In the first of a new series of blogs and articles, EaRN volunteer Colin reflects on his experiences of travelling to football matches and other social events as a wheelchair user.
As a lifelong wheelchair user I have always had an interest in football but was unable to attend games due to the institutional rigidity of my boarding school policy when EVERYTHING was planned for you, with no flexibility whatsoever. This changed when my family moved to Edinburgh when was 20. I went to a disability exhibition in London to view outdoor electric wheelchairs, knowing that I wanted independence without having to rely on the taxi of mum and dad. I saw a model that catered for all my needs I.e. comfort, distance available on 1 charge, puncture proof tyres, access to trains and lights for when out at night.
I live very close to my nearest accessible station so I did not have to concern myself about accessibility to buses and taxis, my Meyra chair is too wide to fit onto buses since Lothian buses and other companies narrowed the aisle to enter the bus, so bear this in mind when deciding to have a few drinks and heading home.
As a 60 year old wheelchair user and lifelong Celtic supporter I was restricted to watching my team on television due to the non-existence of wheelchair accessible transport in Peebles. In ’83 my family moved to Edinburgh where there was a dial-a-bus service called Handicabs who would collect me from my parents house and take me to Waverley station and return me home at a mutually agreed time, this was a vast improvement of my experience in Peebles when it was my dad who dropped me off at a friend’s house and local railway station. There was the added rigidity of having to request assistance at set times and not be spontaneous about your schedule when boarding and disembarking from the train.
When I started going to football I had to liaise by letter with British Rail about the nearest accessible station to the stadium, this was obviously pre-internet so you had to wait for a reply before making plans. In the 80’s all games were 3pm on a Saturday and wheelchair users just turned up at the stadium and gained entry to stadium.
Post the Taylor report and stadiums becoming all seated, season tickets were introduced for wheelchair users and, and where necessary their P.A’s. This meant that it was genuine supporters of that club who gained entry and were included in the ballot for away games.
As a wheelchair user all train journeys were undertaken in the guards van, wheelchair spaces on trains did not exist. It was demeaning and very embarrassing if you needed the toilet as the guards van did not contain a toilet so you had to compromise your dignity.
As someone who used to go to away games you had to buy an A-Z of that city to find out how far it was from the railway station to the stadium and ensure that you had enough radius in your battery to get from your house to venue and back.
Where the accessible station has a lift for access e.g. Mount Florida station it is wise to check on the next accessible station with ramped/level access.
Prior to the introduction of wheelchair accessible buses you had to possess an electric wheelchair with a range that enabled you to get from home to venue and back and had lights for when you are driving post dusk.