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Universal Paddling Program

Canoeing & Kayaking for People with Disabilities

Since 1990, the ACA has led the adaptive recreation industry, training instructors and program providers in the best practices of inclusive paddlesports.


Supporting and enhancing the decades strong ACA National Paddlesport Instruction Program, the Universal Paddling Program teaches the skills and knowledge needed to outfit equipment and modify teaching styles to allow people of all abilities to participate in paddlesport activities as safely, as comfortably, and with the same performance potential as all others.


Adaptive Paddling Workshops:


At the core of the ACA Adaptive Program, Adaptive Paddling Workshops (APWs) provide the information necessary to seamlessly integrate individuals with physical disabilities into outdoor recreation programs in the context of paddlesports.  APWs focus on five key topics: (1) Language, Etiquette and Interaction, (2) The Legal Context, (3) Cultivating Seamless Integration, (4) Adaptive Outfitting Concepts & Goals, and (5) Mechanics of Adaptive Outfitting for Paddlesports. APWs involve hands-on learning in both a classroom and in calm, protected waters.

These workshops are designed to provide instructors, outfitters, recreation program providers, and rehabilitation professionals with the information they need to integrate paddlers with disabilities into programs.  Under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, a person may not be excluded from a program just because they have a disability.  Program providers need to be prepared to integrate persons with disabilities into existing programs.   

APWs have a three-fold purpose:

  • Provide ACA instructors an opportunity to earn the Adaptive Paddling Instructor Endorsement

  • Provide non-ACA instructors an opportunity to earn the ACA Certificate of Completion

  • Provide a skills course for individuals with disabilities

Certificate of Completion:

  • For non-ACA certified instructors 

  • Nationally recognized documentation of successful completion of the APW

  • Evidence of training to integrate adaptive theory and techniques into your program

  • Certificate of Completion does not allow you to teach as an ACA certified instructor

Instructor Endorsement:

  • For currently certified ACA Paddling Instructors (Endorsement Criteria)

  • Additional credentialing on your current ACA instructor certification

  • APWs can be used once as the Update portion of your ACA Instructor certification maintenance requirements for all ACA paddling disciplines except Safety and Rescue

  • In order to lead the ACA 2 or 4 day APW you must be an Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainer

Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainers:

  • Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainers are certified to lead 2 or 4 day APW and have authority to issue Adaptive Paddling credentials (Certificate of Completion and Instructor Endorsements)

  • To start an Instructor Trainer candidacy you must first be a currently certified ACA Instructor with the Adaptive Paddling Endorsement for 2 years

  • Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainer candidacy is a mentoring process that is completed over multiple APWs in different venues

  • During the mentoring process you must successfully demonstrate all criteria in the Guide to Becoming and Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainer

New Universal Paddling Modules:


Thanks to grant funding and a partnership with Adaptive Expeditions in 2018, the ACA's Universal Paddling Committee developed a series of curriculum updates for advanced communications that relate to:

  • Vision impairments
  • Speech challenges
  • Hearing impairments

Stay tuned for the release of this new program nationwide!



  • Adaptive Paddling Instructor Endorsement Criteria (PDF)

  • Advanced Communications Instructor Endorsement Criteria (PDF)

  • Guide to Hosting an APW (2-Day)

  • Guide to Becoming an Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainer (Word / PDF)

ACA Mission

Founded in 1880, The American Canoe Association (ACA) is a national nonprofit organization serving the broader paddling public by providing education related to all aspects of paddling; stewardship support to help protect paddling environments; and sanctioning of programs and events to promote paddlesport competition, exploration and recreation.

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ACA | Canoe-Kayak-SUP-Raft-Rescue
503 Sophia St. Suite 100
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-907-4460
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