Many of us with the benefit of access to new, modern facilities, will remember the old fashioned wooden stands and concrete terracing that ‘graced’ many a sports ground;  some even look back on this with a touch of sadness at something  rather quaint.  What we tend to forget were the sections of the ground put aside for the  three wheeled invalid cars (yes, they were allowed to call them that) so that a few disabled people could get in to see the match.  The abuse the occupants received was often on a par to the bigotry and abuse that was hurled at black players.

Thankfully, things are changing, not least as a result of the efforts of the National Association of Disabled Supporters (NADS), a charity set up in 1998 to represent disabled football supporters, along with their carers and advocates.  NADS has grown year on year and now takes in other sports within its portfolio.     

NADS believes in the ‘Social Model’ of disability.  Put simply, society can enable or disable people.  Provide a commentary system for blind and partially sighted people and this ‘enables’ them to attend a sporting event; make a stadium accessible to someone using a wheelchair and they are ‘enabled’ not ‘disabled’.

NADS has been involved in producing guides for safe and accessible stadia, working closely with a range of organisations including the Football Foundation, the Football Licensing Authority and the Football Stadia Improvement Fund. The organisers of the London 2012 games have sought their input into the planning of spectator facilities; NADS was a key stakeholder in the Football Association’s bid to bring the World Cup to England in 2018.  They hope that the legacy from huge sporting events such as this will have a major impact in facilities for disabled fans. 

But it is at the day to day level, that NADS is really making a difference as it works to promote an inclusive agenda, raise disability awareness and ensure that all fans can share in the pleasure of watching their favoured team or event.  It is no easy task, of course, with many old stadiums still in use, along with a lot of the old attitudes prevailing to boot.   There is no excuse for treating disabled fans unfairly.  NADS can organise Access Audits and the certification that follows allows clubs to proudly demonstrate their commitment to good practice. 

There is a clear economic sense for any sporting organisation to take disability and access issues seriously.  More than 30,000 disabled fans attend football matches on a regular basis – as facilities improve, that number will surely increase.  With one in four families affected by disability, it would be unwise to underestimate the buying power of disabled fans. 

One thing of which we can be assured is that the disabled supporter, through NADS, now has a powerful voice and can deal with a multitude of issues.  NADS is run by disabled people, but also has some influential supporters in sport and the world of politics, but there is still a great deal of work to be done before a level playing field is achieved.  The blueprint that NADS has produced covers the very minimum standards that should be expected.  It must not stop there.

Chelsea has its own Disabled Supporters Association (http://www.chelseadsa.com/) and they have turned to NADS for advice when needed.  NADS, of course, is always keen to hear about issues facing disabled supporters and their personal assistants, so do not hesitate to contact them for advice and guidance, or to discuss the Access Audit programme.  Individual and Corporate memberships of NADS are a cost effective way of demonstrating a real commitment to fair access.  For more information, call NADS on 0845 230 6237, or email them – info@nads.org.uk.  Alternatively, write to: NADS, The Meridian, 4 Copthall House, Station Square, Coventry, CV1 2FL.  Do take a look at the NADS website for more information (www.nads.org.uk)