The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes laws that affect providers of services (e.g. kayak instruction) to the public. While there are complexities of the law that affect when and where certain aspects are pertinent to us as instructors, it os probably safe to say that if you are providing a service for a fee and are discriminating against someone participating due solely and capriciously based on a disability, you could be in jeopardy of violating these provisions. The ADA describes the process of defining “Essential Eligibility Criteria” which are  (to paraphrase) criteria to “…establish whether or not an individual can participate in an activity based on his or her ability to perform the basic functions of the activity. In order to participate in an activity, all potential clients must be able to meet the nondiscriminatory essential eligibility criteria established by you as the outfitter/guide for that specific activity”1.

As an example of EEC’s I prepared the language below to establish criteria for some of the programs in which I’m teaching. Depending on particular programs you may teach, other variations may be appropriate.

ACA has developed Adaptive Paddling coursework and publications that cover aspects of working with paddlers with disabilities. I highly recommend participation in these programs if you get the chance.

Example Language

Participants must:

•Be capable of understanding and recognizing the hazards inherent in the activities covered by instruction and be capable of deciding to assume those risks.
•Be able to manage all personal care and mobility independently or with the assistance of a companion* who accompanies the participant.
•Be able to reach event area alone or with the assistance of a companion who accompanies the participant.
•Be able to perform all water activities, following instruction, independently or with the assistance of a companion who accompanies the participant.
•Be comfortable in the water including: floating on back independently with a properly fitted PFD (life jacket), turning from face down to face up independently while wearing a properly fitted PFD, and holding breath while under water. We can accommodate a maximum 52” chest circumference with our PFDs or you may bring your own properly fitting PFD.
•Be able to breathe independently without any medical assistive devices.
•Be able to maintain a balanced, upright position when seated in a floating kayak or canoe, with adaptations and instruction if needed. Adaptive equipment cannot impede nor lessen the effectiveness of the safety procedures or equipment No one may be strapped nor belted into a water craft.  **NOTE** No adaptations providing head or neck support can be accommodated due to safety issues of righting and maintaining a face-up orientation following a capsize.
•Be able to get in and out of a kayak or canoe independently or with the aid of a companion, following instruction.
•In the event of a capsize, be able to exit a kayak or canoe independently including getting out from under a capsized watercraft if necessary.
•Be able to re-enter the kayak or canoe following a capsize after receiving instruction, with the assistance of one other boat.  Any additional assistance, if required, must be from a companion who accompanies the participant. In moving water, the participant must be able to identify, make progress toward and ascend upon the shoreline.
•Be able to control a kayak or canoe, paddling safely on flat water or on moving water after receiving instruction, as required by the specific course.
•Meet the maximum manufacturer’s weight capacity limits of the range of kayaks and canoes available for rental. Examples would include Pungo 140 or Tarpon 120 with capacities of 350 pounds. Canoes have an approximate total capacity of 800 pounds.

All of our instruction venues are located on developed public access sites and/or on undeveloped public waterways. Due to the necessity to move flowing-water courses (River and Whitewater) to find river conditions appropriate for the needs of instruction, it is impossible to list all or specific barriers to mobility for these venues, though they can be typified by steeply sloped banks as high as 25′ with large and small rocks or rip rap, heavy vegetative undergrowth, uneven terrain, and/or slippery, steep mud or rocky banks. Conditions expected at entry and exit points may not be typical of points where the group may pause for breaks during the course or where emergency egress must take place.

We teach our flat water courses at the following venues which have possible mobility barriers as listed:

•XXX Lake Dam: Approximately 12 wooden stairs from the parking lot to a clay/gravel sloping trail to the water’s edge.
•XXX Lake boat ramp- Paved Parking lot with sloped, paved access to sandy beach.
•XXX Reservoir- Gravel parking lot with a sloped concrete ramp to the water’s edge. Rocky or brush lined shoreline.

* A companion who accompanies the participant in on-water activities may do so by paying standard course fees plus any applicable gear rental fees.

  1. http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/accessibility/outfitter_guide.htm
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