This is a guest post from Paralympian, Sophia Warner. Sophia hosted this year’s RIDI Awards and is Founder of the Superhero Series, the UK’s one and only sports event for people with disabilities and their friends and families.
I’m a retired Paralympian and spent many years on the GB athletics team, winning my first medal in 1998 in the 200m. My athletics career continued until 2013 when I retired. In addition to athletics, my professional career has been equally important to me. I graduated with a medical engineering degree, then changed my mind and moved into marketing, with fantastic roles with BT and Nestlé. I had nothing but positive experiences but do know that 20 years ago I wasn’t prepared to disclose my disability and never did.
Launched in 2014, the RIDI Awards celebrate progress and recognise the success of organisations that are making headway in increasing the inclusion of disabled jobseekers. On a personal level, when I heard about the RIDI and all the wonderful steps that the organisations involved are making towards creating fair and equal opportunities for people like me, I jumped at the chance to be involved and was incredibly proud to host this year’s award ceremony.
In my own career, I didn’t ever feel that I could speak out and ask for adaptations as I thought this would go against me. The organisations celebrated on the evening of the awards prove change is happening, but there’s a long way to go. And while as a mum, and as a female, I can see why ‘women empowerment’ is important, it is also vital to make sure disability doesn’t slip down the agenda where diversity focus is concerned.
News that the previous cap on Access to Work funding, which covers additional costs that disabled people may incur to begin or stay in employment, has increased by 38% to £57,000 a year is another sign that we’re moving in the right direction. However, it’s a sad fact that misconceptions around disability remain within the workplace and beyond.
We must work together to challenge and change misconceptions around disability. The best way to do this is by sharing experiences, and the stories we heard on the evening of the awards were all truly inspiring.
As an athlete, I know that sport, like employment, can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and confidence. And my latest project, the Superhero Series, which is powered by Npower, is the UK’s one and only sports event for people with disabilities and their friends and families. We launched our first two events last year: the Superhero Tri and Winter Wonderwheels, which was held on World Disability Day. We were televised on Channel 4 and well-known and inspirational celebrities took part including Sophie Christiansen, Adam Hills, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock. This year we’re looking for Corporate Friends so that we can expand our reach by gifting more free places to schoolchildren.
The events are changing the lives of people who wouldn’t otherwise take part in sport and, like RIDI, we’re challenging stereotypes around what is possible by questioning the status-quo and working together to spread our message.