Have you ever had a moment that struck a deep chord within your soul that changed you? Where you knew you needed to take an action to do something that would forever change the lives of others for the better? It was one moment in time that prompted Anita O’Brien, Executive Director of RAA,Rochester Accessible Adventures to be the change in working towards physical accessibility, social inclusion, and equitable open access in recreation, sports, and tourism. I had the honor to meet with Anita to learn about this remarkable non-profit. 

Inclusion is intentional. It is about identifying and removing barriers so that everyone can participate to the best of their ability.” Unknown

Anita is a certified therapeutic recreational specialist (CTRS) who has worked in a variety of settings providing recreation to people of all ages. Around seven years ago she was at the Erie Canal Boat Company site for a Monday night bike ride program using adaptive equipment. A man who is a stroke survivor, and his wife, came so the man could participate in the bike ride. A volunteer rode with the man on an adaptive bike while his wife stayed back. Upon returning, Anita saw that the man was angry. He shared the first thing his doctor told him was he would not walk again. This was devastating news for many reasons. The family had always been active together prior to his stroke. His anger was because he realized he CAN do things. The doctor had never given him and his family hope. When the family realized they would be able to cycle together, they asked Anita if they could all return on Saturday with their daughter so she could ride with her dad. Anita had to say no. Monday night was the only night each week adaptive bikes were available. At this moment Anita realized there was a huge gap in access to recreation for people with disabilities. Anita became determined to bridge that gap in a way that would ensure that families with a member with a disability could access inclusive recreation wherever recreation, sports, and tourism occur. 

Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is about making a new space, a better space for everyone.” George Dei

After that clarifying moment, Anita and twenty six other founding members came together in 2015. This group thoughtfully and intentionally worked together to form a nonprofit that would bring inclusive opportunities to individuals and families with disabilities and medical conditions. Too often recreational and athletic opportunities for individuals with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities are isolated into silos, only offering specialized programs for the individual with a disability.  Rochester Accessible Adventures decided they would not focus on providing adaptive equipment one night a week or having a specific program for a few weeks. RAA wanted to spend real time changing values and environments so all barriers, physical and otherwise, were removed. Where a culture and environment of services for all exists in all recreation, sports, and tourism. Where the man and his family who so clearly identified the problem can go to rent the appropriate equipment and go bike riding together whenever they want. 

Inspiring hope. Improving ability. And making inclusion happen.” Rochester Accessible Adventures 

RAA set forth to train recreation businesses to operate with full inclusion whenever they are open for business. Erie Canal Boat Company would be RAA’s first business. Since that memorable day years ago, Erie Canal Boat Company (ECBC) in Fairport New York has gone totally in on all things inclusion. They are a Community Health Inclusion Partner with RAA and now offer adaptive and standard cycling and paddling rentals whenever they are open. What ECBC discovered as they began providing adaptive equipment for rental daily as part of their rentals is their revenue improved. Families and friends with loved ones who has intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities or medical conditions can rent from ECBC to participate in recreation whenever they want. 

Inclusion is a process of taking training to implementation.” Anita O’Brien

Recently RAA consulted with architects on how and where to build boat docks by the canal in Fairport, New York. They wanted to be inclusive in regards to design and location. Once Anita pointed out how a design draft of the current design would make getting to a dock on the canal more difficult for someone with a disability the architects modified the design and location. One of the architects wanted input from Anita on other projects. That is the power of perspective, of looking at something through the eyes of someone else. It also speaks to the ability of Anita and RAA to partner and have challenging conversations with positive outcomes for everyone. 

Please understand I have a disability, not a disease. I may walk, talk, and move differently than you do, but on the inside I’m not so different.” Unknown

When a business or organization contracts with RAA in a Community Health Inclusion partnership, it is not a one shot training or conversation. Inclusion is a process of taking training to implementation. RAA will assess and mentor the entire organization through this process of inclusion, often working up to three plus years with them. RAA guide’s decision making conversations that result in changing policies within the business so a culture of inclusion is embedded into all things all the time, creating a healthier and happier space for all. RAA now has a growing list of thirteen clients where inclusion is in progress, with more great opportunities coming in 2022. 

RAA also partners with regional health care providers, businesses and community agencies to connect individuals with disabilities to the resources they need. In Rochester New York and the surrounding areas RAA works diligently to help community members understand the impact of a disability or medical condition on the ability for the individual, family, or social group to participate in recreation and sports. When physical and social barriers are removed, places become welcoming. By learning to look through a lens of inclusion, a whole new world of possibility opens up for all. Anita shared the community in Rochester has been incredibly supportive and welcoming to this new way of thinking and doing.

It is with honor and admiration we shine the Kindness Champion spotlight on the remarkable Rochester Accessibility Adventures. Challenging values and changing lives for individuals with and without a disability. Making this world a more inclusive, happier, and healthier place for all. RAA we thank you for being you and bringing your awesome to the world.

For more information on Rochester Accessible Adventures here is their information:

Website: https://rochesteraccessibleadventures.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/raadventures?lang=en @RAAdventures

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RochesterAccessibleAdventures/ @RochesterAccessibleAdventures

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rochesteraccessibleadventures/?hl=en @RochesterAccessibleAdventures