The sight of Manchester United lifting silverware at Wembley last month was a moment to cherish for Reds supporters worldwide, not least Foundation Para Talent participant Keira, for whom the visual really does mean everything when she is playing the game herself.
Keira and her family were invited by the Foundation and the EFL to enjoy an exclusive pre-match tour of Wembley, before watching our Carabao Cup Final win. Keira was awarded the opportunity in recognition of the determination and courage that she has shown in our Para Talent sessions.
The 13-year-old was born deaf and has attended a specialist school for the deaf since primary school age.
Reflecting on her experience at Wembley, Keira said: “The Carabao Cup final was really amazing, the atmosphere was so exciting with lots of people cheering and chanting. I wish I could do it all over again.
“I did the tour around the journalists' room, went on the pitch, in the interview rooms and the players’ tunnel. I really liked walking out of the tunnel. It was amazing.”
Without suitable programmes in place that allow her to play nearer to where she lives, in Yorkshire, Keira travels from across the Pennines to attend our Para Talent sessions.
The Para Talent programme provides players living with cerebral palsy or a hearing or visual impairment with opportunities to play, and scope to move onto a national pathway and represent England. Para Talent forms part of the Foundation’s Ability Counts provision, the Foundation’s PAN-disability football programme for those aged 5-25.
As she is deaf, Keira is more reliant on her other senses. She makes the cross-county journey to attend our sessions once a month, where she is able to play alongside other junior players affected by hearing impairments, in a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
Surrounded by Manchester United Foundation coaches at the world-famous Cliff Training Ground, here, Keira is in an environment that is tailored to meet her needs, which includes being able to communicate through a sign communication support worker to understand coaches’ instructions and comments.
“I attend the Para Talent session because it improves my skills and knowledge of teamwork,” continued Keira.
“They provide a sign language communication support worker and I really appreciate that. It has improved my confidence when it comes to playing and communicating with other children.
“The football is very visual and it helps me to improve my skills. I feel happy in myself coming here.”
Keira has built a rapport with not only her fellow participants during sessions, but staff, too. She is greatly admired by those around her for the way she communicates with others.
Keira was interviewed with the help of the sign communication support worker, Liz Stewart, who has held such a role with the Foundation for over six years.
“Keira is exceptionally bright,” said Liz. “She is caring and she communicates so well. She is very proud and she’s not ashamed or afraid to ask for help.
“I think the sessions help her with her confidence and ability to share her days and her thoughts with other children through an interpreter.”
Away from sessions, Keira also starred in the Foundation’s tribute video to the Busby Babes last month, marking 65 years since the Munich Air Disaster. She emotionally communicated her tribute to the club’s legends through British Sign Language, visiting Old Trafford for the day as part of the experience.
“I felt really happy to be part of it, and a part of everything else,” Keira added, speaking of her involvement in the video.
“I felt really proud of myself to be in the video.
“It made me feel happy knowing that I can help other people and raise deaf awareness; I was proud to be the only person signing in the video.”
To learn more about the Foundation's Ability Counts provision, click here.