Canal starts Bicentennial Forum Series with focus on accessible recreation

Photo from Canal Corp. – Brian Stratton, director of the NYS Canal Corp., speaks on Wednesday at Monroe Community College in Rochester in the first installment of the Erie Canal Bicentennial Forum series. The first segment of the series is focused on increasing accessibility and inclusion along the canal.

Posted 13 April 2024 at 8:41 am

Press Release, NYS Canal Corporation

ROCHESTER – The New York State Canal Corporation on Wednesday hosted the first installment of its SUNY/Erie Canal Bicentennial Forum Series as part of New York State’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the original Erie Canal’s opening in 1825 and the waterway’s continued influence on the state.

The forum at Monroe Community College in Brighton focused on ways local governments, businesses and recreational service providers can make the New York State Canal system and Canalway Trail more accessible and welcoming for people with and without disabilities. Coinciding with the event’s panel discussions was a vendor expo that showcased adaptive equipment and information to further assist attendees in making Canal communities more accessible.

“Since its opening nearly 200 years ago, the Erie Canal has had a profound impact on our state and today’s focus on accessibility and inclusion is just one example of how this industrial waterway continues to evolve as it supports an incredible network of recreational activities,” said New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. “The Canal system and Canalway Trail provide endless opportunities for adventure, fresh air, and exercise, but there are often barriers for people with disabilities.”

With more than 120 attendees present, the audience learned that according to Cornell University one in five Americans lives with a disability. Further, the buying power of people with disabilities along with their direct family members is $1 trillion, making the case for the substantial economic impact of accessible and inclusive recreation.

The forum was broken into two panel discussions – “Disability, Accessibility, and Inclusion,” moderated by New York State’s Chief Disability Officer, Kim Hill Ridley and the second panel, moderated by John Robinson, CEO of Our Ability, focused on “Implementing Accessible Opportunities – Assisting Canal Providers/Municipalities.”

The first panel served as important education on understanding ableism and culture, leading to inclusion and employment, reframing our language, reframing disability, planning from a perspective of functional ability and the importance of universal design, as well as the role of Independent Living Centers.

The second panel built on this foundation, providing specific examples of organizations focused in this space, how to incorporate inclusion in their areas and organizations, and the system view needed to make inclusion a reality.

New York State Chief Disability Officer Kimberly Hill Ridley said, “The New York State Canal system is a treasure trove of history and recreational opportunities and by making the water and trails more accessible and inclusive, we open them up to a whole new segment of the population. An accessible canalway benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities, as it creates a more vibrant and diverse community experience and leads to new partnerships and economic opportunities where everyone feels welcome.”

As part of the Canal Corporation’s continued commitment to ensuring the canal waterways and trails are accessible for all outdoor recreational enthusiasts, this season’s “On the Canals” program seeks to provide greater opportunities for accessible and inclusive outings that will allow people with and without disabilities to participate together. With more than 30,000 participants over the last four years, “On the Canals” offers a variety of free activities including kayaking, cycling, boat tours, birding, wildlife hikes, and painting.

The SUNY/Erie Canal Bicentennial Forum series is a collaboration of the Canal Corporation, the New York Power Authority, the State University of New York (SUNY), and the New York State Department of State. The series will continue through 2024 and 2025 as a component of the New York State Erie Canal Bicentennial celebration announced by Governor Hochul during the 2024 State of the State address.

Additional forums will focus on ensuring the Erie Canal and 524-mile New York State Canal system remains a vibrant economic contributor and is sustainable for the next 100 years. The Erie Canal’s Bicentennial celebration will culminate with the 2025 World Canals Conference in Buffalo.