Australian football fans living with disability have enjoyed plenty of excitement throughout the biggest women’s sporting event in the world held recently.
With 64 matches held in stadiums across nine Australian and New Zealand cities, the sport’s governing body FIFA contends it did everything possible to ensure all fans could participate and cheer on their country.
Its claim comes after World Cup 2023 organisers came under fire for a raft of Women’s World Cup ticketing issues which saw fans living with disability given inaccessible seats away from their companions, fans being given seats away from the accessible area they requested, and young children allocated seating away from their parents.
In recent months performers including Pink and Taylor Swift, promoters, venues and ticket sellers have come under fire from disability advocates for having poor purchasing processes. The issue resulted in people with disabilities being unable to choose where they wanted to sit when purchasing tickets.
For its part, FIFA had available several different categories of accessible tickets for the month-long tournament. One was for wheelchair users, another was for those needing more leg space for guide dogs and mobility devices, and there were tickets for people with limited mobility requiring seating that can be accessed by minimal steps and close to amenities. Each accessible ticket came with one free ticket for a companion or carer.
Location, location, location
Despite the games having been played at more than 10 venues across the two countries, there was only one sensory room for each host nation, with quiet rooms for those with sensory issues having been made available at Stadium Australia in Sydney and Eden Park in Auckland.
To aid this, each venue host had available for loan a limited number of sensory bags that included noise-cancelling headphones, fidgets and verbal cue cards.
Audio descriptive commentary was available for the first time at football matches across both countries for fans with vision impairment. It was provided by specially trained commentators.
In addition, two-minute highlight videos of all matches were shared including captions and international sign language, while volunteers with sign language skills and text-to-speech technology assisted deaf and hard-of-hearing fans, and accessible toilets had improved emergency procedures.
What’s more, all volunteers at the world cup received accessibility training.
Spectators with hidden disabilities were able to wear their sunflower initiative lanyard to indicate to volunteers they may have required additional support.
Speaking to the ABC about the issue, Ayden Shaw, from Disability Sports Australia, noted it was unfortunate that there were no standard guidelines when it came to dictating what type of access events should have.
This has been seen quite a bit this past year where “perhaps the common sense approach” has gone out of the window, he said.
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