The Blind Hammer Column
Whilst the Seat Relocation window is open, Blind Hammer ask for those standing in front of disabled supporters to re-locate.A few months ago I had a poignant discussion with a wheelchair user. He explained that whilst the Accessible viewing area the club had provided was ideal in most respects, he had a problem with standing supporters blocking his view. Another Disabled Supporter told me of a similar issue. In her case her only recourse was to try and stand also, but this gave her pain and discomfort.
In both cases Accessibility Stewards had asked Supporters to sit down without success.
In response I wrote then asking for Supporters to show care and consideration to their fellow disabled supporters. I suggested that standing supporters should seek re-location to a more suitable area. Their desire to stand could not justify blocking accessible viewing.
To my surprise this request proved controversial. Comments were made that criticism should instead be levied at the club for providing “inappropriate” accessible seating. The suggestion made was that disabled Supporters should be congregated together and placed, in front of the stands, at pitch level, removing any problem with standing supporters.
This would certainly mark a return to the old fashioned way of providing Stadium access. It would also, for most disabled supporters, mark a return not to the “Good old Days” but the “Bad Old days”.
I have had, over, the last couple of years, the opportunity to discuss principles of Accessible Stadium design. This has involved discussion with people consulted not just for the London Stadium, but the new Tottenham Ground. It was clear from these discussions that the facilities at the London Stadium, and those likely to appear at Tottenham, were not designed by accident. They were designed after consultation with Disabled people.
Most consulted were unhappy with the idea that they be congregated into segregated seating, especially if this was in highly visible areas in front of stands at pitch level.
One person explained this to me.
Imagine you are a supporter used to going to a ground with friends and family for years. You are used to discussing the match with these fellow supporters. At half time you are used to sharing a pint and some food. Then, after a car accident, you are, out of the blue, catapulted into a world of disability. Suddenly the option to attend matches and enjoy discussion with your friends is removed. Instead you are herded into segregated facilities for disabled supporters. Suddenly you are isolated from those you have enjoyed matches with for years.
The key is to imagine that this is an issue not just for "other“ disabled people but you personally. Many people think Disability is an issue which will never affect them. The reality is that impairment will affect most of us in our lives. For some people, however, this can, without warning, arrives much earlier.
People’s lives are transformed by a seemingly innocuous fall or trip. We are all just a slip on a car brake pedal from creating disability for ourselves or others.
Just because we are disabled does not mean we suddenly lose all interest in talking to friends and family. Having a disability does not mean we are only interested in talking to other disabled people.
This principle of inclusion and integration, rather than separation and segregation, has driven the design of modern stadiums, including the London Stadium. With these modern designs it is possible for disabled supporters to retain contact with friends and or family. This is why accessible viewing areas are integrated into standard seating areas.
Other disabled people have asked that they be offered flexibility of viewing, comparable to that available to non-disabled supporters. Some supporters would be happy with a worm’s eye view at pitch level; others would most certainly not.
Some disabled supporters have pointed out that being perched in front of stands exposes them to inclement weather, not in itself a great idea for those who may have a compromised immunity.
So the Accessible viewing areas are not a weakness in Stadium design, but rather an opportunity Disabled West Ham supporters have never enjoyed before. it would be a tragic waste if we could not use them in the way they are intended.
So my hope is that understanding will grow as to why disabled supporters want to remain integrated with their family and friends. To achieve this requires that we all knock along together. As I write this, the club has announced the relocation window for Season Ticket holders. If you are a supporter wanting to stand, but currently located in front of an accessible viewing area, this is the ideal time to resolve this. After all you are currently lucky enough to be able to stand. The sad truth is that, despite most people’s feelings of invulnerability, they may only be an illness or accident away from not being able to stand at all. Care and consideration is, in the end, in all our interests.