Stephen Lewis, a football trailblazer
Stephen is one of the top disability footballers in Wales and is currently a qualified Football Coach with experience coaching at a Welsh Premier League Academy. He is an active campaigner in the space, advocating for greater opportunities to have people with different disabilities involved in sports.
Stephen’s football journey started in 2015. His small hometown in Wales did not have many opportunities or activities available for people with disabilities until his local football club, Newtown FC, organised a session for people with different physical and neurological conditions. Since stepping onto the pitch for the first time, Stephen has not looked back.
“Inspirational”, “a fantastic role model”, and “a great ambassador”
Overcoming misconceptions and physical challenges
Stephen has dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and essential tremors, and his condition has not stopped him from pursuing his football passions. Stephen has used his conditions to better his game.
For example, while dyspraxia usually presents individuals with coordination and balance issues, Stephen takes it as a motivator in order to keep up with the physical demands of football. He also sees Autism as an advantage as it helps see the world differently and gives him the ability to focus on the nuances of the game – skills which has served him well as a coach.
Like many others who have disabilities, Stephen has also had to overcome a multitude of barriers, including people questioning his abilities to play and coach a team. This criticism does not demoralise him, but instead pushes him to prove his detractors wrong. Believing that the best course of action is to continue doing great work, Stephen leads the way by example.
"Football & sports in general are difficult for us dyspraxics, yet like many people with dyspraxia I have met, Stephen has never let it hold him back.”
Inspired by his own challenges in accessing football, Stephen now uses his influence on and off the pitch to advocate for more inclusive sports opportunities. Having experienced first-hand the benefits that being involved in sports can bring to individuals, he actively uses his successes and networks to improve awareness and understanding of different abilities.
Stephen has brought far more to football than just participating in the sport. Believing that people with disabilities are best placed to represent the conditions, Stephen uses his platform to showcase positive representations of people with disabilities, highlighting the positive impact they have brought to their communities around them.
Calling on his football networks has given Stephen the opportunity to speak to key figures in the sporting and policy making space, allowing him to bring up the need for greater representation and opportunities for people with disabilities to prove themselves.
"Steve, you are a fantastic role model. Each time we talk I feel inspired by what you continue to achieve. Top man!"
Hopes for the future
Being named in the 2022 Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List has only further motivated Stephen to continue being an advocate for people with disabilities. Professing that the Leaders’ Award is one of the only thing’s he’s won in his life, Stephen sees awards like this as vital to recognising the efforts and achievements of people with disabilities –something that he thinks is unfortunately usually overlooked especially in the area of sports.
As a Leader, Stephen hopes that people in society will recognise that including disabled people in activities like football should not be done as token inclusion, but instead recognise that inclusion can transform the lives of all those involved; just like how his was when he attended the session run by Newtown FC.
Stephen might only be 26-years old, but his work has only just begun. He hopes his determination and passion will inspire another person to pursue their interests regardless of their disability, and encourages people to keep sharing their trials and successes – after all, he says, “doing by example is what makes the big difference”.