• Fourteen of 20 stadiums now comply with guidelines
• Target met after legal action was threatened by fans
Fourteen of the 20 Premier League clubs have now built enough wheelchair spaces to meet official guidelines, having undertaken substantial development work in response to a relentless campaign by disabled supporters’ representatives and threats of legal action.
In 2015, only two clubs provided the recommended access for disabled people in proportion to their stadium capacity, set out in the Accessible Stadia guide, which the clubs agreed to implement almost 20 years ago. That September, the Premier League clubs pledged they would meet the guidance within two years, given the £8.4bn 2016-19 windfall from TV rights.
Announcing the progress over two years, the Premier League said that more than 1,000 new wheelchair bays have been constructed in grounds since 2015 and 14 clubs have built sufficient capacity. The exceptions include Watford, who do not currently have demand from disabled supporters for more bays; Crystal Palace and Everton, who cited construction difficulties given the ages of their grounds; Chelsea, who have planning permission for a new stadium that will incorporate modern disabled facilities.
“The Premier League board has asked [Chelsea] to bring forward implementation plans for reasonable adjustments to be made at Stamford Bridge and requested a timetable for implementation of said adjustments by August 2018,” the league said.
Newcastle United and Burnley are also “significantly short” of the number required but have an additional year to comply, having been in the Premier League for one year since 2015. The two other recently promoted clubs, Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town, already exceed the recommended number of wheelchair spaces.
Manchester United have built an extra 157 wheelchair bays to meet the required number of spaces in Old Trafford with 277 seats, the Premier League said, but have been allowed to phase in their use because some season-ticket holders will be relocated to accommodate them.
Premier League clubs have also undertaken significant further work on provision for disabled supporters, including amenity and easy access seats for people who need more space, and 18 of the 20 clubs now have a Changing Places toilet for disabled people to use.
Bill Bush, the Premier League’s executive director, said the clubs will continue the programme of improvements, which he described as “unprecedented in any other sport or entertainment sector”.
Level Playing Field, the representative group for disabled people which campaigned for 20 years about clubs not fulfilling their responsibilities, recognised the improvements made and particularly praised West Bromwich Albion for having met the target and incorporated a range of other disabled facilities despite The Hawthorns being an old ground.
However, LPF said it was disappointed with the number of clubs which have failed to meet the requirements “and have let their disabled fans down. We are seeking urgent assurance regarding what happens next.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has repeatedly threatened legal action under the 2010 Equality Act if the clubs did not meet their obligations, said: “Today’s report from the Premier League is a step in the right direction but it is clear that some clubs still have a way to go to meet the needs of disabled supporters. We have met with every single Premier League club and are now in the final stages of discussions to agree on specific action they will need to take to avoid facing legal action. We will be publishing our report shortly.”