Brighton & Hove Albion and Albion in the Community (AITC) are once again supporting the Level Playing Field Weeks of Action.
The annual initiative, which is now in its 14th year, celebrates everything which is being done by sports clubs across the UK to make stadia accessible and ensure supporters who have a disability are not prevented from following their favourite team.
Here at the American Express Community Stadium there is an array of facilities to support the matchday experience of fans with a disability, including 727 easy access seats, 221 wheelchair accessible seats, more than 100 accessible parking spaces, and an audio descriptive commentary which fans with visual impairments can use during games.
There is also a Changing Places facility, with accompanying wet room and hoist lift, and a radio assistive induction loop to help fans who use a hearing aid hear stadium announcements. The Albion also launched a hugely-successful hidden disability scheme which allows fans who have a non-visible disability to make stewards and club staff aware of any additional requirements they may have.
The Amex was one of the first grounds in the country to be given Level Playing Field’s Centre of Excellence Award in recognition of the work being done at Brighton & Hove Albion; it remains just one of five stadia to have received the award, alongside Wembley, Derby County’s Pride Park, The Emirates Stadium, and The Etihad. All stadium tours are also designed to be fully-accessible.
Earlier this season, the club expanded the facilities on offer at the stadium when it opened the Charlie Perry Inclusion Room – a sound-proof, purpose-built safe space for people with autism or other similar disabilities to watch games from.
So far this season 34 fans have enjoyed a Premier League match from the Charlie Perry Inclusion Room, which offers both indoor and outdoor seating alongside an array of features designed to make fans with autism more comfortable inside the stadium; it has also been used by fans with dementia.
Experienced autism-awareness trained staff, familiarisation visits, and a video which can be sent to fans ahead of the game to show them what arriving at the stadium will be like and where they will be sitting, are all helping more and more Seagulls supporters with autism have the chance to support their heroes.
The Albion have also begun hosting autism hours in the club shop, during which TV screens and music are turned off and lighting is dimmed. The next autism hour will take place between 9am and 10am on Saturday 9 March, and the club’s disability liaison officer will be also be available to talk to fans interested in attending matches.
Many of the supporters who have used the Charlie Perry Inclusion Room also attend the football sessions run by AITC – in particular the session for people with autism, which takes place inside the sports dome at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre on alternative Sunday afternoons.
The charity now runs 30 regular sessions for people with a disability, providing upwards of 400 people with the chance to play the sport they love – including many who go on to represent Brighton & Hove Albion in disability-specific competitions and national leagues.
AITC also delivers disability awareness training to schools, colleges and businesses in the local area – with more than 12,000 people completing the training in the last 12 months alone. That figure includes more than 350 colleagues within AITC and the football club, with every new-starter required to attend a disability awareness course.
Paul Brackley, AITC’s disability manager, was delighted to see the football club taking such significant steps to support fans with a disability.
He said: “It really is hugely-encouraging to know that the football is club is doing everything it can to make the American Express Community Stadium accessible to all Albion fans, including those who have a disability.
“It has been brilliant to see so many of our fans who have autism get the chance to cheer the team on from the Charlie Perry Inclusion Room and it has been a wonderful addition to the stadium. Many of those fans using the Charlie Perry Inclusion Room would not otherwise be able to come to games and I know they appreciate the support the football club is providing them with.”
For more information on the Level Playing Field Weeks of Action, visit: www.levelplayingfield.org.uk, or, to find out more about the work being done by AITC, visit: www.albioninthecommunity.org.uk.
Brighton & Hove Albion’s current disability liaison officer is Oliver Riley and supporters can contact him via email at: email@example.com or by calling: 0344 324 6282.