By: Hilary Wickes
Earlier this summer, I had the chance to talk to Anita O'Brien about her journey creating Rochester Accessible Adventures. Just a warning, she is pretty inspirational. But she is also really realistic about the future of RAA. Read on to learn how you may be able to integrate adaptive programs into your outfitter business.
The beginning of a journey...
Anita O’Brien started the Rochester Accessible Adventures in 2015 because she was tired of saying ‘no.’ With 15 years of experience working with people with disabilities in recreation, Anita was showing people with disabilities that they CAN still cycle, canoe, or play golf and hockey through clinics and programs. But the programs weren’t available every week or even every season. The problem came after an uplifting experience that left participants wanting more; they wanted to come back to kayak again the next week. But at that time, it was not possible. “We weren’t meeting people’s desire to recreate when they wanted to do it, and where they wanted to do it, and who they wanted to go out with.” Anita gathered 26 members of the Rochester community to come up with a strategic plan to start an organization that would ultimately help businesses integrate people with disabilities into whatever recreation opportunity they offer.
When a company signs on to work with RAA, it’s not just an in-and-out training; a partnership is formed. “We have a lot of education to do because families have previously self-selected out of this business because it would have meant leaving somebody at home or leaving them on the dock. So, I do lots of outreach. [At the Extravaganza event] we pull out all of the gear and equipment and invite families to give it a try to see how it works.” But that’s just one part of the process. Anita also comes in to the businesses to train the staff how to operate the equipment and to educate them on the varieties of disabilities that they may encounter and how to cater to each distinct disability. Then they work together on how to include the new services in the marketing of their business.
At this point you may be thinking, sounds amazing, but it also sounds like a big investment of time and new equipment. I learned about Anita and RAA through AO member, Peter Abele of Erie Canal Boat Company. He was the first company to use the services of RAA and integrate “adaptive paddling” into his business. In the first year of offering adaptive paddling, Peter reported a 31% revenue increase that is tied directly to those services. So, while it may take an initial investment, there is clearly a market for this kind of recreational offering.
So just how long does it take to integrate this type of program into your business?
Well, Anita says- it varies. “Inclusion is definitely a process." There is an initial 10-hour training for the core staff of a business to get the to start understanding inclusion and the problems that need to be solved to start out. But after that initial training, you can start implementing changes, such as the front door, which needs to hinge the correct way and be lightweight enough to be opened. “If they can’t even get in the building, they aren’t going to feel the inclusion.” After the initial training each business has different needs and a different process. But Anita is there throughout the entire process.
What does the future hold for RAA?
Rochester Accessible Adventures is still a new organization. There is a lot to do to take it from a few communities around New York to the rest of the country. While she dreams of this being a movement across the country, Anita is not in a rush to expand too quickly. Because her services are so involved and intertwined with the community, she doesn’t want to expand without a way to replicate that process in other communities- with an inclusion specialist placed in each area. For now, she is focusing on New York State, one business at a time. How far this organization will expand remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the impact she is making in New York is overwhelmingly positive.
To learn more about Rochester Accessible Adventures, check out their website, rochesteraccessibleadventures.org . And give them a like on Facebook!