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Student Experiences

Inclusivity: Coming to a Resort Near You

According to a 2015 Open Doors Organization study, approximately 26 million people with disabilities traveled to leisure destinations in the United States. However, few of those vacation destinations actively make their experiences available to disabled individuals. A team of nine therapeutic recreation and management (TRM) students and four professors from the BYU Marriott School of Business have set out on a mission to change that.

The group of therapeutic recreation students and professors from BYU with the founders of No Barriers
The group of therapeutic recreation students and professors from BYU with the founders of No Barriers

As part of that mission, the team recently attended a conference in New York City hosted by No Barriers, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the difficulties that people with disabilities commonly face. This semester, team members will combine what they gleaned from the conference with their previous knowledge of inclusivity practices to conduct a research project focusing on the travel experiences of individuals with disabilities.

“The conference was a great way for us to kick off this research agenda and get us excited about inclusion,” says Ashley Bowen, a member of the research team and the TRM internship coordinator. “It alerted us to the lack of accessible experiences in the travel industry and helped us narrow down our research focus area.”

At the conference, students attended a panel led by various diversity professionals at large corporations, including some who had disabilities themselves. The students also spoke with leaders in the field about current practices regarding diversity and inclusion. “The panel was a unique experience for students to see how inclusivity fits into the context of a business setting,” says Bowen.

Professors Ramon Zabriskie and Neil Lundberg of the Experience Design and Management department became interested in dedicating a team to this area of research a few years ago. “We are always looking for ways to elevate the TRM major to serve our students better,” says Zabriskie. “A research focus on inclusive experience design does exactly that. It capitalizes on the TRM students’ competencies in disability, inclusion, and advocacy.”

This semester, Zabriskie and Lundberg finally get to bring those aspirations to life. “Our vision with this team is to form a better understanding of exactly what the travel industry is doing to make their experiences accessible for people with disabilities,” says Zabriskie. “After that, we want to dive into how we can improve those experiences and services.”

According to Zabriskie, many companies provide only the bare minimum of what is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make their destinations accessible. Additionally, few travel companies spend any time marketing their experiences to the disabled market. “Our hope is that the research we do will help the travel industry target this section of the market more frequently,” says Zabriskie. “More than that, we want to help them intentionally design meaningful experiences for people with disabilities and their families. It’s about increasing the travelers’ quality of life.”

The experience the students gain on this team will give them an edge in the job market. “These students will graduate with a unique level of experience in the inclusivity field,” says Zabriskie, “If our students can walk into a cruise line or a travel agency and help them create accessible experiences and market them to the appropriate audience, it creates a whole new career path for them.”

The team will begin its research this semester, but team members have no definitive end date. “This is definitely an ongoing project. We don’t know how long or how far this research will take us,” says Zabriskie. “But at the end of the day, we want to have our students in place at these agencies to help experience-providers create destinations that are accessible to everyone, especially individuals with disabilities.”


Writer: Ellen Ford