The Extra Hundredth Mile

PROVO, Utah – Aug 28, 2019 – Kickboxing, kayaking, and rock climbing are challenging activities, and for those with physical or mental disabilities, they can seem nearly impossible. However, the group of over six hundred people who recently gathered at Lake Tahoe would tell you otherwise. At the No Barriers Summit, a three-day conference featuring inspirational speakers and a wide variety of activities, attendees internalized the summit’s motto: what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.

Seven BYU Marriott therapeutic recreation and management (TRM) students and two faculty from the Experience Design and Management (ExDM) Department were among those who attended the summit, which was founded in 2005.

For TRM senior Aubrey Strong of Centerville, Utah, attending the summit was one of the highlights of her BYU Marriott experience. “After one activity, we all shared something we had overcome that week,” she recalls. “Some people shared experiences such as kayaking despite a fear of water or shooting a bow and arrow with paralyzed limbs. Recognizing each other’s accomplishments like that was unifying. We became a team, a family there.”

Strong’s experience was exactly what ExDM professors Peter Ward and Ramon Zabriskie expected after the two attended a No Barriers Summit in New York with another student team last year. Ward and Zabriskie recognized the opportunity for students to gain valuable experience through involvement with the program, and they developed a partnership with No Barriers that has been in effect since 2018. “The partnership is a win-win situation,” says Ward. “The ExDM program has a lot to offer to nonprofits such as No Barriers because of the skills our students are gaining.”

This year BYU Marriott students helped run the summit in a variety of ways—setting up events and activities, working backstage, and mentoring individuals with disabilities who were attending for the first time—and gained new perspective through their service. Among first-time attendees with whom the students’ worked were those with amputations, blindness, or paralysis, all who have inspired others through feats such as crossing the entire United States on foot or being the first female amputee boxer in the nation. “As I met people who have overcome all kinds of disabilities, I realized that I can do so much more than I’m doing,” says Strong. “I now see people not for what they can’t do but for what they can.”

The TRM students stood out among the volunteers because of their work ethic and drive, says Zabriskie. He noted that representatives from the insurance company Prudential, who sponsored the summit, commented on how well the students helped with the event and interacted with attendees. “Sponsors and No Barriers leadership are interested in hiring our students for full-time positions,” he says. “Our students don’t just go the extra mile, they go the extra hundred miles, and they do it often. They go above and beyond—it's just who they are.”

While this year's No Barrier’s Summit focused on empowering individuals to overcome personal challenges, next year’s gathering will also include a track geared towards inspiring groups and businesses to develop more inclusive environments for people with disabilities. BYU Marriott TRM students students who will be attending the 2020 summit, slated to be held in San Francisco, are already at work designing a business and leadership track that they will run there. “Society likes to focus on disabilities,” says Strong, “and we have the opportunity to help change that.”

The TRM students and ExDM faculty attending the summit next year look forward to implementing their designs for the business and leadership track. “We hope our efforts will inspire businesses to wonder why they’re not hiring more people with disabilities and take action,” says Ward. “That kind of change would help businesses see that people with disabilities have unique insights and awareness that make a significant contribution to the organization that it otherwise would not have. In my mind, that’s where the magic happens.”

TRM students, ExDM professors, and some No Barriers attendees
TRM students, ExDM professors, and No Barriers Summit attendees. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Janczak.
TRM students with first-time No Barriers attendee
TRM students with a first-time No Barriers Summit attendee. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Janczak.
Opening night at No Barriers Summit.
Opening Night at No Barriers Summit. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Janczak.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Erika Magaoay