Our voice of business this month is: Martin McElhatton OBE, Chief Executive, WheelPower.

It is impossible to write a blog without mentioning the impact of Covid 19 on the lives of disabled people, which meant that many had to shield and isolate to protect their health. This led to disabled people being isolated from their communities, their families and the activities that help them stay fit and healthy, which improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Sadly, the positive progress in recent years to support disabled people get active were reversed by the pandemic and we now have a huge job to do to change the dial in the right direction as life begins to restart. It is vital that all aspects of society, including work, community and sport are accessible and inclusive for all so that we can tackle the inequalities faced by disabled people to help them enjoy a full role in society.

WheelPower, the national charity for wheelchair sport, had to adapt to new ways of working, new ways to keep in touch with people and new ways to support our beneficiaries. Like many organisations, our team of staff and volunteers had to work from home and we used Zoom and Teams to stay in touch. We moved our services online and organised exercise and yoga classes and produced over fifty new resources which enabled disabled people to exercise at home. We have also provided over 700 items of fitness equipment to disabled people to help them remain active.

WheelPower were honoured to work with Buckinghamshire Council and other partners in August to deliver a good luck message to the athletes in Tokyo at the Heritage Flame Lighting Ceremony to celebrate the unique role Stoke Mandeville plays as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement.

We then watched many inspiring performances by British Paralympians at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. The amazing performances on the field of play were just part of the story from Tokyo. The human stories of resilience, overcoming the challenges of disability and the endeavour to achieve their sporting dreams were at the heart of what makes us love watching the Paralympics.

The founder of the Paralympics and WheelPower, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, pioneered sport as part of rehabilitation of injured servicemen and women but also championed disabled people in work and encouraged his patients to become “taxpayers”.  New ways of working facilitate a new way of thinking about how we employers can encourage disabled people to become employees, enabling their skills and talents to be used in a flexible working environment where they can work remotely but contribute to any business through adding diversity of ideas and perspective.

As we all emerge from the pandemic I hope that doors are open to disabled people to enable them to feel welcome in the workplace, welcome in community and welcome in sport and activity. We have a wonderful opportunity to use the new ways of working and connecting, to broaden the horizons for disabled people and support them to play a full role in life.

For me, as a disabled person, the pandemic has been hugely challenging both physically and emotionally. Exercising at home and more recently getting out of the house for regular exercise helped me feel physically and emotionally stronger and cope with the stresses and strains of work and life. Health and wellbeing has never been more important for disabled people and we are excited to work to improve the facilities at Stoke Mandeville Stadium to provide disabled people and our local community with a place where they all feel welcome and included.

Looking to the future, WheelPower plan to return to providing opportunities for disabled people to play sport face to face but also continuing to support disabled people through online services so we can connect with more people and help them lead active lives.

For further information on WheelPower please visit: www.wheelpower.org.uk/