Whether you’re trying to make watching football more accessible or starting a disability football team, you have certain responsibilities when it comes to making your club accessible.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, your club has a “statutory duty” to work towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of, among other things, disability.

But what does this mean in practice? Well, in simple terms, the experience of people with disabilities should be exactly the same as it is for the able-bodied. And this simple fact should be at the heart of every accessibility initiative at your club. 

Since 1999, football clubs — both amateur and professional — have been required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. In reality, the authorities aren’t going to start fining grassroots football clubs for accessibility deficiencies anytime soon. But making your club accessible to all is simply the right thing to do. 

To help you make watching or participating in football an easier experience for people with disabilities, we’ve compiled a few simple tips.

1. Make Provisions for Wheelchairs

Whether it’s at pitchside or in your changing rooms, there should be a process in place for providing wheelchair users with safe, unhindered access. This might mean supplying ramps, boards to keep wheelchairs secure on grass and the removal of obstructions. 

Premier League clubs are expected to give wheelchair users a range of viewing options. While this may not be possible at your club, it’s something you should try to do. After all, able-bodied fans and club officials can watch a football match for several locations. 

2. Provide Accessible Toilets

While you can’t be expected to install disabled toilets at your grassroots football club, you can apply a little pressure on the owner of your facilities. Landlords have various responsibilities under both the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act to take all practicable steps to ensure toilets can be accessed by people with disabilities and wheelchair users. 

3. Provide Adapted Changing Facilities

Again, you can’t be expected to pay for structural changes to the changing facilities used by your club, but you can apply pressure on the owner to make the necessary changes. There may also be grants available from the Football Foundation and the local authority. 

The changes that might make a difference to the experience of disabled players include the installation of a hoist system and adjustable benches. Doorways and ramps can also make accessing facilities easier for wheelchair users. 

4. Create a Disability Access Statement 

A disability access statement ensures all the important information for people with disabilities can be found in one convenient location. The statement should outline the various routes and provisions in place to make access as easy as possible. The statement should be available on your club’s website, and it should cover the following:

  • Getting to the club ground
  • The location of dropped kerbs, drop-off points and ramps for easy access to the ground/facility
  • The location of accessible toilets
  • The name and contact information of the person in charge of accessibility issues
  • Safe and accessible areas to get changed or play/watch football

5. Perform Regular Access Audits

As your club changes, so might access to your pitch, changing rooms, etc. That’s why it’s important to continually assess accessibility. Ask someone with a disability to assess every aspect of accessibility — from the pitch to the changing rooms. Where issues are found, look for simple solutions. In some cases, finding a different route or removing obstacles might be sufficient. 

6. Consider Capital Expenditure

Speak to your County FA about funding for accessibility issues within your club. While they may not be able to fund your projects directly, they might be able to point you in the right direction. Installing ramps or wheelchair lifts might be an option. Even the laying of pathways can make a wheelchair user’s life a lot easier. If you play on a municipal pitch, such improvements are the responsibility of the local council or owner. 

7. Listen to the People Who Know

It’s impossible for an able-bodied person to understand the issues faced by people living with disabilities. Constantly ask for advice and guidance from the people who live with these issues every day. 

Created a Disabled Charter, which is a kind of self-assessment, based on what you learn. In many cases, a few simple — and often free — changes to your club’s setup can make a massive difference. 

The more accessible your grassroots football club is, the bigger its target audience is. Making the necessary changes can improve the footballing experience of spectators, players and club officials — and it can also give your club a bigger target market.