How to make an accessible viewing area
Whether it’s a music festival, firework display, sporting event or a gig, accessible viewing areas are essential at crowded events. Used by wheelchair users, those who require a close-up view, or disabled people who may be unable to stand for long periods of time, accessible viewing platforms can make or break a many disabled peoples’ experiences of an event. Here are our top tips for ensuring your accessible viewing area is fit for purpose!
The location and height of your viewing area is key, but not all viewing areas need to be raised platforms. Depending on the nature of your event and where you decide to locate your viewing area, a flat space marked with highly visible tape may be all that is required to ensure your disabled audiences have a comfortable place to view your event. Unless your accessible viewing area is right at the front of the crowd however, you’ll most likely need a raised viewing platform.
Raised viewing platforms must be high enough that audiences seated there can see above the standing crowds in front of them. Often, event organisers underestimate the height of a platform by a few inches, and this can be enough to obstruct the view of everyone using the space. Speaking about an international sporting event, one Euan’s Guide Ambassador said, “Sadly, they did not raise the platform, so viewing any of the events that were on the stage was difficult if there was a crowd standing in front of you.”
Photo: A low viewing platform.
Height was also an issue at a Scottish music festival in 2017 according to one music fan, “The accessible seating area at the main stage was not used, only by toddlers as a play thing, it was only raised by about 20cm and it would pretty much had been impossible to see the stage - but the thought was there.”
Elsewhere, after seeing Muse at Newport Centre, one music fan had great things to say about the venue’s dedicated viewing platforms, “The platforms are at the sides of the ‘mosh pit’ and the view is fantastic. Each platform holds two people in wheelchairs each with one companion. Highly recommended.”
Wherever you decide to place your accessible viewing space, make sure it is easily identifiable and marked on any event maps or signposting along with accessible toilets.
Photo: An individual viewing platform at Perth Racecourse.
With the position of your viewing area decided, it’s important to consider how audiences will access the platform or space. Ideally, ramps leading to raised platforms should have a handrail and be of a suitable gradient. Consider corners and turning angles if your ramp bends, and don’t forget to include clear signage at entrances and exits. For visually impaired audiences, it’s also important to consider colour contrast and ensure that the viewing space is easily distinguishable from its surroundings.
Writing about the viewing platforms at Perth Racecourse, one reviewer and Euan’s Guide Ambassador said, “At the winners enclosure there's a large raised platform with a ramp up to it (a wee bit steep for manual users) giving you a clear view of the horses and trainers. This idea is replicated at the race course itself with mini platforms placed at the finish line - two individual (on the grass) and one double (on concrete). It was fab, I could see everything that was going on without a barrier or person's body in the way.”
Spacious viewing spaces are ideal, especially if multiple wheelchair users are using the area at once. There should be ample room to turn around easily, and space for companions to pull up a chair beside their friends or family.
At British Summer Time Festival in London, one reviewer loved how the viewing platform had been set up and said, “The accessible viewing area was well signposted. The platform was spacious and had great sightlines – it had folding chairs so people could arrange themselves as they wished.”
At events with big crowds, it can be difficult making your way to food or drink outlets and more so when you are using a wheelchair at a busy event. It’s always good practice to have stewards supervising use of accessible viewing areas, but it’s even better if they can assist disabled audiences by bringing food or drink to the viewing space. The best-organised events will also have dedicated stewards to assist disabled people through crowds when heading to the accessible toilet or merchandise stalls.
If your event is outdoors, shelter is very important, especially on exposed raised platforms. If you can’t construct a viewing area with a roof, consider providing umbrellas and ponchos to audiences using the viewing area. Many disabled people use electric equipment which can be damaged by the elements. If it’s cold, a basket full of blankets can be a nice touch, as well as portable outdoor heaters or offering guests a warm hot chocolate at their seat!
Rugby fan and Euan’s Guide Ambassador Chelsea enjoys reviewing stadiums around the UK and Europe. The accessible viewing areas at Thomond Park Stadium particularly impressed her! “The wheelchair spaces within Thomond Park were very spacious and the view from the West Stand around the stadium is fantastic as it’s raised above the rest of the crowd allowing for a clear view of the match, which is also covered from the elements.”
Photo: The view from the British Summertime Hyde Park festival platform.
It’s often the little things that can make the biggest difference. To make a memorable viewing area – and one that gets a 5-star review on Euan’s Guide! – think about the ways you can go above and beyond to enhance your audience’s experience. This could be fitting charging points for powerchair users, offering water bowls for assistance dogs, providing earplugs if the space is close to speakers, or perhaps giving audiences event merchandise such as flags or props to enjoy with the show!
The viewing area at British Summer Time Festival also impressed music fans with its attention to detail, “There was a chap with a cool bag on the platform so you could get drinks almost without leaving your seat. There was also a wheelchair charging point on the platform. You could tell a lot of thought had gone into disabled access at the festival!”
Tell us about your accessible viewing spaces!
If you organise an event with good disabled access, we want to hear about it! Send us pictures of your accessible viewing areas for us to share with our reviewers. For more tips and advice on accessible events, get in touch with Attitude is Everything or download their DIY Access Guide.