[This post is an AD in collaboration with the Rugby Football League and Betfred Super League] Please see here for disclaimer.
In 2017, my life changed in a way I never could have dreamt it would.
I went from being an outgoing, hardworking lady with a great social life, which a big part of that was following my beloved Hull FC home and away.
Determined this illness wasn’t going to take away my main social life, watching Hull FC, where I have made friends, both through attending games for over 30 years and running the successful Airlie Bird Travel Club to ensure fans could travel to away games in style and comfort.
Missing most of the 2018 season due to being signed off sick from work, old habits die hard, “don’t go to School/Work don’t go out”, that’s my wonderful dad for you, bless his soul.
Rach’s Ramblings with MS
In 2018 when I took voluntary redundancy because I was no longer capable of working, I still needed something to keep me occupied.
When I have been down, depressed, the end of a relationship my first point of call was always to write it out. In early 2018 Rach’s Ramblings with MS, was born to tell my story of how my illness affected me.
However, I missed the rugby crowd and watching Hull FC home and away, it’s just not the same listening to games on the radio.
So when the 2019 season came around I decided just because I needed to use a wheelchair to get out and about it wasn’t going to stop me doing the things I loved.
Accessible Rach was created from Rach’s Ramblings with MS when I started to first look at how accessible rugby league grounds where.
My first step as always was a google search on accessibility at rugby league grounds, first looking to the governing bodies websites to see if they could help and disappointed to see the information I was looking for wasn’t readily available.
The first super league team to show up with their accessibility was Wigan Warriors with details of their accessibility and how to apply for disabled tickets.
Ironically that was where Hull FC’s first away game of the season was going to be. You can read how I got on here.
Equality Act 2010
However, it makes me both sad and frustrated to see grounds which have been built since the original Disability Discrimination Act 1995, later superseded by the Equality Act in 2010 which made it ‘mandatory for all establishments and service providers that are open to the public to take reasonable steps to provide access for disabled people.’ To then not have sufficient accessibility in place.
This became apparent when I started to get in touch with the individual clubs prior to attending their grounds. Some I did just wing it when I got there though.
As as you will see from previous posts this worked both for and against me and I am still awaiting a response from London Broncos after they were so helpful in my original emails, then failed to reply to my complaint on my return.
As the season continued my game day experience varied, from Salford who scored the highest of any of the super league clubs down to London (see above) who in my opinion didn’t meet the standards required by the Equality Act 2010 in any way.
Early on in the process, I contacted both Super League and the RFL to ask if they were prepared to work with me to understand the needs of the disabled supporter.
Super League did get back in touch and I quickly established a relationship with their marketing executive with regards to Magic Weekend and the Super League Grand Final.
However, my stumbling block was the RFL, as they were the governing body that was who I needed to be in contact with but I just couldn’t get an in no matter how hard I tried.
Even sending in a complaint about the Challenge Cup triple-header at Bolton didn’t really get me the response I needed to take this forward.
In October 2019 I was offered discounted tickets to the Super League Grand Final and as I was leaving Old Trafford I bumped into a friend who worked for the RFL. I explained the issues I had been having trying to get to speak to someone and he gave me his email address and asked me to contact him.
My visit to Red Hall
Within a matter of weeks, I had been contacted by the Remuneration and Workforce Director who invited me to attend their equality and diversity board meeting at Red Hall in Leeds.
I stayed in Leeds the night before at their expense and attended the meeting the following day.
On a personal note, this meeting went really well for me as it showed me I could still deal with others in a meeting situation without falling asleep 😀 but more importantly I finally had people who wanted to listen to what I had to say, making suggestions about small wins at certain grounds.
Leaving the meeting I felt supported, I felt that someone was finally offering to find a solution and a way for disabled supporters to be able to attend rugby league games.
Both the RFL and Super League have agreed to work together in the initial stages to get the information out there.
This isn’t going to be an overnight fix I am aware of that but what it is a way forward working together to achieve a solution for all.
To try and understand the issues disabled supporters are experiencing, why they are not attending games they otherwise could, I have produced a survey which will provide information to the RFL and Super League.
For anyone who would like to share their own experiences, please complete and share with friends and family on social media.
The hashtag for shares on Instagram and Twitter is #AccessibleRL.
Let’s make 2020 the year we all work together to improve the game-day experience of disabled rugby league supporters.
I have received discounted tickets and expenses from both the RFL and Superleague to attend both games and meetings!