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

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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