Reflecting on OmniServ’s commitment to elevating team members and passengers with disabilities

Last year saw the company step up its involvement with a number of charities and advocacy organisations to help better understand and continue to provide accessibility for all. Samantha Saunders, Head of Innovation and Regulatory Compliance at OmniServ outlines these first strategic steps, and shares what’s in-store for 2020

As someone who has worked in the aviation industry since 1984, it wasn’t until I took on my first passenger accessibility role that I quickly realised that I needed to do all I could to improve the experience at airports for people with both visible and hidden disabilities. Seeing this environment through a very different lens and having access to the tools and capabilities to drive real change across the aviation industry has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

2019 marked a real step change in OmniServ’s quest to make travel more accessible for all. We see this as a two-pronged mission. Firstly, we have to partner with a variety of organisations and tech providers who can help us enhance the experience of passengers with disabilities. Secondly, by committing to making our own organisation and workforce more diverse, we can better understand how to provide services to passengers with a range of accessibility requirements.

At OmniServ, we believe employing people with disabilities is more than just a moral imperative; it’s also a logical move that strengthens our team. If we’re going to deliver the best possible experience we can for passengers with disabilities, team members with disabilities can contribute particularly valuable skills and insights based on their personal experiences, and they can share that knowledge with the rest of our teams.

This is why 2019 saw OmniServ commit to becoming a ‘Disability Confident Employer,’ a U.K. Government scheme that aims to help employers successfully employ and retain disabled people or those with long-term health issues. We have been firm in our commitment to this cause and are delighted that within a year, we have met the necessary requirements and welcomed in the new decade having been awarded ‘Disability Confident Employer’ Level 2 status.

And what of those initiatives to help raise the standards for passengers with reduced mobility (PRM)? From staff training and partnerships with disability groups to investment in new technology and specialist equipment, here are just some of actions we took:

Colostomy UK and Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) charity partnerships

At the beginning of 2019, we pledged to support two UK charities – Colostomy UK and Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF). We have been working closely with representatives from both charities across the UK to collaborate on various initiatives aimed at helping to improve the airport experience for passengers. We hosted a range of internal and external events from which we donated all proceeds to the charities to support the vital work they carry out to ensure that travel is accessible for everyone, including those with visible or hidden disabilities.

QEF ‘Apprentice’ Challenge

We launched the QEF ‘Apprentice’ Challenge, which took on the style of the popular BBC One programme, ‘The Apprentice’. The challenge saw six teams from OmniServ and our travel retail division, Blackjack Promotions, take over a QEF shop for two hours on a specific day to see who could raise the most money for the charity. The challenge put team members through their paces with everyone trying to sell the highest number of goods across a number of QEF charity shops around Surrey. The teams raised nearly £4000! We are thinking about how we might shape this type of event in the future.

Strategic Founding Partner for the Purple Light Up campaign

Another highlight of 2019 saw us become involved with the global #PLU movement, which works to ensure that disabled employees’ valuable contributions are recognised in the workplace. Being a Purple Light Up Strategic Partner will further enhance our commitment and understanding of how we can deliver a better service built around real experience.

Global Ambassador for #PurpleLightUp movement

I was delighted to be made a global ambassador for the #PurpleLightUp movement – joining a group of hugely inspiring people to help drive the strategy of #PurpleLightUp. I’m already looking forward to getting more of our teams involved in this great event initiative. which recognises the contribution disabled people make in the workplace and to the global economy. As part of this role, I, on behalf of OmniServ, am working to further the aim of PurpleSpace in supporting those employees living with ill health, disability or the repercussions of an accident or injury, and helping them flourish in the workplace.

A particular highlight for me was getting to lead OmniServ’s plans for #PurpleLightUp Day on December 3, a global solidarity campaign which aligns with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since 2018, the airports we serve have celebrated the day in style, either by lighting terminal buildings such as control towers in purple or handing purple flowers to passengers. Members of our ABM teams in the U.S. even took part, wearing purple T-shirts proudly promoting the event. This year, we also displayed bunting and posters across Heathrow, Manchester, Stansted and Edinburgh Airport terminals, as well as distributed briefing sheets outlining the support services available to passengers travelling with a disability or impairment.

Joining ‘The Valuable 500’ global movement

As 2019 drew to a close, OmniServ joined The Valuable 500, an amazing business-to-business initiative working to increase awareness of the benefits and need to ensure that disability inclusion is driven at a company’s board level. This global movement is putting disability on the global business leadership agenda by calling for the 500 of the most influential business leaders and their brands to ignite systemic change by unlocking the value of the 1.3 billion people living with disabilities around the world. Our commitment to introduce work experience and extend our current supported internships programme specifically for young persons with disabilities is a very exciting opportunity to bring young talent and fresh ideas into our business. We stand proudly, shoulder to shoulder, with global enterprises such as Boeing, Fujitsu, CITI and Ernst & Young.

TfL ‘It’s everyone’s journey’ campaign

In recognising that inclusion needs to be seamless, I felt it was important that OmniServ join the Department for Transports (DfT) ‘It’s Everyone’s Journey’ initiative. This programme is aimed at the general public, and therefore is a key addition to the B2B focused organisations we are already involved with. We’ve been on a focused inclusion journey for the last couple of years, and we are well placed to help show that by being a little more ‘human’ towards each other, we improve public transport accessibility for all. This awareness campaign is committed to setting a new travel standard and has been executed with a sense of charm and humour rather than being preachy or accusatory in tone – and we’re glad to be a part of this in helping to spread the message.

Off the back of a great year of success striving for Disability Confident Employer status, this is still only just the beginning of journey. We will continue to make every effort to ensure that disabled people and those with long term health conditions have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations. This path is one that I am proud to be leading OmniServ down and we will continue to launch and get involved in a range of initiatives to ensure that travel and employment opportunities can be accessible for everyone.