Accessibility in the Chippewa Valley: Celebrating success and pushing for progress

Celebrating success and pushing for progress


Wide walkways at Erickson park ensure accessibility for people that use wheelchairs. © Emily Shepardson, 2020

Emily Shepardson

It’s a perfect afternoon for fishing. Golden hour light mirrors the spring sun on a still Wisconsin lake.
You cast off the sandy shore, hoping for a sunfish that puts up a fight.
As you wait for a bite, gratitude for the beautiful spot evolves into realization: this space isn’t accessible.  

The Chippewa Valley is home to several projects that heighten the community’s commitment to accessibility. In addition to Erickson Park, L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library and the Eau Claire County Health Department are taking steps to assure equal access for all area residents.  

Nestled into the southeast shore of Glen Loch Lake, Erickson Park in Chippewa Falls welcomes all.  

The 15-acre land on the Glen Loch Flowage includes pavilion and picnic space, an accessible kayak launch and dock, as well as paved trails and a bridge connecting Erickson Park to Irvine Park.  

Erickson Park Project chair Ron Bakken, that spearheaded the park project since 2013said accessibility projects like Erickson Park make the Chippewa Valley a better place for everyone.  

“To make things that are usable by all members of our communitywe got to do it, Bakken said 

Before Erickson Park, Bakken said Chippewa Valley residents with disabilities had limited options for offshore fishing, and no dock in the area provided holistic accessibility. 

Chippewa Pals, a local nonprofit that plans activities and advocates for people with disabilities in the area, provided Bakken with the inspiration for the accessible park project.  

One night a year we go fishing, and that seems to be the most popular night,” said President of Chippewa Pals Donna Loew. In the past, we always had to go to Eau Claire because that’s where we had some accessibility. From now on, we come to Erickson Park. It’s a grand gesture by a great community, that’s what it is.” 

The park was designed to go beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it’s not the only local project to do so.  

The L.E Phillips Memorial Library is providing accessible technology to the Chippewa Valley through a braille printer.  

According to the American Foundation for the blinda braille printer creates tactile dots on paper, making written documents accessible to blind individuals. 

Anna Zook, L.E Phillips Memorial Library reference and digital services specialist said the library purchased the braille printer in late 2018 and has made it available for visitors to use since fall of 2019.  

Zook said in the short time since the technology was made available to the public, the printer already has been used to say something special. 

 customer came in and she knew a little girl was losing her sight and she wanted to be the first one to give her something in braille,” Zook said.  

So, we printed the little girls first name, in a large braille font.” 

While Erickson Park and the L.E Phillips Memorial Library braille printer provide advanced accessibility options for the community, Rachel Kohn, a local American Sign Language interpreter says COVID-19 has presented unique challenges for community members that are deaf or hard of hearing.  

I noticed immediately that there was a sign language interpreter for Governor Evers, since day one,” Kohn said. “Also, La Crosse County had an interpreter since their first day of briefings. When I watched the Eau Claire County Health Department’s briefings, I noticed immediately that there wasn’t an interpreter.”  

In recent statement released by the National Association of the Deaf, Director of Communications, Lizzie Sorkin explained, “a big barrier has been that many briefings are not accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

According to the U.S Census, 2011-2014 American Community Survey, 1,430 people in Eau Claire county reported they were “deaf or had serious difficulty hearing.” 

To bridge the local gap in accessible COVID-19 information for deaf and hard of hearing community members, Dawn Koplitz began live streaming herself interpreting Eau Claire County Health Department briefings through Facebook 

With training in state level Emergency Response Interpreting, Koplitz has provided ASL interpretations of important Health Department information including COVID-19 testing locationssafety measures, and social distancing guidelines 

On April 28the Eau Claire County Health Department offered a link to Dawn’s Facebook page, so while the briefings are shown live on the County’s Facebook page, ASL users can click on Dawn’s link to view the information in sign language,” Kohn said. Koplitz’s videos can be viewed through the link here 

Erickson Park, the Library braille printer, and ASL interpretation of COVID-19 Health Department updates: three projects, sharing a priority of equity.  

However, Katherine SchneiderUW-Eau Claire psychologist emerita and author says accessibility efforts can’t stop with community projects: inclusivity is a personal project as well 

 “It‘s something that individuals can be involved in,” Schneider said. Looking at their environment and saying, “okay what’s not accessible here to people who are blind, people who are Deaf, people who are wheelchair users.”