedom of choice for disabled students has hugely improved since my experience in the education system - many are now able to choose which schools they attend. There is a greater understanding of all disabilities in education. Disabled children can access greater support, and have opportunities to study a broader range of courses at university. Football is my passion. I was born into a family of Evertonians, there was never any option that I wouldn’t be an Evertonian. I went to my first Everton match in 1993 at the age of 11. At that time, it wasn't easy to go to home matches on a regular basis because of a lack of wheelchair user spaces at the stadium. There was only around 15 spaces for wheelchair users, and they were to be shared by both home and away supporters. These spaces were located in one area of the ground with no access to the concourse. There was no opportunity to purchase a season ticket, as none were available. Demand for match tickets always exceeded supply, so if you or a family member were not able to get to the ticket office quickly on the day of sale, you missed out. Very few away disabled fans attended Goodison Park back then, maybe because they were not able to sit with their own fans. Due to the Taylor Report and the move to all-seater stadiums in the UK, an additional 49 wheelchair user spaces were installed in the new Park End stand. I was finally able to become a season ticket holder. I was so pleased to be following my dad and brothers in becoming season ticket holders, and would be able to watch all home matches having only been able to attend eleven games in the previous two years. With the new stand came access to the concourse. This made the experience of attending matches more enjoyable as I was able to meet up with family and friends before the match and at half time. Away disabled supporters were also finally able to be sat with their own fans for the first time as away fans were relocated, helping to make their experience more equal and enjoyable. Very little changed in terms of accessible services and facilities over the next two decades. A small increase in wheelchair user spaces, but that was it. However, things changed dramatically in 2015 when Premier League clubs pledged to improve access and inclusion by making their stadia compliant with the Accessible Stadia Guide by the start of the 2017/18 season. This had been something disabled fans had been campaigning on for several years. The pledge would mean more disabled fans could enjoy a fair and equal matchday experience alongside their fellow supporters. For disabled Everton fans this was a game-changer - the number of wheelchair user spaces doubled, elevated spaces were put in, and designated easy access seating was installed. For the first time, disabled supporters had the option of where they would like to sit in the stadium. After 24 years of going to matches at Goodison Park, I was finally able to sit in the iconic Gwladys Street stand, where both of my brothers had sat previously. My first game there was one of the best experiences I have had in all my years of going to Goodison Park. The Premier League pledge has also made going to away matches more inclusive and enjoyable. Newer grounds such as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the Liberty Stadium have made the matchday experience as a disabled fan a genuinely inclusive experience - from having excellent sightlines of the pitch in the away end and easy access to the concourse to meet up with my friends, to being able to make purchases of food and drink independently. It's not just at newer stadiums where the experience as a disabled fan has improved. Older, more traditional stadiums have also made changes which have enhanced the matchday experience for disabled fans. The number of accessible spaces at most grounds has increased, meaning more disabled people can attend matches and facilities such as accessible toilets have improved. For example, I am now able to sit with my fellow fans at Anfield for the Merseyside Derby which is massively important. There is still much work to be done in making matchdays accessible and inclusive for all disabled fans, but without the DDA and subsequent equalities laws, I don't believe we would be at the stage of the journey we are at. The legislation has been such a breakthrough in changing the public perception of disabled people from being pitied, charity cases, to being people first and foremost, who become disabled by the environment or society around them. As for me, my career in sports journalism may not have happened, but I now combine my love of football with another major passion in life. By working for CAFE, I can help to improve access and inclusion for disabled people. I hope that the work we do with fans, clubs and national associations will help disabled people across Europe experience some of the best moments of their lives that only being at a live match can give you. See the YouTube video below to listen to Amy's radio interview on BBC Radio Merseyside, on the 25th Anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) becoming part of UK law. We would like to thank Amy for sharing her powerful story with us and highlighting some of the common issues faced by many disabled people, and the improvements that are still to be made. If you are a disabled fan, or know a disabled fan who would like to participate in our Disabled Fans' Stories, please feel free to contact Amy in her role as CAFE’s Fan Liaison, Access and Administration Officer, by email on [email protected] or call +44 (0)208 065 5108. You can also contact CAFE via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.