The Simon Heng column

    If have you have read any of my other pieces, you might think that
    I spend my life looking for things that seem unfair to disabled
    people. Far from it.

    Most of the time, I find that the people who work within the system
    are sympathetic, anxious to understand and committed to enabling
    their clients to achieve their goals.

    When I’m out in the community, on the other hand, I am often
    greeted with incomprehension (“Can he speak?”), confusion (“What
    did he say?”), distaste (“The disabled are creepy”) and sometimes
    fear (usually when I’m driving my electric wheelchair at full speed
    in their direction).

    There is, however, one public space where I always feel accepted.

    As often as possible, I go to watch my local football team: West
    Brom. In a crowd of 40,000, I have never been jostled, bumped into,
    abused or felt threatened. Fellow supporters, including rival fans,
    never fail to offer a smile, their help or occasionally a drink.

    I have driven my wheelchair against the flow of the tide (imagine
    trying to battle your way through 10,000 people, all of them eager
    to get home) and not one of them has even accidentally bumped into
    me. I even take my nine-year-old daughter, alone, to matches,
    feeling totally confident that we will be safe and secure.

    My club, like most top-flight teams, has made great strides in
    learning about and accommodating supporters with all sorts of
    disabilities.

    There is level access from the gates to the stands, a separate
    concourse for wheelchair users and seats for their ambulant
    companions. There are facilities for people with visual
    impairments, and accessible toilets are not used as storage spaces
    (take note, publicans and hospitals!). The staff, from ticket sales
    to stewards, are well trained, friendly and courteous. I even get
    in free, though we pay for my companions.

    Apart from loving football, I always look forward to going to
    matches, because it’s one place I feel comfortable among total
    strangers. I even feel that I belong, and there are few places
    about which I can make that statement.

    The new Premiership season starts soon. I can’t wait.

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