England blind footballer Azeem Amir is piloting his new disability awareness workshops around Salford to increase understanding towards people with disabilities.
The 21-year-old international footballer and Salford graduate will formally launch his ‘Learn With ESS’ sessions across educational institutions in January.
The ESS stands for Education, Sport and Speaking to illustrate that the workshops include classroom learning, Paralympic sport taster sessions and talks from local disabled role models.
Mr Amir said: “It’s something that I’m really passionate about and something that I’ve seen make a difference to the way people think.
“It leaves them with an experience that hopefully will change the way they see people with a disability.”
So far, the pilot has reached 500 young people and involved Salford organisations such as the Foundation 92 charity.
Mr Amir hopes his workshops will “open up a conversation” that leads to people showing more empathy and support to their disabled peers.
He said: “I’ve seen the impact having a good supportive network can have on someone’s life.
“It really impacts how they go about daily life in terms of just being more positive and more optimistic about the future.
“If you are in a mainstream school and you have got a disability, you do feel secluded and left out, you feel different.
“For me even though I was in that position, I didn’t feel different because the people around me were that supportive.”
“That’s the aim, to desensitise it, and if I can do that through sport which I’m really passionate about then it’s a win-win for me.”
Mr Amir, who was born with no sight in his right eye and slight light perception in his left, was asked to play for England’s B1 football team back in 2018.
The 10-month disruption that Covid-19 has had on his training gave him the last push to set up his new venture, after he was left unable to play a football match since February.
Since lockdown started, his training has been largely online or working with local Manchester coaches instead of the usual international camps.
He said: “It is still a really tough time, I won’t lie to you, in terms of motivation.
“As much as we try to do virtual or online training, it’s nothing like when you’re actually in a team environment.
“Proper training for me is being back on a pitch with a team, that’s the dream now.”
Mr Amir plans to reach more schools, universities and workplaces with his workshops, including Salford City FC first team in January.
On the formal launch of Learn with ESS next month, he said: “We’ve had some amazing feedback and people booking us in for new year already, so it’s been a really exciting time.”