City responds to Naperville Riverwalk accessibility assessment by North Central College students

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Some changes may be coming to the Naperville Riverwalk thanks to 11 occupational therapy students from North Central College who recently did an accessibility assessment for a class project. 

The students used a wheelchair, a walker, and a tape measure to record realistic and accurate observations, which they shared with the city. 

Observations at the Naperville Riverwalk

Students found there are some things the Naperville Riverwalk is doing well in terms of accessibility. 

“On the Riverwalk, I think that it’s very beneficial that there [are] handicapped spots right by the ramp as it makes it easier to get on. And then also, there [are] benches throughout the Riverwalk, so being able to sit on those, if you would like to, in some areas, while you just enjoy the journey, I think that’s very beneficial too,” said Savanna Swanson, an occupational therapy student at North Central College. 

But they say there is also some room for improvement.

“So, we noticed as we kind of went down the Riverwalk towards the middle end it gets very narrow, so it is very hard to use a wheelchair over there, just for safety issues when you turn around,” said Hailey Parisek, an occupational therapy student from North Central College. 

They also discovered some uneven surfaces in a few spots, and a maneuverability issue at the end of the lower Riverwalk.

“You have to turn around because you can’t just walk straight out. It is only one way. So, that becomes very difficult for someone who is in a wheelchair or walker, just because there is not enough space to actually turn the full wheelchair around and could potentially cause safety problems,” said Parisek.

The city responds to the observations

The group shared their findings in a letter to the city, which got them a response from the city’s Director of Transportation, Engineering, and Development, Bill Novack.

Novack was thankful for the group’s assessment for bringing attention to things like the need for height clearance warning signs under the bridge, and the unleveled ramp. 

“There’s some concern about the bricks at the east end were not level with the concrete, those will be raised up that half inch within the next month, and so those will be immediately addressed,” said Novack.

Some of the feedback he said was not feasible, like widening the walkway and installing railings, due to floodplain regulations.

Others, like the addition of a ramp on the west side of Eagle Street are already in the works with the Eagle Street Gateway project for 2024.

But some of the student recommendations like benches on the lower level are being considered by the Riverwalk Commission. 

“The commission had [a] very good discussion, [and the commission is] very open to adding some benches down on that lower walkway,” said Novack.

A bridge of communication

The North Central students were happy that their voices were heard.

“And then they also invited us to the upcoming meetings and are staying in touch with us. So I think that was awesome and we really appreciate how fast they got back to us,” said Parisek.

And in turn, the city appreciates the feedback, to help create a more welcoming Riverwalk.

“The only way we’re going to get better is to listen and collaborate with individuals, talk about what the constraints are, but also what we can do to improve it,” said Novack.

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