Feeling welcome and having your needs accommodated at a venue are probably two of the most important factors that decide whether an individual would visit a venue again in the future.
Staff training is a great place to start. Investing in your team to expand their knowledge around specific disabilities and deepen their understanding of particular supporters experience when they attend a game and are a valuable resource for any stadium.
There are many great training providers up and down the country, so trying to choose one can be quite problematic. However I always like to use disability lead groups such as Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP). I think having personal accounts of how Autism affects an individual is best explained by people who are Autistic.
Some supporters might need support staff to enable them to attend game. Whether it be one or two PA’s I think it is really important to listen to each situation on a case by case basis. It isn’t fair to expect a supporter with Autism to pay double for their ticket because they require more than one PA to attend a game. Especially with the prices of some tickets nowadays.
Some great examples of good practice in this area can be seen in National Trust properties. If you are a member of the National Trust you can apply for an admit 1 or an admit 2 card through their Access for Everyone scheme. These cards allow your support staff to visit any National Trust property for free with the person they are supporting. It would be fantastic to see all venues in the UK take this approach and make days out cheaper for people with disability access needs.
Attending a live sporting event can be a huge assault on the senses for neurotypical supporters so autistic supporters need to be even more careful to prevent sensory overload. I know a couple of clubs in Greater Manchester that provide specific seating areas for supporters with autism. These areas tend to be much quieter and have easy access to exits if needed. Some clubs even have specially trained stewards who are at hand for any issues that may occur during a game.
This has gained a lot of attention recently across social media. Oldham Athletic have decided to provide sensory packs for their autistic fans becoming the first English Football League team to do so. The packs, which are free of charge, include a map of the ground, noise-cancelling headphones and an Autism Awareness card, which is to be shown to match day staff and stewards to ask for assistance when entering the ground.
Shippey campaign started a revolution in making live sports more accessible for supporters with autism who may find it too difficult to attend a live game in the main stands. So they came up with the genius idea of bringing in sensory boxes. These boxes are equipped with state of the art sensory equipment to enable supporters with autism and their families to watch the game in a calming and safe environment.
To date many football teams have taken up this option to make their stadiums more inclusive for supporters with autism. Middlesborough, Sunderland, Watford, Crystal Palace and Celtic to name but a few. If the football teams are strapped for cash they can even apply to a BT Sport and Premier League funding pot to install a sensory box. The fund which is a partnership between the Shippey Campaign and The Lord Taverners enables Premier League football clubs tol have the opportunity to apply for funding to help fans with sensory difficulties. The new unique spaces will allow adults and children with sensory difficulties to watch live football matches from a room with a window onto the pitch, in a calm environment away from the noise and crowds.
Detailed Visual Access Information
Planning days out in meticulous detail is something a lot of autistic people and their families and PA’s do to ensure their trips are as successful as possible. A great visitor experience will definitely lead to another visit in the future. That is why it is so important stadiums equip visitors with accessibility requirements, whether they be physical or sensory, with the necessary tools for their trip.
One approach which will ensure no stone is left unturned is to create an interactive virtual video tour, iRoam. iRoam has been developed by Access Social Ltd, a video production company with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility based in Greater Manchester, UK. For the past 3 years Access Social have been creating virtual tours with a difference for a whole range of different sectors. Education, NHS, Public Transport, Theatres, Shopping centres, Social care providers, Leisure centres and many more. What makes iRoam different from other virtual tours is that they use video instead of the traditional 360 photographs you seen in Google street view. This enables them to capture buildings when they are in use and open to the public and, more importantly, they capture audio, so visitors can experience some of the sounds and acoustics of the building before they visit. This is a very important factor for a lot of autistic visitors.
Other solutions include creating accessible documentation, social stories about visiting the building and easy read guides. By including these downloadable documents you give visitors an extra layer of support and more information to assist with their visit.