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EitC’s Disability Provision Encapsulated Ahead Of International Day Of Persons With Disabilities

Ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Sunday 3 December, Everton in the Community hosted its annual Disability Schools Sports Festival where pupils from seven SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) and four MLD (Moderate Learning Difficulties) schools across Merseyside were in attendance to try their hands at an array of multi-sports.

Hosted at the Archbishop Beck Tennis Centre in Liverpool, approximately 130 young people of varying ability levels participated in the charity’s annual festival, which gave them the opportunity to interact with their like-minded peers and take part in a wide range of sports from sit-down volleyball to archery.

Commenting on the positive impact of the two-day event on the charity’s participants, Everton in the Community Disability Development Coordinator, Mark Dolan said:

“The Disability Schools Sports Festival is always a special occasion in the calendar that we look forward to each year, and we’re delighted to have even higher participation numbers this time round.

“It’s all about developing the children’s social skills and self-confidence, enabling them to meet and engage with young people from other schools in a safe and supported environment.”

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a globally recognised observance that was established by the United Nations in 1992 to highlight the importance of inclusivity, accessibility and equal opportunities for disabled people whilst also celebrating their achievements and contributions to society.

The Disability Schools Sports Festival represents just a small fraction of the charity’s wider disability provision, which has expanded exponentially since launching in 2000. The programme currently works with 14 special schools across Liverpool City Region, delivering physical activity opportunities to over 650 disabled children a year and boasts 12 disability teams that represent Everton Football Club and Everton in the Community at weekly training sessions and monthly competitive fixtures.

Notable highlights from the last season include Everton Amputees sealing the double; clinching both the National EAFA league title and the FA Disability Cup, whilst six players from the Blues Amputees side were also involved in England’s inaugural Nations League title triumph this summer.

Another team, Everton in the Community’s Pan-Disability C Band surpassed that and won the treble – taking home the Merseyside Ability Counts League two title, the Merseyside Ability Counts League Cup and Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC Ability Counts Cup.

Additionally, players from the Women’s Pan-Disability team participated in this year’s European Football for Development (EFDN) tournaments held in Portugal and Germany, with the charity fielding one of the only teams that had any female representation.

What’s more, the charity’s Down Syndrome team took part in Charlton Athletic Community Trust’s (CACT) nine-mile ‘Upbeats Walk’ from the Club’s training Ground in New Eltham to The Valley stadium. They also played against CACT’s Down Syndrome team before doing a lap of honour at half time in Charlton Football Club’s match against Port Vale which was streamed live on CharltonTV.

Funded by the Premier League and the PFA, Everton in the Community’s disability programme has continued to engage with its participants off the pitch as well – having organised work placements for 5 disabled young people in the last 12 months and expanded its HAF camp offering to additional boroughs across Merseyside including Halton, St Helens, Wirral and Liverpool.

Furthermore, new developments for the charity’s disability provision include recently relaunching its collaboration with Alder Hey Childrens’ Hospital’s physio team which involves delivering online sessions to patients, assisting with their rehabilitation and development; a significant milestone since Everton in the Community has a long-lasting partnership with Alder Hey that spans over 14 years. Whilst on the pitch, Everton Amputees have qualified for next year’s EAFF Champions League and a newly reformed Everton partially sighted football team are currently competing in the National Visually Impaired League.

Former World Amputee Footballer of the Year in 1999 and England Amputee Football Association (EAFA) chairperson, Steve Johnson has played in three World Cups and has amassed more than 130 international caps for England. As Everton in the Community’s Disability Manager, he has also led the award-winning disability programme since 2003, pioneering and witnessing first-hand its growth – having expanded from just two teams back in 2002 to 12 current teams, the charity supports more than 130 disabled children and adults with footballing opportunities each year across Merseyside.

Reflecting on his tenure at the charity to date, Steve commented:

“We’ve always been ambassadors for disability football and were one of the first clubs to get involved in the Ability Camps programme. This is personally my twentieth year at Everton in the Community developing football opportunities for disabled people and our overall aim for the project remains the same. It’s all about trying to put that pathway in place so any disabled person, regardless of their ability, can reach their full potential, whether that’s at a competitive level or grassroots level.

“It’s been another successful 12 months for our disability programme, and we’ve got so much to look forward to next year. Our Amputee team have qualified for the Champions League after winning the cup and league double this year and we’ve also just started a new partially sighted team who are competing in the National Futsal League. We’re also looking to get more disabled females involved – we currently have one team but we’re aiming to expand so that we eventually have women’s teams at all different levels as well.”