Accessing the Olympics
Whether the London 2012 ticket deadlines have so far passed you by, or accessibility fears have discouraged you from making an application, the good news is that time has not yet run out. Tickets are on sale until the sixth of February for the Olympic football tournament and a number of Paralympic events. Shortly afterwards, resale tickets for many events will be freed up for purchase.
On a recent visit to the Olympic Park, I found out a bit about the systems in place to help disabled people buy tickets, and what the organisers, Locog, are doing to make the London 2012 games accessible for all. I also discovered that there's a heck of a lot of walking involved in the big Olympic park and its venues unless you plan ahead or know what to look out for. In this post I'm passing on my personal experiences so far, as well as official information and helpful links.
So, what sports do you want to go and see? A calendar of Olympic and Paralympic events can be found on the official London 2012 ticketing website. This site also holds information on which events still have tickets available and when you can get your hands on them.
Your next port of call should be Locog's ticket information for disabled people page, which holds all relevant booking information for disability friendly London 2012 spaces.
In short, you'll find out that there are three ticketing options for people with access requirements in each price bracket. One for wheelchair users, one for non-wheelchair users who need to be accompanied and a final option for those of us who would benefit from being in a particular seating location.
a) "I am a wheelchair user" - If a wheelchair space is bought either by phone or via the official ticketing website, a companion seat is automatically allocated free of charge. If it has been booked as part of a group, all efforts will be made to seat everyone together.
(b) "I wouldn't manage at the games without help" - then you need to apply for the Ticketcare scheme, which is for non wheelchair users who would be unable to attend the games unaccompanied. This option must be booked over the phone by calling 0844 8472012.
You can't retrospectively book a companion seat on Ticketcare, so make sure you mention it when you first book. While the website says that Locog cannot guarantee availability of Ticketcare for all applicants, I am reliably informed that all requests have so far been honoured. Unsuccessful Ticketcare applicants are entitled to a full refund.
c) "I don't need continuing help but I have some physical requirements within the stadium" This third option is for those who have "a specific access requirement" such as: people who are visually impaired and need seats close to the action, those who have a mobility impairment which make steps difficult, or for those who would benefit from sitting at the end of a row, for instance. Again, you need to book by phone rather than online, making any additional requirements clear at that stage. Operators will be able to tell you whether there are suitable seats available during the call.
Fixing up the access
Now that you have suitable tickets, it is time to start planning your full A-to B London 2012 experience.
All disability access information has been published on the Accessibility page of the London 2012 website. The page deals with getting to the games, mobility inside the park and other access requirements.
You'll be pleased to hear that accessibility for the games has been on the agenda right from the start.
If you specified an additional requirement during the ticket booking process, organisers will likely email you back with further questions. This is because they are using information gathered during the ticketing process to target specific access services to the right place at the right time, such as subtitling and audio description. While they are expecting a number of people with additional requirements to turn up unannounced, I get the impression that signposting your needs at this point would be incredibly helpful in ensuring that you have the best experience possible and that they get it right.
In addition to the information gathered from ticket buyers, Deaf and disability focus groups have been formed to discuss access to London 2012. Members include representatives from disability organisations and disabled people from the local community. The organisers have been in consultation with these groups for over a year and will continue to work with them right up to games time.
• "Will public transport routes to the games be accessible?" - all ticket holders will be strongly encouraged to travel to the Olympic Park via public transport. The London 2012 accessible travel pages include maps showing accessible stations and access routes throughout London and the UK. The website's accessible journey planner is "still evolving" but Locog says that they are "committed to ensuring that there are good accessible transport options for all spectators travelling to the games".
• "I'm unable to use public transport" - A limited amount of disabled parking is available close to all venues. This is free of charge and bookable by ticket holders who have a Blue Badge or are members of an equivalent international scheme.
• "How long before my event should I arrive at the Olympic Park?" - Information for ticket holders will be made available in alternative formats. This will include guidelines on timeframes for travel and suggested arrival times. Having attended a test event and witnessed the sheer size of the park and security levels first hand, I'd suggest following Locog's advice on this one.
• "How will I get from the Tube station to my venue?" - Shuttle busses will run from local transport links to the venues. This part of the journey can be deceptively long so I'd advise using this option where available. For those who want to walk, there will be benches for resting at regular intervals along the way.
Accessibility inside the venues
"walking is difficult for me. How will I manage once off the shuttle bus?" - Each venue will have something called the Games mobility service. Wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be borrowed through this service and visually impaired spectators will be guided to their seats. Free of charge, the Games Mobility service promises to be clearly visible at all entry points.
I'm told that every member of security staff at venues will receive disability awareness training and that there will be discrete fast track queuing systems for anyone who needs them.
In addition, every venue will have a changing places loo with a hoist, spending areas for assistance dogs, hearing loops and the technology necessary for subtitling and audio description.
Locog has admitted that audio description, subtitling and BSL will not be provided for every single event but that they will do their very best to make these services available to those who have requested them in advance.
Is there an access requirement not mentioned here which would improve your London 2012 experience? Do you have further queries about disability friendly tickets or access to the venues? Leave a comment below and we will attempt to answer any questions.