Raising disability awareness during lockdown

Date: 16/02/2021
Author: University of Salford Business School
Company: University of Salford Business School

A student has successfully transformed his team building and disability awareness business into an online hit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Azeem Amir (pictured), a visually impaired University of Salford Business School student from Rochdale, set up his company, Learn with ESS, 12 months ago. Azeem plays blind football for the England national team and uses the sport as part of his business.

Learn with ESS is a disability awareness and team cohesion business, that runs courses designed to allow companies and education institutes to learn about and tackle the stigmas and attitudes towards disabilities and use interactive activities, such as blind football, to help do this. Whether it be via education, sport or speaking, Azeem aspires to help people get a better understanding of disabilities.

Since Learn with ESS was launched in 2020, Azeem has worked with professional clubs such as Salford City, Rochdale and Blackburn Rovers, as well as working with the English Football League (EFL) themselves to help bring his programme into their infrastructure. He has even done his own TED talk in 2019, titled Never Underestimate a Blind Footballer.

However, after a very impressive start to the businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic began, forcing many business’ like Azeem’s to go online. Whilst some have struggled with the change, Learn with ESS has adapted well and Azeem has plenty of customers still wanting to work with him, including some international schools.

Azeem who worked with the University of Salford business incubator Launch @Salforduni, said: “We’re trying to desensitise the word disability. It is a very practical and immersive programme where it is all about wear the blindfold and finding the experience to be hands on. So, we have thought of many different ways to portray that. And instead of doing the practical work, we’re now doing more in and around conversational work and doing Q&A format, where people who have never spoken to someone with a disability before. It all works around them having the opportunity to ask questions and to explore avenues they have never thought about.”

Azeem added: “When lockdown happened it was clear it would have a hug impact on our business. But it was lovely to hear from many of our customers that they still wanted to work with us. That encouraged us to keep going and to see how we could move to online delivery.

“The transition was not too bad, it was more about how we can keep people engaged for an hour to and hour and a half when talking about a topic that not a lot of people are comfortable with. But it’s gone down really well, and we have had some amazing feedback. Amazingly, I got connected with a school in America. They got in touch with me to hear more about blind football and on disability awareness. To even have that connection with someone across the globe, even over the Zoom call and they had students ask me questions, was amazing.”

In his free time, Azeem currently plays for the England and Great Britain national blind football team. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restitutions, the team have been unable to play this season. But despite not being able to play, Azeem’s footballing dreams do not look to be over, as he is currently working with representatives of the Qatar 2022 World Cup to bring his programme into the tournament.

You can check out Learn with ESS’ website here.