Grand Canyon Trip Options for People With Disabilities

Disabilities & Grand Canyon Rafting

Photo submitted by Right to Risk

There are many Arizona adventures to choose from. We pride ourselves in providing persons with a wide range of disabilities the opportunity to experience the Grand Canyon on a multi-day Colorado River rafting trip. Whether it for recreational therapy or pure vacation enjoyment, AzRA supports the National Park Service’s (NPS) primary goal “to develop and coordinate a system-wide comprehensive approach to achieving the highest level of accessibility that is reasonable,” and hopes to continue leading the way with all Grand Canyon river concessionaires in providing trips to persons with disabilities.

People with Disabilities go Grand Canyon Rafting

Photo by Susan Detering

In 1991, AzRA began developing a plan and obtaining the resources needed to safely aid persons with disabilities in rafting the Colorado River. In the years following, AzRA collaborated specifically with non-profit organizations that specialize in offering and executing recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities. Trip opportunities now go beyond trips organized by non-profit groups to include trips organized by families and friends, as well as encouraging persons with less severe disabilities to mainstream on previously scheduled trip dates when possible.

Accessible Toilet System by Susan Detering

Accessible Toilet System by Susan Detering

AzRA has found different trip options suite varying levels of abilities. Upon discussing your disability and needs with our office and management staff, we will assist you in choosing the trip option that may best suite you. It is important that you provide a complete description and be honest to yourself about your abilities. Be specific if you have medical needs or if you require a personal assistant. Our primary concern is participant safety while providing an enriching experience for all guests.

Tracking System by Susan Detering

Tracking System by Susan Detering

Through the years we have had many passengers with a variety of disabilities. Some of these passengers have decided to join existing river trips. For example, we accommodated an adult who was diagnosed with autism and mildly mentally impaired Down syndrome. Despite her disabilities, she was a good swimmer and an experienced hiker and camper. After carefully discussing the trip options and the physical and mental demanding nature of the trip with her mother, we collectively decided an eight day mainstreamed motorized trip was an appropriate option for her. To accommodate her social anxieties, we agreed to keep the trip capacity to 12 instead of the regular 24. No other major accommodations were necessary besides educating the guides about her needs.

Another example is a family and friends group who booked an entire one boat motor trip to ensure and accommodate the needs of their teenage son who is confined to a wheel chair and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. We can add a ramp to ease getting the wheel chair on and off the boat, a chariot system to assist with getting the wheelchair on side hikes, a specialized toilet system, and tracks for the sand to provide freedom for movement around camp. The assistance equipment requires more space during transport and extra time is also allotted for adjusting to using the equipment. We collectively decided a chartered motorized trip was the most accommodating trip option. The trip itinerary and daily time table was designed around the capabilities and needs of the son.

Recreational Opportunities with Non-Profit Organizations

Other guests have joined trips that were reserved specifically for groups with disabilities. If you are a non-profit organization interested in putting together a trip for persons with disabilities, you might like to explore grant opportunities available through the Grand Canyon Fund. In fact, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association boasts an Access Program offering resources for putting together trips for groups of special populations.

There are usually options to join organized trips through different non-profit organizations. In 2005, the City of Phoenix and the non-profit organization called River of Dreams organized a trip with Arizona Raft Adventures, Grand Canyon National Park, and two additional outfitters. An hour PBS documentary titled “Right to Risk,” was filmed over the course of the 14-day trip highlighting eight individuals with significant disabilities that ranged from visual and hearing impairment to quadriplegia. Watch the Right To Risk 3 minute trailer. Check your local PBS channel for potential screenings of the full documentary. In 2008, AzRA combined efforts with Grand Canyon Youth and Global Explorers as one of two outfitters, taking young adults who were part of the “Leading the Way” program. Leading the Way is a program centered on young adults with visual impairments. CBS filmed and aired a wonderful 4:30 minute segment on this trip. To watch the clip, view the CBS website.

In 2009, AzRA was the outfitter for a chartered trip with Team River Runner consisting of disabled U.S. veterans. Of the veterans, some were in wheel chairs, some were amputees, others suffered from mental illness, but all were successful in traveling downriver with AzRA. Most recently, collaborating with another Grand Canyon outfitter, we ran a trip with Wilderness Inquiries. The two companies shared the cost, equipment, resources, and guides on a 15 day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The guests range in disabilities from visual impairment, polio, partial paralysis, paraplegia, and quadriplegia. These are just a few examples of the types of trips AzRA has the willingness, experience, and capability to execute.

AzRA has a strong and altruistic reputation and history of providing safe and educational outdoor adventure opportunities for people from around the world. We know them best for their groundbreaking work with persons with disabilities.”
– Ann Wheat and Carol Gary City of Phoenix

disabilities grand canyon rafting

Photo by Susan Detering