Disabled supporters are urging Yeovil Town to improve facilities at Huish Park for wheelchair users and ambulent disabled people. At present the bar and conference facilities in the Main Stand are almost completely inaccessible to wheelchair users and all but the most ambulent disabled people with staircases providing the only possible access. Last week's Yeovil Times featured Glovers fan and wheelchair user Mike Kuntz's struggle to drag himself up the staircase in the Main Stand to use the bar facilities there, and this week's edition of the Western Gazette features a call from disabled supporter Irvin Morris for the club to set up an official disabled supporters club section with links to the board.
"The club has been saying that it is becoming professional both on and off the pitch," Mr Morris told the Gazette, "and, while that is true on the pitch, what improvements has it made for disabled fans? It is about time the club set up a disabled supporters' club, which has contact with directors, to speed through the changes needed. Without the supporters there would not be a club and there are a large number of disabled fans who should have their needs catered for. We need ramps and lifts right across the ground and not just in the main stand as was recently spoken about. Funding is available but the club needs a group of people who have time to look into it. These issues would be dealt with more quickly if there was a disabled section."
A club spokesman commented that the club didn't keep a list of disabled supporters but that if disabled fans did form a group then they would be listened to as a body. The spokesman said: "The proposal to look at a first-floor lift in the main stand was suggested because there is a social club there. There is none on the other side of the ground but we have been investigating putting in a bar behind the Bartlett stand. The best area of the ground for wheelchair users is on the Bartlett side where there are two dedicated bays. However, we do recognise that we need to do more to meet new Government regulations that come in in 2004."
Ciderspace Opinion: The comments made by the club spokesman show the need for disabled people to make their voices heard over facilities at the ground. There is a definite need for a lift up to the first floor of the Main Stand, not only to provide access to the conference facilities, restaurant and bars, but also to provide access to an elevated viewing platform at the back of the Main Stand, something the club agreed was desirable a few years ago. Also, the comments made about the Bartlett Stand being the "best area" for wheelchair users merely illustrate the fact that that disabled people are not at present being listened to - in actual fact the wheelchair bays in the Bartlett Stand are exposed to the elements and being at ground-level do not provide a good view of the game. Added to that parking outside the stand is problematic - Blue or Orange Badge holders are supposed to be given priority to park against the back of the Bartlett Stand but in practice the spaces are frequently taken by able-bodied drivers.
It's encouraging that the club are prepared to listen to disabled fans as a group, but it must be said that informal discussions in regard to improving facilities at Huish Park have been taking place with various disabled supporters for a number of years now but with no concrete outcome as yet. With the Disability Discrimination Act coming into force in October 2004 the club will by law have to provide access either to existing facilities or provide an acceptable alternative to disabled fans. It would be sensible now for the club to be pro-active in getting disabled supporters on board by setting up a disabled supporters section along the lines Mr Morris suggests above, and to make it an official body with the authority to instigate change.
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