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Introducing AIM

The AIM (ability inclusion movement) Business Resource Group (BRG) may be the most recent BRG to be set up within Expedia but it has also had tremendous success in a short amount of time and is setting a blueprint on how best to set up a BRG! We hear from the Founder and President and Board of Directors…

When, how and why was AIM founded at Expedia Group?

The idea to start a BRG for Ability Inclusion came from the growing participation and responses our founder and president, Toby Willis, received running Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) each May, a tradition he started at Expedia back in 2015 to raise awareness for the need to provide better access to travel booking. “I received several touching responses year after year from employees with disabilities and those with loved ones living with disabilities. In June of 2018, I began exploring what it would take to set up a BRG and recruited folks who I’d connected with through GAAD—by July, we had our first meeting as the founding members of the Ability Inclusion Movement (AIM).”

Toby also reached out to the Diversity & Inclusion team, “where I learned that we didn’t have a playbook for how to start a BRG, so I called on my wealth of experience starting and running non-profits. I knew we needed an Executive Sponsor, so I reached out to Expedia Group’s Leadership Team for a recommendation.

AIM grew and solidified rapidly, and began organizing our ideas and strategy into an action plan, and adopted our charter by September. The founding members became the Board of Directors, and we began a membership drive in late Q4, and held our first membership meeting in January of this year, with 40 AIM members in attendance from around the globe. From there, we held nominations and elections that lead to our current Board of Directors and growing membership of over 215 members worldwide (and counting!).

Serendipity brought together a group of like-minded Expedians who are passionate about supporting and realizing the full potential for people with disabilities at Expedia Group. The idea of starting a BRG for people living with disabilities was natural, and we rallied to develop a structure and charter that would unleash us!

We also want to reach employees who are touched by disability, whether that’s their child, spouse, partner, sibling, parent or relative. Many of whom leap into an entirely new world themselves, navigating diagnoses, treatments, health insurance, shifting work needs, and finding ways to prioritize self-care. They are our first-line advocates who do so much of the caring behind-the-scenes and even in the shadows at work. It’s vital for AIM to build a community of support around them, and help foster their courage and passion for creating a more inclusive culture and world not only for their loved ones but for them, too.

To become the world’s travel platform, Expedia Group needs a healthy, diverse, inclusive workforce that knows how to bring the world within reach for everyone. This will take a paradigm shift in ability inclusion, from compliance and mitigation to realizing the full potential of people with disabilities. The Ability Inclusion Movement will be at the forefront of this shift, because we envision an EG where every person—regardless of ability status—is strong, safe, empowered and heard.

What is AIM’s mission?

Our mission is to foster a safe and inclusive environment at Expedia Group for individuals with disabilities and those who support them across the talent lifecycle and through building awareness, continuing education and advocacy to create real change.  We want to be known for removing barriers to equity, amplifying the effort and contributions of people with disabilities, illuminating and translating the talent of people with disabilities, providing a safe and inclusive environment for people with disabilities, and being a trusted advisor for leadership about accessibility.

Natalya Pemberton, Marnie Weber, Toby Willis at the Expedia Group BRG Summit in June.

What is AIM most proud of in the last year?

There are so many to name! We have a passionate, highly engaged global board & strategy committee in place, with nine officers based across the US, in London and Tokyo. Our membership is growing (+500% in six months), and we are standing up local chapters in Austin and London, where we’ve seen tremendous interest and engagement.

Grassroots events have also helped us raise awareness—to name a few: an OCD Walk and mental health discussion with LPS leaders in Tokyo; a powerful talk on mental health in the workplace given by Craig Kramer, mental health ambassador at Johnson & Johnson; AIM joined the Microsoft Ability Summit & Inclusive Job Fair in May; in April we hosted a series of talks from San Francisco during Wellness Month on meditation, mindfulness, managing stress, depression & anxiety; our fearless co-founder Marnie Weber’s WiT talk + Silent Superheroes podcast; a talk on mental health awareness and reducing stigma in Jordan.

We’re also the newest BRG here at Expedia, but we are recognized as a leader by the Diversity & Inclusion team on how to start an effective BRG.

As exciting as these milestones are, we have a long runway in front of us and look forward to continued growth and impact.

What are AIM’s goals for 2019 and beyond?

Our strategic plan for the next two years focuses on Digital & Physical Access and Mental Health. Our actions to make a change in those areas will align mostly around Talent Lifecycle, Member Engagement, Allyship, Business Case and Expedia Group Recognition. Specific tactics are pending completion of our strategic plan.

We will know we are successful when—among other things—people with disabilities at EG have equal access to digital information and physical space, can more safely disclose and be supported for mental illness, and when EG is recognized as a leader in attracting, engaging and developing the talent of people with disabilities and those who support them.

How has AIM worked with your company sponsor to instill change

The grassroots effect is imperative for a successful start, but buy-in from leadership is critical for a movement to grow and sustain. Our executive sponsor has the ears of the Leadership Team, and can advocate for the support and resources AIM needs to be effective at scale.

I believe AIM is also an important ally to the business when thinking about travelers with disabilities. How do you work together with business functions?

AIM partners with the Accessibility team to host Expedia Group-wide engagement programs tied to external events, like Global Accessibility Awareness Day and International Day of Persons with Disabilities, to raise awareness on the importance of delivering an equitable and delightful customer experience for all users, regardless of ability.

AIM also provides the company access to the disability community, which helps the business understand customers with disabilities. Awareness and understanding of the disability experience builds empathy and compels Expedians at all corners of the business to provide a better, more inclusive experience for customers throughout the travel experience.

How can people outside of the AIM community, in wider Expedia Group and beyond, be an ally to AIM?

People outside of the AIM community can do so much in terms of allyship. An excellent start is by joining our activities and talks, as well as the AIM community Slack channel, where folks have open dialogue and share great information with each other. We’d also love to work with you to help you tell your stories and share your insights.

On the day-to-day, teams and individuals across the organization can make communications accessible—we set up a page on EG intranet especially for this!

Expedians can also sign up to be a Mental Health First Responder, to be able to respond to those who are dealing with a crisis.

Leaders who are looking for an internal resource for their teams, or individuals want to share ideas or get involved but not sure where to start—we want to hear from you, too!

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