What do you think of when you see the word Wimbledon? Chances are this conjures up images of strawberries and cream and pristine grass tennis courts with the world's best players such as Andy Murray and Roger Federer battling it out for the right to be declared champion. However only a certain number of people would be able to tell you what it's like to actually visit the complex during the championships in July. Even fewer can tell you what it’s like from a disabled perspective. In this article I plan to go through what a typical visit to Wimbledon is like and compare the similarities and differences compared to the perspective of an able-bodied person.

 

 

The ballot

 

If a person with disabilities decides that they want to go Wimbledon they will have one immediate advantage over an able-bodied person. The official way to gain tickets for Wimbledon is through a public lottery organised by station connected to Wimbledon as tournaments. The able-bodied public lottery is notoriously difficult to get tickets for and from my limited experience of talking to people who have tried to get tickets using this method they are lucky to get one pair of tickets after several years of pitfalls applications if the example of my godmother among others is anything to go by. However, the public lottery for those with disabilities is separate to the able-bodied one and thus fewer disabled people means fewer applications and so those that apply are able to get tickets much more easily. Without meaning to brag I personally have been able to get a pair of tickets every year I have applied. People are often curious about what the benefits of being in a wheelchair are. In my mind the experience with the ballot as a person with disabilities) represents one of them. By the law of averages there are going to be fewer disabled people applying for these sort of events compared the able-bodied and if there is separate allocation for accessible seating/tickets it will be much easier to gain tickets to the sort of events for those that want to go.

 

An able-bodied perspective

 

When I decided that I wanted to write this piece my first thought was to get some perspective on what the experience of visiting Wimbledon is like from an able-bodied perspective and how this differed from my perspective as someone with disabilities. Luckily I had someone on my list of potential contacts who was able-bodied and I knew had visited Wimbledon in 2016. I immediately asked him what his perspective was on his experience as someone who is able-bodied. What struck me about his response was how similar our experiences were and how both he and I shared many of the same positive thoughts about the experience of going (outside of one major disability-related difference that we will get back to.) He described his experience pretty much from start to finish and he observed many of the same things that I do on a typical visit. He mentioned the presence of what can best be described (in the words of the able-bodied person I spoke to) as "military stewards." This may conjure up a certain image but it's really nowhere as severe as it sounds. You don't see a lot of them on the TV coverage but these people who have been hired by G4S to oversee the running of the courts throughout the tournament are really what enables me as a person with disabilities to enjoy the matches I see on whatever day I go on the same level as every able-bodied person in that court. You can take in your own drinks (something that was also mentioned by the able-bodied person I spoke to) and the military stewards will let you leave and return at almost any time you want when there is no play taking place. As inclusive as some of these types of events might be from the perspective of someone with disabilities occasionally they don't quite give you the sense of atmosphere (thanks in some ways where the access seats are) when compared with the best seats in the venue. This is what makes Wimbledon so special from the point of view of someone with disabilities. There's a real sense that everything is organised to within an inch of its life (in a good way) and that those with disabilities can all access and enjoy matches with their able-bodied peers as well as gaining a great sense of the atmosphere. This is why I as a person with disabilities aim to go back every year.

 

Disability = royalty

 

There was one major difference between the opinion of myself and the opinion of the able-bodied person I spoke to. This very much comes as a result of how the organisers manage the disabled access to the outside courts. There is potential here to see great players up close as the distance between the players and fans on these courts is generally speaking a lot smaller. My able-bodied contact told me that "some of the smaller and busier courts were a little awkward to watch matches on" and goes on to state that he and the people he went with "didn't bother" in terms of trying to see particularly famous players on the outside courts. My reaction as someone who has experienced the inclusive nature of Wimbledon as an event first hand is somewhat different. I'm in an extremely lucky position thanks to my wheelchair. No matter what outside court I want to watch at any given time the previously mentioned stewards always make room for those with disabilities to have a decent viewing angle on the court. It honestly makes me feel a little bit like royalty as in previous years I've watched as the stewards make a path through the able-bodied spectators so that my godfather and I (he typically goes with me every year) can see whatever match we want. As I always have a ticket for a show court during my yearly visit I don't normally spend a great deal of time on the outside courts but this is nevertheless an amazing feature and just shows how much Wimbledon as an event will do in order to promote inclusivity and give disabled fans and spectators the best experience possible.

 

I've been to several events throughout my life that have been good at promoting inclusivity for those with disabilities but so far Wimbledon stands out as the absolute best. Everything feels inclusive without the need to be particularly singled out. The ability as a person with disabilities to pretty much have access to any match on the outside courts is also a huge advantage. However on a more general level I think my able-bodied contact summed it up best when he said it was all a very good experience on all terms." This simple fact is what makes it a priority for me to try and gain tickets every year. There is no question my mind that being in a wheelchair makes the experience even better.

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Brilliant article Timothy, lucky you getting a good view to something you obviously enjoy watching 

Thank you. I hope my passion comes across well. 

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