Q&A with Thomas Williams - Disability Consultant

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MEI talks to Thomas Williams, of Thomas Williams - Disability Consultant, a company that helps to improve disability inclusion practices at Major Events, building on the bricks of London 2012

Q: Please explain what your company Thomas Williams Disability Consultancy does and can you tell me more about your social media tag line ‘Freedom To Go.’

 In a nutshell I assist Major Events to design, implement and review their policies and procedures, in relation to volunteers and employees with a disability, in order to make their physical environment, organisational structures and event experience as good, or hopefully better, than the benchmark of London 2012. As one example during the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014 my company undertook a fit-for-purpose assessment in order to help them to be safe in the knowledge that the inclusive practices for volunteers and employees with a disability they were planning to put in place were practical and effective.As a wheelchair user, former Olympic Games Maker and academic who has subsequently analysed his London 2012 time as a volunteer, I have experienced both sides of the coin. I feel that I have a unique insight which gives me the ability to be able to communicate  to Major Events organisations a sense that they can balance needing to execute the event to a timely schedule with a moral imperative to be as inclusive to people with a disability as possible. Regarding the new tag line - my company has recently gone through a rebranding process – the new tag line on my logo, Twitter, and everywhere is ‘Thomas Williams Freedom to Go’  – and that just about sums up what I do – my works looks to try and help people with a disability have more freedom when volunteering, being employed or receiving education.

 

Q: Can you tell me a little about your history

 From an early age as a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy I always had barriers put in my way to things that I wanted to achieve, from people’s lack of imagination to their  inability to think differently. I see my role now as trying to remove these barriers for other people. Ihad barriers from the start regarding education – but I always exceeded people’s expectations thankfully.  I was told that I was not capable of getting a single GCSE and then to their surprise I achieved 9 including 5 As.  And for somebody who has to write everything via somebody else that was a barrier overcome.  Throughout my life I have had to make decisions – what to prioritise – my health, my education, and other people’s barriers that try to force a wedge between these two. Doctors are a devil for putting surgery -  I have had many operations - before school and university work. I was discouraged from going to University at all because my health was deteriorating when I was doing my ‘A Levels.’ I had to have an operation to correct the scoliosis curvature of my spine and rebuild it. I previously had a breathing capacity of 21% - not enough to sustain the life of a cat – let alone a human being!  The time I had to take off from my A Levels because of the operation gave me time to reflect on my future direction.  I had previously decided to study Philosophy but now I had more confidence.   I decided to look at something more practical, TV production, that would be more likely to enable me to take up a position in the ‘world of work.’ At University I achieved a first class honours having written a dissertation of which the  final part involved a model for broadcasters wishing to increase the number of wheelchair users in television and film. I didn’t just interview people from television for the dissertation – I also interviewed people from LOCOG and Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus company who interestingly refuse to use the word ‘disability’ because they feel that everybody just has different skills.

 

Q: When did your interest in sport start?

I have always been a lover of sport. From the age of five I was encouraged to ride a horse, which helped my balance and co-ordination.  As I grew older I became more serious about equestrianism learning to perform dressage and show jumping disciplines to a high level for my ability, being trained by Paralympic coaches.At secondary school I had my first foray into Paralympic sport. I learned to play Boccia, a sport similar to bowls, specially designed for people with cerebral palsy who use a wheelchair. Even people who can only just move their head can play! I trained with several current Paralympic medallists whilst at Treloars College – a college supported by royal patronage to help remove the barriers for disabled people to learn. Whilst there they designed me a Steadicam system for those in the broadcasting industry that made my chair into the ideal mobile dolly and that became the envy of my student colleagues at University.

 

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Q: I believe that you regard being a Games Maker at London 2012 as being the pivotal time in your life.
Can you tell me more about its importance to you?

 Yes it definitely was crucial. The London 2012 Olympics had their ‘Inspire a Generation’ mandate and the organising committee set themselves many targets as part of this, one of these was to be the most inclusive games ever. In order to do this they employed positive discrimination and other techniques. I benefited from these -including a guaranteed interview scheme for those volunteers with a disability. This had been very seldom used previously in both the public and private sector. It is not widely known that the Equality Act of 2010 encourages and allows the facility for this. Other initiatives included designing for inclusion from the start which hadn’t really happened before – it was usually a fixit when it happened kind of situation.  There was also a specialist team to deal with any reasonable adjustments for disabled volunteers and employees throughout. Incidentally MEI have asked me to write occasional commentary articles on disability matters relating to Major Events for this Digest so I will be writing a lot more about my London 2012 experiences and also looking ahead  for example to Rio 2016 to see how things have been taken forward for people with a disability.  Back to London 2012 - I was still left  with the question of how my physical condition – being a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy  – would be able to survive the day-to-day rigours of being a Games Maker – with an early start, late finish and all the commuting that was required in a very congested London. My specific job was working at the Uniform and Accreditation centre (UDAC) helping the UK Border Agency (UKBA) with the more complex accreditation cases that required UKBA intervention. This was my second role – incidentally the first one did have barriers which I won’t go into now. But one problem with London 2012 was that they didn’t ask enough questions to volunteers with a disability at the time of application so they didn’t always match people up with the right roles. This is something that I aim to put right in my consultancy work with Major Events. London 2012 was tiring but it definitely changed my life. Prior to London 2012 I wasn’t 100% sure that I was physically capable of doing a job, any job.  Being a Games maker improved my confidence greatly. And now being a consultant allows me to control my working life and be selective with the projects I take on.

 

Q: I believe that your consultancy business initially worked in the tv industry. How did it develop into the world of Sport and Major Events?

 Having thoroughly enjoyed the experience of London 2012 I was determined to make the most of this.  During the Games Maker anniversary event following the Games  I met up with the talisman and architect of London 2012 Lord Coe who said that my dissertation would be a useful  tool for Major Events so they wouldn’t – for example – make the same mistakes that they had made with me in London 2012.  This led me to visit his government office which subsequently led me to UK Sport which again later led on to my first consultancy job in the area of the sports industry assisting the Tour De France Grand Depart in 2014.  Having seen the effect that my interventions had on the volunteer experience there I decided to set up another string to my business bow for work in the sports industry.

 

Q: What are your hopes for your future work for Major Events and your membership of MEI?

 I hope to meet a number of members at MEI events and hopefully we can be mutually useful to one another in improving the inclusivity at Major Events to surpass the very high bar that London 2012 set. Incidentally London 2012 employed around 3000 Games Makers with a disability from a total of 70000. I think this has become the ‘de facto must-achieve target’ for future Major Events to exceed.

www.thomasswilliams.co.uk

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Tel: 01212880692

Twitter: @TW_freedomto_GO

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