Learn with ESS blind football
Interactive activities such as blind football are helping to tackle the stigmas and attitudes towards disabilities.

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

Learn with ESS is a disability awareness and team cohesion business set up by Azeem Amir to help people get a better understanding of disabilities.

The business 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.

The University of Salford Business School student from Rochdale set up Learn with ESS 12 months ago. Azeem plays blind football for the England national team and uses the sport as part of his business.

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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.

After a successful start, the business was forced to go online when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The business adapted well and Azeem said that he found plenty of customers were still wanting to work with him, including some international schools.

Azeem, who worked with the University of Salford business incubator Launch @Salforduni, said that his business is about trying to desensitise the word ‘disability’.

He said: “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.

“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.”

When lockdown happened, Azeem commented that it was clear it would have an impact on his business but the positive feedback he received encouraged him to keep going and 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 has 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.

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