- Eye health and eye care
- Parents of Children with Vision Impairments
- Friends and Relatives
- Education professionals
- Health professionals
- Architects & Engineers
- Students and Researchers
- Ways you can assist a person with sight loss
- Best practice guides
- Assisting customers who are blind or vision impaired
- Good practice guide - the retail experience
- Making banking accessible
- Making events and conferences accessible
- Making football stadiums accessible
- Making meetings accessible
- Making your business accessible to customers with sight loss
- Making sports and fitness accessible
Summary: A guide to providing a service for football supporters who are blind or vision impaired. ‘I still love the buzz of a match – even though I can’t see now. I follow every kick through my headphones. It’s brilliant, and the adrenaline rush when we score is still the same.’
This guide has been written to help football clubs ensure that their services and facilities are accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired. It will help football clubs amend and improve the services that they currently offer, from the processes of buying a ticket to providing a dedicated match day commentary service.
The contents of this guide are based on the work of the Royal National Institute of Blind People project Soccer Sight.
The main problems preventing people who are blind or vision impaired from accessing football are:
- Lack of football programmes and information in accessible formats.
- Lack of provision for guide dogs.
- Poor standards of commentary and commentary systems.
- Lack of awareness and understanding of vision impairment.
Concerns were mainly focused on the commentary. Fans were either unable to have any commentary at all, only receive it at home games or in specific areas or were given unreliable equipment.
Key facts about sight loss
In order to create suitable environments for people who are blind or vision impaired it is important to recognise and have some understanding of the nature of vision loss. Only 18% of those with impaired vision have no sight at all. The remainder have varying degrees of sight loss. Generally speaking, the result of different eye conditions lead to the following types of vision loss:
- A limited field of vision, being unable to see at the sides or up and down.
- Some loss of central vision limiting the person’s ability to see fine detail.
- Severe short-sightedness, seeing the world as a blur.
- Uncontrollable movements of the eyeball leading to an inability to see objects clearly.
- Night blindness, a sensitivity to light and a tendency to be dazzled by glare.
How many people are blind or vision impaired in Ireland?
In the Republic of Ireland, over 16,000 people are using the services of NCBI.
What causes sight loss?
There are many reasons why people have little or no sight. Some individuals are blind from birth, others are involved in accidents and a significant number develop illnesses that cause partial or complete sight loss. There are a number of differing eye conditions, each of which affects vision in a different way.
What are the most common eye conditions?
Some of the most common eye conditions and the way that they affect sight are listed below.
The macula is a small area at the centre of the retina. It is responsible for what we are able to see straight in front of us. When the cells of the macula are damaged, often occurring in later life, the central vision is affected, eventually leaving just peripheral or side vision. This is called macular degeneration. However, people with this condition never lose their side vision as a result of this disease.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye (it is not a film growing over the eye as many people think). Vision becomes blurred or dim, as light is unable to pass through the clouded lens to the back of the eye. Vision in poor light is often difficult and some people may experience double vision. A small operation can often be performed to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a plastic one. Most people will notice an improvement a few days after the operation.
Glaucoma is a condition that damages the optic nerve. Vision is slowly lost due to the pressure in the eye. Eventually, as the condition progresses, sight is reduced to a ‘tunnel of vision’. In time, even this sight can be lost. However, if the disease is detected early enough, damage may be kept to a minimum and good vision maintained.
This condition can occur as a result of diabetes. If it is not diagnosed in the early stages, the network of blood vessels in the retina can be affected. There are three types of diabetic retinopathy:
- Background diabetic retinopathy, which in its early stages has no effect on vision
- Maculopathy, which affects central vision
- Proliferative diabetic retinopathy, which is much rarer and causes blurred and patchy vision.
Most sight-threatening diabetic problems can be prevented by laser treatment, if this is given early enough.
What the law says
As a provider of goods, services and facilities, football clubs have a legal duty under the Equal Status Act, 2000 not to discriminate against anyone because of their disability. Many of the changes that are recommended, to make clubs more accessible, do not require clubs to undergo major refurbishment or provide costly equipment. Generally, what is required is a change of policy. Any physical changes that are needed are recommended to be made as part of ongoing maintenance programmes.
Access assessments and audits
An assessment or audit of your club can be made by a qualified NCBI staff member or by an access auditor of your choice, to identify features that will affect people with impaired vision.
Suggestions will be made by the auditor, offering practical solutions to any barriers which are identified.
It is advisable for all clubs to commission an audit of their stadium and services by a suitably qualified person and to involve all of the management team in reviewing the recommendations and putting plans in place to implement the recommendations within the club. It can be helpful to consult with representatives from relevant organisations, such as NCBI, the Irish Wheelchair Association, DeafHear, Age Action Ireland, and the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (see Useful Contacts section below) as well as football fans with disabilities.
General guidelines for football clubs
Football clubs have a big role to play in ensuring that they are fully accessible to people with disabilities, whether they be board members, employees, ex players or fans. By following the guidelines below, clubs should go a long way to becoming more accessible to everyone as well as complying with the Equal Status Act, 2000.
- Ensure you have clear policies on ticketing, concessions, staff training, assistance dogs, parking and allocation of tickets for seating near to the front, so that it is easier for people with low vision to see the game.
- Instigate or maintain consultation with fans with disabilities to ensure you are meeting all their needs.
- Consult with disability organisations at local and national level for advice.
- There should be adequate parking provision and drop off points for people with disabilities.
- Ground improvements should include highlighting steps and walkways, contrasted floor and wall surfaces, good signage and lighting.
- Provision of large print menus at a critical height at refreshment kiosks.
- Ensure segregation of home and away supporters with disabilities, as necessary.
- Dedicated commentary and equipment available for supporters who are blind and vision impaired.
- Provision of disability awareness training for matchday staff and ticket office staff.
- Accessible information available in alternative formats, i.e. Braille, audio and large print and accessible website design.
- Accessible club activities and events.
- Designated disability officer at all clubs.
Inclusive environments and accessible information
In order to help people who are blind or vision impaired access a football club’s stadium and other facilities such as a club shop, museum or ticket office it helps to have a broad understanding of some of the access issues that people who are blind or vision impaired face.
There are three general areas of concern with design:
The purpose of signs is to convey information and act as a warning as well as helping the user find their way to and from a destination. Making a sign clear and easy to read for a person with low vision will make the sign clear and easy to read for all.
Sign content should be simple, short and easily understood and the text and lettering should be of a clear, uncomplicated font.
Where appropriate, signs (with the exception of suspended signs) should have tactile embossed text, pictograms and arrows together with Braille.
Signs should be located at key decision points on all routes.
The sign background and characters should be non-reflective, in a matt finish. All signs should be in contrasting colours to their background and the characters should contrast with the sign. Find out more about recommendations for signage.
Many football clubs use their own club colours to paint and furnish their stadia. This can work very well in providing contrasting colours to pillars and other areas such as doors, glass panels and light switches, to make them more visible. Many football club stands have an internal concourse where refreshment kiosks, bars and general walkways are sited.
Every effort should be made to ensure that the internal support columns and pillars are not positioned where they will obstruct free movement. They should be coloured to stand out from the background and not merge in with it. This can be done quite simply with bands of contrasting colour.
Door furniture should be colour contrasted, and L-shaped, lever or D-shaped handles are preferable.
Stairs and steps both within covered areas and on terracing and in stands and car parks should be highlighted with the provision of nosing on each step. The important point is that the step nosings provide a colour and tonal contrast to the steps. Although yellow and white are frequently used there is no correct colour for step nosings. Again, club colours can be used as long as there is a contrast with the steps and surrounding area. A hazard-warning pattern should be at the top and bottom of all interior staircases.
Floor coverings should have a matt finish, such as matt vinyl, which will not cause reflections from windows or light fittings. Floor finishes should contrast with the walls so that the boundary of a floor is clearly visible. This can also be achieved by painting skirting boards a strong contrasting colour.
Read more about making buildings accessible to people with sight loss. NCBI would also be happy to offer advice: LoCall 1850 33 43 53.
People who are blind or vision impaired may require up to double the quantity of light needed by sighted people. Many people who are blind or vision impaired find it difficult to manage in extreme variations of light, for example strong light can cause deceiving shadows.
- Light should be evenly distributed with no dramatic changes when moving from one area to another.
- Lighting on stairs should be sufficient to highlight any obstructions.
Printed information and websites
Football clubs tend to produce most of their information in print format, through leaflets, matchday programmes or on their website. Most do not have a policy within the club for accessible information.
A small font size makes a matchday programme very difficult for many people to read. It is however quite simple and inexpensive to produce accessible material by focusing on some basic design elements, for example font, type size and contrast.
The size of the type (known as text point size) is a fundamental factor in legibility. We recommend a type size of 12 point but ideally 14 point.
The better the contrast between the background and the text, the more legible the text will be. Black text on a white background provides best contrast.
Avoid highly stylised fonts such as those with ornamental, decorative or handwriting styles and use a font such as Arial, which is more easily read.
Blocks of capital letters, underlined or italicised text are all harder to read. A word or two in capitals is fine but avoid the use of capitals for continuous text. Underlining text or setting it in italics should always be avoided.
If using white type, make sure the background colour is dark enough to provide sufficient contrast.
Avoid fitting text around images if this means that lines of text start in a different place, and are therefore difficult to find. Avoid setting text over images or textures as this will affect the contrast.
People with low vision may have handwriting that is larger, so allow extra space on forms.
Avoid glossy paper because glare makes it difficult to read. Choose uncoated paper that weighs over 90gsm. As a general rule, if the text is showing through from the reverse side, then the paper is too thin.
Clear Print Guidelines
NCBI’s Make It Clear guidelines set out guidelines on producing accessible printed information. NCBI’s Media Centre also offers a clear print advisory service and Clear Print Mark. The Clear Print Mark is awarded to organisations who comply with clear print design in their printed information.
Websites provide football clubs with an ideal opportunity to promote services available for supporters who are blind or vision impaired. Information should include:
- Details of policies for charging concessionary rates.
- Season ticket prices, an online booking service for home and away games.
- Provision for guide dogs.
- The availability and booking procedures for audio programmes and the commentary service.
NCBI’s Centre for Inclusive Technology can offer football clubs advice on how to produce an accessible website or how to make their current website accessible.
Is your football club accessible?
This section looks at key areas that are used by football supporters.
One of the main problems in the reception area is not being able to speak to or see the receptionist, because of the high level of the top of the desk. There are guidelines laid down by Part M of the building regulations (see Useful Contacts) but many reception areas still remain inaccessible.
- Reception desks should be strategically placed, clearly signed and easily identifiable.
- Task lighting should be positioned to illuminate the top of the reception.
- Acoustics should be carefully planned and controlled.
- Furnishings should contrast with floor and walls.
- Seating layouts should have clear space for wheelchair users and space for an assistance dog to rest.
- Toilets should have good signage with a tactile symbol on doors.
- Doors should have D and lever handles and an emergency release mechanism operated from outside.
- Fittings should be colour/tone contrasted.
- Taps and toilet flushes should be easily operated, for example lever-controlled mixer taps.
- Soap dispensers, single-sheet toilet roll and hand driers should be provided and easily identified and operated.
- The lift door should be easily distinguishable from adjoining wall by colour and luminance contrast.
- Call buttons should have symbols in relief to enable tactile reading.
- There should be an audible announcement of lift arrival and floors reached and direction of travel.
Bars and refreshment areas should have good signs. Consider having a discussion with supporters with disabilities about whether it is advisable to have an ordering service or dedicated queuing lanes/low level counters for supporters with disabilities. The management of any system needs to be carefully thought through and discussed with supporters with disabilities but the following points should be considered when managing these areas.
- Refreshment kiosks and bars should be well signed.
- Menus and prices should be clearly displayed.
- Queuing lanes and gate systems should be stewarded at all times.
Providing a service for fans who are blind or vision impaired
The commentary service
The provision of a commentary service is the most important part of the football experience for someone with little or no sight.
For most football fans, there’s nothing quite like attending a live match. Coverage of the game on TV or listening on the radio can never quite provide that matchday experience. From the smell of the pies to the roar of the crowd, there’s nothing quite like saying, ‘I was there’.
It’s something most of us take for granted. However, for a football supporter who is blind or vision impaired the story is different. There are over 16,000 people known to NCBI who have a sight problem. Unfortunately, some supporters with impaired vision currently choose to stay away from games simply because of the inaccessibility of the grounds and the lack of a dedicated commentary.
The ideal solution for supporters who are blind or vision impaired is the provision of ‘audio-description’ – a continuous and live commentary of the on-pitch action, provided by a commentator specifically trained in describing events for those unable to see them clearly. This is transmitted to a radio receiver through a headset which can be used anywhere within the stadium. This means that supporters who are blind or vision impaired can choose to sit with their friends and family, and among their own club’s supporters rather than in a designated area only for people who are blind or vision impaired, which is a system used by some clubs. It also allows supporters who are blind or vision impaired from visiting teams to use the equipment.
RNIB Soccer Sight have worked with Access Audio (see Useful Contacts below) to develop a radio broadcasting system, Aural Aide, that allows people to receive a matchday commentary from any point in the stadium. The equipment is a UHF radio system operating in the licence exempt 863 MHz band.
The sound quality is crystal clear and the range, up to 200 metres, is excellent. Each transmitter and receiver has sixteen user-selectable channels available. The transmitters and receivers run from standard AA batteries, (rechargeable or disposable types can be used).
The standard kit includes 10 receivers and headphones, a hand-held transmitter and microphone and a charger unit and case.
The equipment is simply booked out to the users before each game and then collected and charged ready for the next match. The system is very easy to use with a simple plug point for the earphones, a volume control and an off/standby/on switch on top of the receiver. The hand-held receivers can be customised with club or sponsor’s colours and logos and they should be numbered for help with managing this service.
Recruiting a commentator
The key to a good service is having a good commentator. This has been one of the issues that have prevented people from fully following the game. Very often the person doing the commentary is not trained or does not understand the need to describe the on-pitch action at all times rather than talk about statistics, tactics or lengthy summaries of previous action.
All of the RNIB Soccer Sight commentators were recruited from club websites, media articles or club competitions which were featured in matchday programmes and on the website, inviting potential commentators to send in an audio clip of their commentary featuring the club in the last five minutes of a cup final.
Those who were successful were then invited to attend regional training courses run by RNIB and a team of BBC sports commentators. The training includes an introduction to visual awareness followed by sessions on voice, technique, preparation and language.
We would recommend that there should be a team of two or three commentators who can work on a rota basis to cover all fixtures during the season.
The commentators work on a voluntary basis but should be treated as any other member of the media team with full accreditation and a place in the club’s media area with the other mainstream broadcasters on match days.
One of the services that NCBI’s Media Centre provides is an audio recording service. A football club could consider providing the matchday programme on audio CD for supporters with vision impairments.
It is important to establish the numbers of people who would benefit from the service and to manage the service cost effectively, such as being part of a season ticket package or on a subscription basis.
Provision for guide dogs
Some guide dog owners who attend football matches rely solely on their dogs to guide them safely both to and from the stadium and within the stadium itself. Some stadium managers may not understand the importance of the guide dogs and how it is important that the dog stays with the owner throughout their time at the stadium. Football stadia have a duty to care and provide for people using their facilities who require the assistance of a guide dog. RNIB have worked with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the UK to produce a guidance document called Access to Sports Stadia for Guide Dogs. This publication offers a good practice guide for stadium managers on providing facilities for guide dogs.
The main areas for consideration are as follows:
- Change policy and practice to amend a ‘no dogs’ policy to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs.
- Never distract a working guide dog. Check with the owner before any contact is made.
- Never feed the dog. Guide dogs are working animals and are fed a strict diet at regular times.
- Any additional food may cause the dog to be sick or affect its health.
- Provide a water bowl for the dog if asked.
- In seating areas, make sure there is sufficient space for a guide dog and its owner.
- Provide information, and help if needed, on access points into the stadium. These should not be turnstiles, which are too narrow for a guide dog owner and guide dog to access.
- Provide appropriate relief areas for guide dogs and other assistance dogs (see Useful Contacts section).
The best place for a guide dog is with its owner, who will have both the skills and the relationship with their dog that ensures a high level of control. The front row of a block on any tier of seats will usually provide more space and comfort for a guide dog. A guide dog is extremely adaptable and would be used to attending football matches and coping with crowds and traffic as well as being able to utilise limited space to the best advantage as found in most forms of public transport, theatres and cinemas.
Although guide dogs for people who are blind or vision impaired are the most commonly seen at football stadia there are other assistance dogs such as hearing dogs for deaf people or support dogs for wheelchair users that may be seen at grounds and will need accommodating in a similar way to guide dogs.
Football clubs can also contact the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for more advice.
Staff training is key to ensuring good customer service. NCBI can offer training programmes for all key matchday staff and stewards. Training allows staff and stewards to understand more about sight loss and how they can help people with sight problems to access the club’s services and facilities.
It will also teach staff how to correctly guide a person with impaired vision, and give advice on do’s and don’ts.
For more information or to book a course, please contact NCBI on LoCall 1850 33 43 53.
Promoting the service
Once you have a service in place it is very important to let people know it exists! Articles in the local media, especially local radio stations, the club website and the matchday programme will all help alert people to the fact that the service is available at the club. If the club has an association for supporters with disabilities it is advisable to work with them to spread the word. Working with local agencies and organisations providing a service to people with sight loss and older people is also a useful way to promote the service.
Launch the service with an invited audience of people who are blind or vision impaired and don’t forget to let visiting clubs know that they too can benefit from the services.
Here is an example of how to promote the launch of a service:
‘What a goal… did you see that?
Have you ever thought how difficult it would be for you to attend a football match if you couldn’t see the pitch or follow the action? How much do you take it for granted that you can sit anywhere you like with your mates or family, travel to away games, read the programme or simply buy a pie at half time?
For many thousand of supporters who are blind or vision impaired these simple activities become major issues that they have to deal with every match day. Whilst facilities for people with disabilities are gradually improving, there is still much to be done to improve the situation for fans who are blind or vision impaired.
The solution is being launched here today at XXXXXXX providing supporters who are blind or vision impaired at the club with a trained voluntary commentator and 10 new radio headsets that allow blind fans to sit anywhere within the stadium to receive the commentary.
If you know of anyone with a serious sight problem who could benefit from this new service please contact xxxxxxx.’
Managing the service
Each club will have their own policy and procedures in terms of managing the equipment.
The experience of the RNIB Soccer Sight project has shown that the best way to administer and run the service is to ensure that the receivers are numbered and logged onto a control sheet and then booked out to users on request. They can be booked out to season ticket holders on a regular basis or clubs can operate a booking service for casual users or for away fans wanting to use the equipment.
Football clubs cannot make a charge for the equipment but they can ask for a refundable deposit at the point of booking the equipment. This is however difficult to manage on a match day, especially signing for a deposit and then returning the equipment. Asking people who are blind or vision impaired to fill out forms with credit card details can create accessibility issues and is not practical on a busy match day.
The RNIB Soccer Sight project recommends that the equipment is handed back to a matchday steward at the end of the game. It can be very difficult finding the way back to a designated point in a busy crowd of people when leaving the stadium. They recommend that one person from the club is designated to take responsibility for running this service. This will include ensuring that all the receivers and transmitter are charged and ready for each game, each person has received and returned the equipment (including the commentator) and that the information about the equipment is readily available to home and away supporters on the website, on season ticket information and to disability organisations.
It is then important to check the receivers and the transmitter back in and have them ready to charge for the next game. Ensure before you charge the equipment that all the sets are turned off and that the batteries being used are rechargeable!
NCBI Head Office
LoCall 1850 33 43 53
Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD)
The CEUD is part of the National Disability Authority (nda.ie)
25 Clyde Road
Tel: 01 608 0456
Unit 32/5 Hardengreen Business Park
Telephone: 00 44 131 663 0777 (text phone is available)
Accessible information and Audio programmes
152 High Street
Telephone: 1825 76 59 99
JMU Access partnership
105 Judd Street
National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC)
70 South Lambeth Road
Telephone: 020 7735 7845
Telephone 0845 766 9999
RNIB Soccer Sight
Telephone: 00 44 1792 36 67 56
Access to Sports Stadia for Guide Dogs
The Guide Dogs for Blind Association REF: PPC 07/04. A good practice guide for stadium managers on providing facilities for guide dogs.
Accessible stadia guide
The Football Stadia Improvement Fund and The Football Licensing Authority, 2003, £25 (sterling). A comprehensive source of information on accessible stadia for developers, management, designers and access consultants.
Approved Document M (2004 edition) of the Building Regulations
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).
BS8300: 2001 Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people
Code of Practice, British Standards Institute.
Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds
Football Licensing Authority (fifth edition), 2008, TSO, £30. Copies can be purchased at www.tsoshop.co.uk. A good practice guide to design of facilities to meet the needs of disabled spectators and other users.
RNIB and TSO, 1995, £20 (sterling). A ground-breaking book that sets out to demonstrate how the needs of blind and partially sighted people can be met in the design of buildings and the environment. Copies can be purchased at RNIB Shop.
The Sign Design Guide: The most current, comprehensive and in-depth guidance on accessible signage.
JMU Access Partnership and the Sign Design Society, 2000, £20.
This guide promotes one sign for all, enabling you to include everyone’s signage needs.
JMU Access Partnership Fact Sheets
JMU have over 30 best practice fact sheets, covering everything from lifts to lobbies, and these answer many preliminary enquiries. These are free of charge and available by contacting JMU (see Useful Contacts). Up to three fact sheets available per enquiry.
Access to Sports Stadia for Guide Dogs
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Ref: PPC 07/04.
A good practice guide for stadium managers on providing facilities for guide dogs.
Read our Make It Clear Guidelines which also explains what clear print is, guidelines on clear print design and a clear print checklist.
NCBI Media Centre Clear Print advisory service and Clear Print Mark aims to assist voluntary, public and private clients to make their printed information more accessible using clear print design.
The aim of the Clear Print Mark is to acknowledge organisations that use clear print design in their printed information. To achieve this Mark, organisations can submit documents, forms, posters and any other printed information to NCBI’s Media Centre, who will advise on its accessibility in terms of clear print principles and recommend changes which will make it easier to read.
1. The Disability Act 2005 available from the National Disability Authority.
2. The Equality Acts 2000 – 2004 available from the Equality Authority.
NCBI would be delighted to work with football authorities and clubs to organise training days and offer advice in order to spread good practice within the football world.
Please contact Fiona Kelty, NCBI Access and Awareness Coordinator. Email: email@example.com or LoCall 1850 33 43 53.