Amar Latif won the first ever Stelios Disabled Entrepreneur Award, run by charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, at a prestigious ceremony in London last night.
Amar set out to be 'the blind guy who wanted to show people the world'. He set up Traveleyes as the first commercial tour operator to specialise in holidays for visually impaired and sighted UK-based travellers. Sighted and visually impaired travellers journey together in the spirit of mutual independence with the latter acting as the ‘eyes’ for the former and giving visual descriptions of the amazing places they visit. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannau, the founder of easyGroup presented Amar with the £50,000 prize at the Chamber of Commerce Business Awards Ceremony on Thursday 29 November. Leonard Cheshire Disability launched the award this year and Stelios has pledged to work with the charity for the next ten years to give £50,000 each year to an inspirational disabled entrepreneur. A panel of influential business leaders, including Peter Jones of Dragon’s Den fame and Edwina Dunn, CEO of global marketing consultancy dunnhumby, helped to assess and select the worthy winner.
There are approximately seven million people of working age in the UK with a long-term disability and around 50 per cent of them are out of work. Helping to remove the barriers they face to being in business is essential.
Stelios said: "I am very passionate about encouraging an enterprising spirit and decided to work with Leonard Cheshire Disability to set up The Stelios Disabled Entrepreneur Award. Self employment is the only viable option for many disabled people as it offers flexibility and helps bypass much of the prejudice that sadly still exists in the workplace.
“Amar is a driven person with a good track record of working hard. His business is going in the right direction and Traveleyes has a good opportunity to expand within the UK and internationally.”
Amar, a Scotsman, now based in Leeds, started losing his sight from the age of 16, said: “It's a great honour to have won this fantastic award and to have had Traveleyes recognised in this way.
“The £50,000 will be used to expand Traveleyes into a fully international service. This will enable us to serve our blind and sighted travellers around the world.
“I believe that the positive approach is the way to overcome the fear, prejudice and misconception that often stand in the way of disabled people. Many disabled people may, like me, wish to become entrepreneurs, but no one should be forced into self-employment by a lack of employment opportunity in the job market."
“I set up Traveleyes as from an early age I always suspected there was a stunningly beautiful world waiting to be explored. Traveleyes holidays offer greater social, sensory and cultural variety and enhanced personal fulfilment. For the visually impaired traveller, Traveleyes provides a new sense of independence. For the sighted traveller it's a holiday that provides an enhanced sense of purpose.”
Anna Cooper, Corporate Development Manager at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “Disabled people experience disadvantage and discrimination every day, largely through ignorance. The barriers that disabled people face in getting into work are significant, and unacceptable. We would like to thank Stelios for joining with to highlight these barriers, and at the same time recognise the contribution that disabled people can make to the business world. We would also like to thank The British Chamber of Commerce for hosting the Award.”
Stelios continued: “One of the criteria I set for entry to the award was that the businesses had to be start ups, trading for no longer than three years. I wanted to give emphasis to a start up entrepreneur where the £50,000 would make a real difference to the way the business develops.”