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People With Disabilities Impetus For New Teaching Hotel


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A Courtyard by Marriott hotel slated to open next year in Muncie, Ind. will offer training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. (The Arc of Indiana)

A Courtyard by Marriott hotel slated to open next year in Muncie, Ind. will offer training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. (The Arc of Indiana)

Construction is set to begin on a first-of-its-kind hotel where teaching and employing people with disabilities will be just as important as accommodating overnight guests.

At least 20 percent of workers at the 150-room Courtyard by Marriott being built in Muncie, Ind. will be individuals with developmental and other types of disabilities, project organizers with The Arc of Indiana said. These employees will be working in all types of positions, including management.

In addition, the hotel will offer postsecondary educational opportunities for individuals to learn about the hospitality and food service industries and will serve as a training ground for human resources professionals to better understand how to hire people with special needs.

There are also plans for two businesses owned by people with disabilities to be located in the hotel lobby.

“As far as the typical guest experience, this Courtyard will be no different,” said Sally Morris of The Arc of Indiana. “That said, this hotel will not just meet ADA standards, it will exceed them. Every decision we are making is meant to enhance the guest experience for all of our guests.”

Morris said that the idea for the project came from Jeff Huffman, a dad who was frustrated by the lack of postsecondary opportunities for his son Nash, who has Down syndrome, and others like him.

Construction is set to begin later this year on the hotel, which will include a restaurant and parking garage, all attached to the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie. The property is expected to open in summer 2015.

The state of Indiana has committed up to $5 million to help fund the hospitality training institute and teaching hotel.

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Comments (42 Responses)

  1. Jill A. Nico says:

    Wonderful! I would love to see this expanded to areas where tourism is high, such as here in AZ. I have a son with Down syndrome as well and understand this father’s frustration. My son is currently 11, but I do not see opportunities for him after HS, and I work in higher education. We have to make opportunities! We need more programs like this. My son is gifted in ways that many human beings are not – hospitality being some of those gifts. I hope that this program includes all those college campus experiences – advisement, clubs, mentoring, graduation, etc. , too. Bravo!

  2. Leticia Velasquez says:

    Time to schedule the NDSC Convention . . here!

  3. Jeff Huffman says:

    Thanks Jill, let’s hope this project works and we can expand around the country and into other lines of business.

  4. Mari-Anne Kehler says:

    This is smart business. Take an underserved work population, match them with a field in which they can thrive: hospitality. Marriott is showing their pioneering spirit. I can promise you we’ll be mentioning this at the at Marriott in LA in three weeks! Highly impressed. The rest of us in the disability rights field will be championing this move by Marriott.

  5. Laurie says:

    Wow, what a great idea! I wish this endeavor great success!

  6. Alexis Teplitz says:

    Wow! What a wonderful idea! I hope this is very successful and can spread throughout the country.

  7. raiseExpectations says:

    Thank you Marriott and Muncie!

  8. Alexandra says:

    I’m completely in support of more opportunities for individuals, but why does a separate hotel have to be built in order to do so? I think raising the employment of individuals with disabilities to 20% across the board would be more inclusive and would truly make Marriott a trend setter for equal opportunities in the industry.

  9. Christine says:

    Amazing idea!!! love it.. we have a growing population of people with disabilities that need employment and training. I hope the idea takes off all across the United States. Amazing people will get a chance to do their thing!!!

  10. bbowen says:

    What a wonderful project for so many to be involved in. I am so happy that Marriott has made this dream come true for so many. I’m excited to come and visit the area and would love to be one of the first to stay there. I feel that society has looked over the dedication and the sincerity of our population that have special needs. What a grand oppotunity for Muncie to have a new business with a top notch staff that desires to be successful.
    special education teacher

  11. Heather says:

    What an awesome idea!! As a former special educator and current pediatric occupational therapist, I totally see the need for this opportunity. It’s nice to see parents spearheading opportunities like this to help their children and others with disabilities. I hope to see more places like this hotel, and others like Brookwood Community in Brookshire, TX and Hope Village in Friendswood, TX, throughout the U.S. As for what Alexandra said, the article mentions that they want the hotel to exceed ADA standards, so it’s probably easier and more cost-effective to start new instead of remodeling an existing hotel. But, I agree that it would be nice to see Marriott and other companies increase the employment of people with disabilities. So many people with disabilities have skills and talents that can be utilized and shared.

  12. Tammy says:

    I love it!!! Finally, a big corporation is thinking out of the box. I think they will find that these disabled employees will not only meet expectations, they will exceed them!

  13. fairlady68 says:

    Beautiful building! I agree with most of the comments already posted. As for making opportunities for disabled more available throughout Marriott…maybe they already have them, or this hotel is a chance to get a new program started company wide. I hope it turns out well for all involved.

  14. Jill A. Nico says:

    Jeff, I would like to connect with you. Are you on LinkedIn? If so, please make a connection request. I work at Estrella Mountain Community College in Disability Resources and Services. I am are very interested in this idea and similar (we have a Project Search program on our campus this semester), and would like to know more about the development and follow the progress- which I know there will be!

  15. Greta says:

    Does this mean that Marriott won’t be working to increase employment and training for people with disabilities at its other hotels just because they have a “special” hotel here?

  16. marie camp says:

    I think this is fantastic, what a great opportunity for people with disabilities. I know my son loves working everyday and he knows he is doing a good job. I hope Marriot will continue this throughout the country. It would be nice if they came to VA, I know many people with disabilities have this golden opportunity.

  17. cara hilbig says:

    Omg I want to work in this training center. What better way to train people than with a career already chosen. How exciting!

  18. Jan says:

    Thank you Marriott!!! I will seek out this hotel and stay there if any opportunity arises for me to do so. I have a 35 year old daughter that was born with CP. She has worked in the past but due to managers that were not disabled friendly she was forced to quit. Her work ethic was incredible and she was FAST at what she did, and she did not mind the repetition in her job. She looked forward to her job until the management changed and treated her horribly. In her 10 years of employment she never got a raise. She didn’t mind because she was not focused on income, she just enjoyed working. I am so excited to finally see a solution orientated group take the initiative, create opportunities and show respect and value for people who are so deserving. I will tell all my traveling friends and family.

  19. Jean Reynolds says:

    What a fantastic idea. If only Australia was as forward thinking as the USA. This would never happen here. There aren’t many opportunities for Australians with a disability. I have a 27 year old daughter with an Intellectual Disability.

  20. Calum Hammond says:

    I think this is a great idea. I would also be interested to know what universal design if any was being implemented in the build.
    Does anyone know?

  21. Miriam Bohles says:

    I am a Job Training Coordinator in Cleveland, Ohio and have implemented this type of training/work program for high school students with various types of disabilities at a Marriott Hotel in Cleveland. It’s a Great training facility where students learn employability and soft skills, team work, customer service and work ethics in the different departments that can be generalized to other work settings. Thanks Marriott!!

  22. Anita W. says:

    I would love to see something of this scale in the St. Louis metro area. As large as St. Louis is, you would think there were be quite a few opportunities for those with disabilities, but there isn’t. My daughter has an ASD diagnosis and is high functioning. (She attended community college and maintained a 3.0 GPA.) However, she has been looking for a job (with VR assistance) for over a year. She has only had 3 interviews because when they call her, they don’t understand the whole process and things usually don’t progress past the initial phone screening. It would be nice to see a large business that truly understands that while an individual might not do well in the interviewing process, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a fantastic employee. Hope this idea succeeds and is an example to others that have the means to expand.

  23. Winton Wood says:

    Wonderful! Yes – let’s see this expand to many many more places! The more that “Typical” people interact with “Special Needs” people (is this the current term?!), the more comfortable and uplifting the world will be. It would be great if we all could interact more with the “disabled” and vice-versa and witness (and support) the success of those who are “disabled”.

  24. Kristine Hughes says:

    I am interested if they will need any Administrative Assistants?

  25. Harriet says:

    They should take a look at Foxes Academy in the Uk. It is a fully functional hotel and hotel training college for young people with learning difficulties.Amazing place.

  26. Jon Meyers says:

    With much respect to Marriott for its support of this program, bear in mind that The Arc of Indiana is the driving force behind getting the project off the ground — demonstrating an innovative and inclusive approach focused on overcoming barriers rather than accepting the status quo for people with disabilities. What an ideal partnership of non-profit and for-profit, where everyone comes out a winner!

  27. Jennifer Coty says:

    As a former Marriott employee, I saw many places where people with disabilities worked in a hotel for either job training or employment. Marriott is one company that promotes a great work ethic. Although I no longer work in the hotel industry (I am an Occupational Therapy Assistant now), I will always be proud of my career with Marriott!

  28. Kat McNamara says:

    It is a fabulous business idea and it is going to employ and empower people who are non-neurotypical as participating citizens of society. Let’s build an inclusive society!

  29. James Axiak says:

    This is long overdue. Congratulations!!! Private business needs to take the lead in this type of endeavour to start the ball rolling. Employment opportunities for those with physical and developmental disabilities are non existent in Canada as there is a lack of willingness to reconcile perceived liability. It’s an untapped labour pool with tremendous skill sets in this industry. I have young adults doing volunteer work in a retirement home setting up the dining hall for dinner service. They love their work but stop short of moulding suitable job opportunities to meet their needs. We’ll keep on working (volunteering) until society catches up with their potential. Thanks for bringing employers a little bit closer! The best of luck!

  30. Tina Holden says:

    Think it is awesome that hotels are doing more things to accommodate ones with disabilities but more importantly taking the service industry and Educating ones that have the desire to serve others!!

  31. Caroline A. Zuk, Esq. says:

    Congratulations to the Arc of Indiana, Sally Morris, Jeff Huffman, the Marriott and the State of Indiana! I hope that your efforts are a catalyst for similar projects across the United States and in other countries. Please keep us posted on the opening of the hotel. If your efforts and connections extend to Southern California, and you need a helping hand, please let me know.

  32. Lucy Gratz says:

    This is a phenomenal step forward to help those differently abled within our population. The Marriott Corporation should be proud of itself to be one of the national leaders providing a positive training and employment opportunity in our communities. Very excited to see this develop so not only can the Marriott Corporation expand the number of locations offering this kind of program, but they can set an example to show other companies it can be done. Jeff, thanks to you and your efforts in making this happen as you inspire others.

  33. Alison vacek says:

    This is so cool!! This will be great for everyone involved. Those with disabilities will benefit, and maybe even better, people without disabilities will break down some stereotypes and see just how capable people with disabilities are!! I want to write a paper on this- are there anymore online articles about this? Or can you tell me more about this process? Or anything that you want to say! Thanks :)

  34. Teresa says:

    So cool!! I can’t wait to hear more about this process and experience!

  35. Candis Lofton says:

    Speaking as a disabled, special educator…recently retired after 22 years of working with students having emotional disabilities; the Marriott ROCKS!!!
    Now, are you hiring trainers?!?!

  36. Allison Wendell says:

    This is awesome and if it really does well it would be inspiring to see other cities and other hotel establishments take up the cause as well!

  37. Pr Chris says:

    Reading this article and several others, I think this is intended to be a one of a kind laboratory. The idea is to have one place that can provide the industry with a place to test ideas and develop training methods. It will be an actual hotel, but it be a place to try new things. I think the ongoing idea will be to provide Marriott and other hotel chains with what they learn, in order to expand hiring all across the chain. If this works, we won’t have to have a lot of hotels…just a lot of ideas that can be disseminated throughout the industry.

    Pr Chris

  38. Pat Beane says:

    That’s awesome. I’ve been in the field for over thirty years and this is such an accomplishment. I would like to a part of an initiative . Employment is a key element in providing successful post secondary outcomes. I hope this sparks other hotels and cities to implement this type if program.

  39. Julie Meyer says:

    Congratulations to Marriott, Indiana, and the Huffmans for their persistence, ideas, and passion. I think it sounds like a great idea and know people of all realms will benefit from this!

  40. Colleen Talley says:

    What an awesome idea…a dream of many parents, educators and rehab professionals! I know because I’m in all 3 categories. The wonderful part is that somehow Mr. Huffman’s idea was actually HEARD and SUPPORTED by people who could pool resources to make the dream come true! And for state government to step in in such a proactive, positive way speaks volumes about the great state of Indiana…are you listening, Kansas? I hope the program is so successful it will expand across America. There are thousands of persons with disabilities who are ABLE and READY for an opportunity to work and be participating, tax-paying citizens. Thank God for some bright news in these often disturbing times!

  41. Susan says:

    I hope the organizers of disability conferences take note.

  42. Jeff Huffman says:

    Thought I would share an update on the project if anyone checks the comments. Site work has started and things are moving fast now. Much construction work to be done, training classes being designed, funding is in place with goal to be debt free in year 5. Official Ground Breaking will take place October 28th before the start of The Arc of Indiana’s state wide conference being held in Muncie for the first time.

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