Lancashire-born para-athlete’s groundbreaking business opening eyes to disabled people’s experiences

In Claire Buckle’s own words, ‘everyone’s aware of disability, but not everyone understands it.’ A former England and Team GB para-athlete, Claire understands how societal perceptions and the stigma attached to being disabled can impact people, which is why she’s determined to do something about that.

The founder of Ability Consultancy, an equality and diversity education and training company which works to educate people about disability discrimination, Claire’s work sees her offer kids and adults in schools and businesses alike the chance to gain a keen appreciation of the societal barriers which impact those with disabilities.

“It started off with getting sports clubs to be more inclusive,” says Claire, who was national champion in the discus and shotput for a decade during her career as a para-athlete. “When a disabled person turns up, plenty of places say ‘no, health and safety’. There shouldn’t be health and safety issues, it’s about teaching coaches to adapt, not throwing people out.

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“But it soon became apparent that it’s a wider issue,” adds Claire, 42, who’s from Penwortham. “I was made redundant in 2017 and, as a disabled person, it’s probably 10 times harder to get a job because everyone sees you as someone with cerebral palsy or a stammer rather than as Claire.

Claire Buckle, former national shot put and discus para-champion

“In six months of being unemployed, I had about 50 job interviews and everyone said I had the skills, but…” There’s a pregnant pause and Claire, recently recognised at Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards, makes a face. “Ability Consultancy is about changing that mindset.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Claire was subjected to discrimination and prejudice throughout her childhood, which impacted her self-belief and sense of self-worth. Discovering para-athletics in 1997, however, changed her life. Now with over two decades’ experience in promoting equality and diversity, she’s keen to see a more inclusive approach adopted universally.

To that end, she founded Ability Consultancy in 2019, with the company offering bespoke workshops led by disabled people who recount real-life experiences so as to enlighten participants about how subtle changes in attitude and environment can considerably enhance a disabled person’s life and well-being.

“I love the work,” says Claire, who is at the forefront of the ongoing fight against disability discrimination in the North West. “I did a sports session in Haslam Park yesterday with a four-year-old wheelchair-user, so I put him on a frame runner and he ran down the avenue for 20 metres or so. Showing him and his parents that he can try anything was so nice.

Claire Buckle during her days as a para-athlete

“When I work with businesses, I throw people in at the deep end using disability simulation equipment like visually-impaired goggles that people have to wear going around their office,” she adds. “Some of the reactions… I had one person who just stood still and said ‘I can’t move’. Stuff like that really opens people’s eyes to disabled people’s experiences.”

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Having last year launched a disability awareness programme for schools called ‘See Me Not My CP’ to change mindsets of the future, Ability Consultancy is also in the process of developing a new interactive app which uses virtual and augmented reality to help people better grasp what life is like for those with disabilities. Claire’s mission is a simple one.

“We’re just trying to change perceptions,” she says.

Claire Buckle, founder of Ability Consultancy