Right to Risk Participants at the End of their Journey

Right to Risk, and the Embracing Difference Initiative comes to the Coupeville Library for a special screening and following discussion – June 2nd at 7pm. This event is a must see and open to the public.  The Coupeville Library is located at 788 NW Alexander in Coupeville, Washington.  360-678-4911

Repeats of Gwen’s interview with Kathleen Jo Ryan can be heard May 20 at 9am and May 21 at 4pm on KWPA radio – 96.9FM on central Whidbey or streamed from  the KWPA website at the same times.

Kathleen Jo Ryan addressing an audience from one of her previous book projects, "Writing Down the River". That project produced the seed Kathleen and her brother, John Ryan, grew into their award winning film Right to Risk. Writers involved in Writing Down the River book included Denise Chavez, Linda Ellerbee, Judith Freeman, Linda Hogan, Teresa Jordan, Ruth Kirk, Page Lambert, Brenda Peterson, Leila Philip, Sharman Apt Russell, Annick Smith, Barbara Earl Thomas, Evelyn C. White, Ann Haymond Zwinger, and Susan Zwinger.

Kathleen Jo Ryan, accomplished documentary film maker, photographer and producer of best selling books and videos, came into Whidbey Chat this week to talk with Gwen about the upcoming Coupeville Library screening of the award winning documentary film she and her brother, John Ryan, filmed and produced, and the national initiative that film, Right to Risk, has grown into.

After years of preparations, five years ago this month, Kathleen and her brother, John Ryan, filmed 8 unlikely people on a wild 15 day ride through the white water rapids of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  The resulting 60 hours of footage were then edited and became their award winning documentary film Right to Risk.

Now, after having been screened in numerous cities around the country, on over 350 PBS television stations and to seen by literally millions of people, Right to Risk has morphed into a community based program called Embracing Difference Initiative.

Right to Risk’s Embracing Difference Initiative seeks to spur change in the deeply rooted perceptions many people have about those among us; family, friends, neighbors and strangers, who live with disabilities.  Helping to eliminate the social/cultural obstacles and harmful attitudes people with disabilities struggle with every day.  Right to Risk’s Embracing Difference Initiative breaks barriers of perception with thrills, chills, determination, strength, emotion and excitement.  20 years after the enactment of the American’s with Disabilities Act, people living with disabilities are still fighting for equality and inclusion in our communities, country and world.  Kathleen and John believe Right to Risk, all those who participated in the trip, and those who see it, will be bolstered with the staying power needed to win that fight.

Jeff's chair rides in the back of the raft

The 15 day trip, down some of the most dangerous rapid channels of the Colorado River, between towering Grand Canyon walls and awe-inspiring views and vistas is any rafters dream.  And a similar trip could be your dream.

Just one of the fantastic moments you'll see watching Right to Risk

The 8 people who participated in the trip represent a diversity of age, ethnicity and ability.  Working with the City of Phoenix Adaptive Recreation staff and 15 adaptive recreation nominating organizations (list at end of post), Kathleen and John solicited nominations for the trip. Each organization was asked to submit applications of individuals who could both gain and contribute to the experience.  Of the countless nominations submitted 8 lucky people were chosen.

Right to Risk participants and crew navigate the rapids

Right to Risk participants and crew managed hot sun, cold water, windstorms, and whitewater to pull off this trip of a life time.  This film acts as a witness to the power of each person’s ability to participate, engage in, have fun and live a full independent life – no matter their individual abilities.

Susan Yim uses her communication board. "Becoming disabled doesn't have to signal the beginning of a dependent and sedentary existence," biologist Susan Yim wrote, "It does signal having to figure out new, creative and different ways of doing things."

Kathleen and John put together a team of Emmy award-winning cinematographers, sound and production crew to film Right to Risk, and thus began the journey that would become a life affirming experience everyone involved and a national conversation about breaking the barriers of social stigma surrounding disabilities in our country. It is an extraordinary film with long legs and a must see.

Crew Boat filming Right to Risk

Here on Whidbey Island, with many friends and neighbors deployed and/or on active military duty, many of us know, or know of, people who have been physically and/or mentally altered by heroically serving our country in war-time.  If you know of someone, military or civilian, who is struggling with an old or new disability, seeing Right to Risk, on June 2nd at the Coupeville Library at 7pm – will no doubt shine a new light on the powerful abilities within their, so-called, disabilities.  A call to action and proof a person can have a full life while living with a debilitating birth effect, illness or injury.


You can read Kathleen’s recounting of the trip and filming in the Grand Canyon River Runners fall 2007 newsletter.

Susan Yim, one of the participants, also shared her take on the trip in the GCRR newletter

And Judith Birnbaum, another participant, shared her story of the river trip in the Fall 2005 National MS Colorado Chapter newsletter.

Read comments from those who have seen the film and SAVE THE DATE – June 2nd 7pm at the Coupeville Library.

Right to Risk Participants:

Josh Stockwellsmall product photoSusan YimDaniel Deng

Josh Stockwell         Sebastian Ibanez           Susan Yim              Daniel Deng

Kathy StrahanJudirh BirnbaumJeff PagelsTeresa Parker

Kathy Strahan       Judith Birnbaum          Jeff Pagels              Teresa Parker

Right to Risk Producers: John Ryan and Kathleen Jo Ryan

Right to Risk Production Team: Michael Anderson, Ed George, Katrina Rill, Lew Steiger, Dave Wendlinger and Andy Wiskes

Right to Risk Support Staff: Carol Gary, Ann Wheat, Linda Tuck , Stu Alt, Mike Beram, Karen Buettner, Mike Careto, Dolores Gevertz, Lance Polingyouma, Lourdes Rodriguez  and Sandy Munoz-Weingarten

Adaptive Recreation Nominating Organizations who took part in nominating the participants

City of Phoenix Adaptive Recreation, Phoenix, AZ

Ability PLUS (chapter Disabled Sports USA), Waterville Valley, NH

Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Breckenridge, CO

Disabled Sports USA, Rockville, MD

Environmental Traveling Companions, San Francisco, CA

National Ability Center, Park City, UT

National Council on Independent Living, Washington, DC

National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Denver, CO

Paralyzed Veterans of America, Washington, DC

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

SPLORE, Salt Lake City, UT

Ski for Light, Inc., Minneapolis, MN

Wilderness Inquiry, Minneapolis, MN

World T.E.A.M. Sports, Boston, MA

United States Adaptive Recreation Center, Big Bear Lake, CA

Production and filming of Right to Risk, was supported through generous collaborations with River of Dreams, the National Park ServiceArizona River RunnersCanyon Explorations and ExpeditionsMarble Canyon Outfitters at Lee’s Ferry, and Canyon Plaza Inn and Suites.

Funding for Right to Risk was provided through partnerships with Nordstrom department stores,  the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, River of Dreams, Kathryn Nell Harrison and Jan S. Alexander, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department, the Grand Canyon Conservation Fund, Greg C. Jones Memorial Fund, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the City of Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, Margaret T. Morris Foundation, J.W. Kieckhefer Foundation and the Service Alternatives for Washington, Inc.