The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) is committed to giving fans with disabilities easy access to Germany's football stadiums. - © 2019 DFL
The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) is committed to giving fans with disabilities easy access to Germany's football stadiums. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

Bundesliga at the forefront of disabled access to soccer matches

How many times have you been to a football stadium and cheered on your team, getting behind them come rain or shine, win, lose or draw? You've probably lost count. But what if you were unable to walk into the ground? Unable to hear or even see the action on the pitch?

Football clubs in Germany are ahead of the curve when it comes to providing access and support to fans with disabilities. Did you know that there's a kiosk for the hearing impaired at Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park? Or that the spaces for wheelchair users at Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena are designed in such a way that the fans have an clear view of the pitch at all times?

In our video series dedicated to the DFL's Online Travel Guide, we accompany fans with various disabilities and impairments to the stadium, to demonstrate how the Bundesliga is promoting inclusion in sport. Our story begins with Pascal.

There are 80,000 people with deafness in Germany, enough to fill Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park. - DFL 2019

Hearing with your eyes

Dortmund, Südtribüne. The Yellow Wall. It's one of those special moments. Pascal, dressed from head to toe in black and yellow, hugs his son, pumps his fists and cheers wildly. Borussia Dortmund have just taken a 1-0 lead. Excitedly, he looks to the woman in front of him. The unusual thing is that she's standing with her back to the pitch. But in fact it's perfectly normal, because she's a sign language interpreter, and she's telling him the name of the goalscorer cried out by the stadium announcer.

Pascal is 30 years old and has been deaf since birth, just like 80,000 other people in Germany – that's enough to fill the Signal Iduna Park. He has been a Borussia Dortmund fan since childhood. Today, he presides over Dortmund’s Deaf BVB Fan Club and says that he doesn't bleed red, but black and yellow.

Watch: Soaking it all up with Pascal at the Signal Iduna Park…  

What is the Online Travel Guide?

The Online Travel Guide was created in cooperation with the Aktion Mensch initiative for disabled and socially disadvantaged people and the Federal Association of Disabled Football Fans in Germany. It is available here. The Travel Guide is particularly geared towards disabled fans and contains information about barrier-free travel to and from games. It covers every stadium in the Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 and the 3. Liga, providing contact details and booking info, plus interesting facts about each venue. It helps to significantly reduce the effort required to plan a trip, particularly before away games. To enable everybody to use the Travel Guide, which is produced by the DFL Foundation, a simplified version has been made available for people with learning difficulties. Since 2017 it has also featured an audio service for blind and visually impaired fans.

Every football club in Germany's top three divisions has posted information about "barrier-free" access for disabled fans in the Online Travel Guide. - 2016 DFL

Seeing with your ears

In Dresden, there's an electric atmosphere at the Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion: "Burnic runs towards the penalty area, he squares to Kone, who shoots – and it’s a goal for Dynamo!" Almost the entire crowd is on their feet, shouting and cheering. Including Wolfgang. He’s wearing headphones because he’s blind and, unlike most other fans, he didn’t see the goal, but heard it. That's all thanks to two highly trained commentators for the blind from SG Dynamo Dresden.

Wolfgang has been a fan of Dynamo since 1967, and used to watch his favourite team on a regular basis before he started to lose his eyesight. The gradual loss of vision was extremely hard for him to accept. One day, he happened to hear about Blindenradio – radio for the blind – and decided to give it a go. Since then, he has eagerly tuned in to every home game and enjoyed the company of André and Thomas, who have been working for the past seven years as commentators for the blind on behalf of Dynamo.

Thanks to dedicated commentary, Dynamo Dresden fans with blindness or vision impairment have still been able to enjoy all of Moussa Kone's goals in Bundesliga 2 this season. - 2019 Thomas Eisenhuth/Bundesliga

How does Audio-Descriptive commentary work?

Every Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 club now offers a special commentary service designed to allow blind or visually impaired fans to follow the action live in the stadium. The demands placed on the commentators are extremely high, because they have to paint pictures in their listeners' heads that are as detailed and accurate as possible, so that fans can follow the match just using their sense of hearing. Annual training is provided by the DFL to ensure that the quality of commentary is continuously enhanced. In 2018, the DFL Foundation joined charity organisation Aktion Mensch to launch the T_OHR project, along with the Centre for Reporting for Visually Impaired and Blind People in Society and Sport.

As well as traditional TV and radio coverage, German clubs also provide commentary for the blind and vision impaired. - 2019 DFL

The best view in the house

"I'd almost say our seats are better than those in the VIP section," grins Kim Krämer as we sit together in the lounge area of the Rollwagerl fan club, waiting for the match between FC Bayern München and 1. FC Köln to kick off. Not only is Kim the Disability Officer for the record Bundesliga champions and chairman of the fan club, he's also a wheelchair user himself. And it’s not long before we get to see the quality of the places for wheelchair users at the Allianz Arena, as we celebrate the opening goal. We're also with Miriam, who has been in a wheelchair since birth, and joined the now more than 900 members of Rollwagerl five years ago. Despite all the fans in front of her jumping for joy in celebration of the goal, she still enjoys an unparalleled view of the entire pitch.

To ensure that their future stadium would be wheelchair-friendly, Bayern consulted representatives from Rollwagerl before work had even started on building the Allianz. This resulted in a number of unique measures, including the location of the spaces for wheelchair users – a design concept not seen anywhere else in the Bundesliga.

Watch: A typical outing with Miriam at the Allianz Arena

What is a Disability Supporter?

The DFL, DFL Foundation and all of the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs are working closely together to ensure that the scenes in our video series become the norm. This means that every club now employs a Disability Supporter, dedicated exclusively to the needs of fans with disabilities. Many of them work on a voluntary basis, and their tasks range from answering queries about barrier-free access for wheelchair users and arranging sign-language interpreters for hearing-impaired fans to providing information for the Online Travel Guide. The annual assembly of Disability Supporters takes place in Berlin in mid-November, and provides a fantastic opportunity for discussion and networking.

Every club in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 now employs a Disability Supporter, making it easier for disabled fans of all ages to come along and see their heroes in action. - 2019 Getty Images

The price is right

At the residential home on Oetinghauser Weg in Bielefeld, the atmosphere is relaxed. It's the weekend and everyone's looking forward to the football. Tobias Dudek, a social care worker whose job includes looking after people with Down syndrome, admits: "Football's always a big thing in this residential home."

In order to take his football-loving residents to watch DSC Arminia Bielefeld, Tobias contacts Jörg Winkelmann – or 'Benno', as everyone calls him – Arminia's Disability Officer. The club has really focused on the needs of fans with learning difficulties, especially in terms of financial outlay: "If we didn't have these seats, a person with learning difficulties who spends their day in a workshop earning €150 of pocket money would normally have to pay full price for their companion," says Benno. "That could mean spending €40 or €50 to watch a match. That's why we sell these tickets at a reduced price of €8, with the companion attending for free."

No matter the club, no matter the stadium and no matter the disability, German football is certainly leading the way when it comes to providing fans with barrier-free access.

Click here for the Online Travel Guide [German].
Click here for information on Dortmund tickets for people with disabilities.
Click here for information on Bayern tickets for people with disabilities.