Connecting for inclusion

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Breaking down barriers and enriching lives through sports, inclusivity, connectivity and education


In March 2022, World Mobile, along with our partners Fulham FC and the Richard Whitehead Foundation (RWF), held a special event, connecting the Fulham FC Foundation (Fulham FC’s official charitable arm) with our teaching colleagues in Zanzibar and the UK. Our discussions centred around the power of sport in education, disability issues and how connectivity can be central to communication and changing perceptions.

15% of the planet have a disability – over 1 billion people (WHO)

Fulham FC and RWF are perfect partners for World Mobile – we all champion equality and diversity, maintaining that everyone should have the same opportunities, whether it’s through sport or access to the digital world. And our belief that inclusivity is about seeing the person first, rather than their difference. This was perfectly highlighted in the first part of the event – a friendly interview between Richard Whitehead and Zanzibari journalist, TV host and influencer Salama Jabir. There was then a sports, inclusivity, connectivity and education workshop, hosted by the Fulham FC Foundation and attended by representatives from schools in both continents, Richard Whitehead and World Mobile’s Enrique Opi.

We are delighted to be part of the great work that World Mobile and Fulham FC are promoting. The children we work with have benefitted enormously from the programmes they have sponsored. We have seen them grow in confidence and ability in ways that go beyond sporting achievement. Pat Porter, Lead Teacher at Hilary House, Sacred Heart R.C. Primary School

So what did we learn?

Removing barriers, changing perspectives

Breaking down the stigma and stereotype around people with disabilities, globally, is crucial. There are lots of stereotypes surrounding a person’s abilities, based on cultural and societal perspectives. And people get judged by how they look or how they identify as a person. Yet leaders – and indeed all of us – need to recognise that those with disabilities are people first and foremost.

Not all disabilities are visible, or acquired at birth, i.e. not all people with disabilities have the same story and the barriers they experience may vary.

With 15% of the world’s population identifying as having a disability, that’s a lot of people – potential employers, leaders, etc. – who can contribute to society. In fact, Richard considers a disability an advantage: “The challenges you must overcome, physically, mentally and educationally, can make a person stronger and more resilient.”

Connectivity can play a huge role in harnessing this advantage, through educating people about what a person with a disability can do, rather than what they can’t. Not just through influencers, like Salama, but events like the Paralympics. Streamed directly into people’s houses or onto their devices, it shows the world the incredible feats that athletes like Richard can achieve. These positive messages around inclusion can empower people to do better.

Communication is key to managing people’s perceptions of disability, by bringing people together to give them a louder voice. But communication is also imperative on a practical level. Travelling around the world, people with disabilities need to understand how they might be perceived in a particular country, what barriers there may be and how they can have an impact moving forward. Social media and other online resources enable a wide audience to have instant access to information, whatever their accessibility needs.

“Equality has no boundaries.” Richard Whitehead

Representation is essential if we are to break down the barriers and fully embrace the idea that people with disabilities have just as much right to a voice as the other 85%. This includes giving people with disabilities a role in the media, a platform to have their voices heard.


How can sport help?

Sport and disability

The Paralympics showcases what is possible and embraces a range of disability sport. But sport and disability is not just about this event every four years. Indeed, Richard admitted that his participation in the 2012 Paralympics was not all about winning medals. “It’s about the ownership of the role you have in society and how you connect with the community around you,” he said. Everyone should have an equal and fair opportunity for success. And sport is a great platform for that, whether you are partaking in a sporting activity, spectating and supporting, or staffing an event.

The wider value of participation in sport is clear. The positive influence it has on your mental health, the relationships you build, the opportunities it brings. It can help combat the isolation that many of those with disabilities encounter; and the shared experience when talking to someone who may look like you or has overcome similar barriers can give you confidence and raise self-esteem. Sporting activity can give us all a sense of achievement and purpose.

“Society is better with sport.” Richard Whitehead

However, since disability and poverty can go hand in hand, the economic barriers to accessing sport need to be removed, to prevent creating a vicious cycle.

Sport and education – sport for all

How do we get students with disabilities to participate in sport? The workshop participants discussed how upskilling staff can help, showing them what diversity and inclusion looks like; and collaborating with outside agencies to tailor the support that each individual child needs. Essentially, communication – which can be enabled by connectivity – can help people across the globe share ideas and best practice.

Fulham FC and their role – the disAbility programme

Throughout the discussions, it was clear that the Fulham FC Foundation has a key role in championing inclusivity in sport and paving the way to show other clubs what is possible for the disability community and beyond. At Fulham FC and elsewhere, they provide as many activities as possible for people with a range of disabilities and SEN, as well as a platform to talk about inclusivity and equality in general.

There are a number of challenges that the Foundation faces with regards to inclusion, and these have been heightened by the global pandemic. However, they aim to find out what these are by listening and understanding. In the community, they run taster sessions, trials, online sessions and professional development events with coaches. To sum up, they focus on ability rather than disability, hence their preference for the presentation of the word – disAbility.

It is really important to get the message across to the wider community that everyone with a disability deserves the same access to education and sport as their peers, and that inclusion plays a massive part in young people with a disability feeling that they belong and can achieve in our society. Katy Shephard, DisAbility Development Officer at Fulham FC Foundation

Communication – the ripple effect

Conversations around disability and inclusion are constantly evolving. So it is particularly important to keep the communication channels open, teaching us all to enable inclusivity, not just on the football pitch, but way beyond.

Connectivity enables cooperation – sharing new technology, new ideas, and new ways of looking at different issues. By sharing best practice, using examples from around the world, we can constantly learn. People are educated and perceptions around disability are broken down.

Connectivity brings people with shared experiences together, improving self-esteem and alleviating feelings of isolation.

And connectivity enabled this event to take place, bringing together people across continents to share ideas, discuss inclusivity and break down barriers.


Participants:

  • Richard Whitehead, Paralympian and founder of the Richard Whitehead Foundation
  • Salama Jabir, journalist and TV host, Tanzania
  • Mike McSweeney, CEO Fulham FC Foundation
  • Katy Shephard, DisAbility Development Officer, Fulham FC Foundation
  • Enrique Opi, Vice President Corporate Office, World Mobile
  • Teachers at Forodhani Secondary School, Zanzibar
  • Patrick Porter, Hilary House Autism Base, Sacred Heart School, Battersea, London
  • Kerrin Cross, Wyvil Primary School, Lambeth, London


Source: David Baird Photography

World Mobile Staff
World Mobile Staff