United Airlines is making a major change to the way it trains its employees

  • United Airlines and the Special Olympics are expanding their partnership.
  • United with the help of the Special Olympics will train all of its employees on how to make flying more positive experience for people with intellectual disabilities.
  • By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United employees will take part in the training program.

United Airlines and Special Olympics International are teaming up in an effort to help end discrimination against individuals with intellectual disabilities. The Chicago-based airline made the announcement Thursday morning at its annual Global Leadership Conference. 

"It represents humanity," United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said of the partnership in an interview with Business Insider. "This isn't about commercial valuation. This isn't about anything like that. This is something that's always been near and dear to many of our employees."

A major part of the Special Olympics partnership is the airline's plan to train its 90,000 employees on how to make flying for individuals with intellectual disabilities a more pleasant experience.

"We're going to train all of our frontline employees on how to take care of folks with intellectual disabilities," Munoz added.

The United Airlines CEO pointed out that interactions with individuals who possess intellectual disabilities can be tricky because the signs are not always physically evident. To make the training more effective, the course will be focused heavily on customer interaction scenarios.

A significant portion of the training curriculum is being developed in conjunction with the folks at the Special Olympics.

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By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 of United's frontline employees will have completed the training course.

"We're looking at this as a new kind of relationship that's more than just a corporation helps a charity," Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver told us. "It's much more of two-way partnership where we hope the gift of our athletes will help make United a better company and the strength of United will make the Special Olympics a more powerful movement."

Both leaders agree that the ultimate goal is to create a culture of inclusion through greater interaction and better understanding.

In fact, Munoz is willing to take it one step further.

"As we're talking about their involvement in our training, we're also talking the bout potential hiring of individuals with intellectual disabilities," the United Airlines CEO said.

Munoz used Bree Bogucki, an ambassador for the Special Olympics, as an example. "You only have to meet her for half an hour like I have and immediately fall in love with the kind of spirit and energy she possesses," he said. "She's the  perfect person to train our people."

The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 and uses sports, health, education, as well as leadership programs to help combat discrimination against and empower individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

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