THE BLOG
01/23/2013 06:25 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Disabled Say Inauguration Accessible

WASHINGTON - Walter Park sat at a security checkpoint at the Capitol on Monday for about 24 minutes waiting for a specialist to inspect his scooter. Alan Opra, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and attended in a wheelchair, said getting through inauguration security only took him five minutes.

Billed as the most accessible Presidential Inauguration ever by organizers, attending the swearing-in ceremony was a mixed bag for people with disabilities.

Riding a scooter to the inauguration from his hotel, Park was diverted from handicapped-accessible curb ramps, delaying what should have been an easy journey.

Park, 67, from San Francisco, had to recruit passerby to help him lift his scooter over street curbs when no ramps were present. Also, Transportation Security Administration officers required Park to step out of his chair to conduct the inspection on his vehicle when passing through security.

"They did a pretty thorough job like I expected, but I thought it would only take a few minutes," Park said.

Amanda Depaul, 23, of Ambler, Pa., who uses a wheelchair, also was required to stand up out of her chair.

Margarita Munoz, 22, was attending her first inauguration and said being in a wheelchair did not dampen the fun of the day, although she thought there were a few ways the access could have been made easier for those with impairments.

"It would have been better if there was an accessible line for wheelchairs through security," Munoz said.

But Opra, a Sterling Heights, Mich., man who attended the swearing-in ceremony in a wheelchair, said TSA officers were easier on him. Rather than making him stand, Opra said the officers used a dog to check him for any prohibited items.

Before coming to the inauguration, Park checked the Presidential Inaugural Committee website for accessibility information. After making it into the green ticketed section near the West Front of the Capitol, he expected to move on to the handicapped accessible seating, but could not maneuver through the thick crowd.

Blue flags designating handicapped seating areas, advertised on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies' website as a first this year, were small and difficult to see from the vantage point of a scooter or wheelchair.

Closed captioning available for the first time on the JCCIC website for people with hearing disabilities was difficult to access with so many people trying to get online through their smartphones. Closed captioning was also available on Jumbotron screens as in years past, but from Park's position on his scooter, the captioning was difficult to read.

Sign language interpreters were stationed in handicapped sections to give directions to and answer questions from attendees with hearing impairments.

Steve Hastalis, who is blind, said he he enjoyed his first inauguration. The 61-year-old found it easy to get from the Judiciary Square Metro station to the yellow ticket area, as people milling about were ready to help.

"I'm accustomed to big crowds," said Hastalis, who is originally from Chicago. He said that finding people who can give "competent directions" is the best accommodation for people with visual impairments.

This story was written by Medill on the Hill. Medill on the Hill is a website that provides breaking news coverage of Congress and the White House, whose reporters are students at the Medill School of Journalism.

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