On the international scene – disability access officers

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The Supporter Liaison Officer role, an important link between supporters, their club and the various stakeholders, first emerged in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s as a means of improving the experience of all the parties involved in organising and running a matchday. Since 2010, UEFA has adopted and further developed the SLO project, making it one of the mandatory criteria for clubs that wish to participate in a European competition.

One of the reasons the SLO project is considered positive for supporters is because it recognises them as an equal counterpart and puts them at the heart of the game. It takes into account their long-contested rights, needs and demands but also reminds them of their responsibilities towards the rest of the stakeholders. The SLO project has also highlighted that not all supporters have the same behaviour and needs, that not everyone should be treated in the same way and that there are many factors that need to be taken into account when interacting with supporters.

A significant category of football supporters with common, but different needs are those with a disability (hearing, visual, physical, etc). Although the majority are self-served when the infrastructure and procedures are friendly and have taken into consideration their needs, many stadiums, especially the older ones, are a no-go for disabled supporters. Often there are also no trained staff who can assist in an emergency. Moreover, when service quality is a factor (away travel, stadium facilities, merchandise, etc) disabled supporters are frequently excluded and not taken into account in the planning and the delivery of the service.

For this reason many clubs in Europe have introduced a Disability Access Officer (DAO), following in the footsteps of the SLO. One of the most experienced DAOs in Europe is Mike Compagnone, a member and supporter of VfL Wolfsburg, who has been taking care of the needs of disabled supporters and been the contact person for them since 2001. Among other things, Mike has made sure that there is a dedicated section on the club website for the services offered to disabled supporters that contains information on how the matchday experience is being improved (wheelchair spaces, live commentary for visually impaired supporters, etc) and the various activities specially designed for disabled supporters (eg arena tours). The club also makes reference to the Bundesliga Guide for supporters with disabilities.

Hull City does have an SLO, although her visibility with supporters is virtually zero and her role is not in line with UEFA guidelines.  It would be valuable if City would redefine that post; had the club a DAO, it may have avoided some if not all of criticism that rightly came its way this year over its treatment of disabled supporters.

See the full article on the Supporters Direct website here.

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