By Natalie Rodgers
This year’s presidential inauguration was different than any other inauguration in the past. Not only did the United States swear in its first woman Vice President and introduce the world to the youngest inaugural poet, this year’s ceremony could arguably be one of the most inclusive ceremonies to date for people with disabilities.
While this may not come as a shock given President Biden’s early promises of disability inclusion throughout his campaign, the ceremony not only attempted to cater to the specific needs of varying disabilities, but also showed the country how we should be better considering this kind of inclusion in our day-to-day lives.
Before the ceremony had even begun, the inaugural committee made several livestreams available with different types of translations and accessibilities. This was to ensure that everyone could watch the inauguration live without feeling excluded from any part of it. The committee displayed these livestreams on the “Accessible Inauguration” webpage which offered live coverage accompanied by closed captions, audio descriptions, ASL translations and even Cued Speech transliteration. These kinds of resources were also made available for the children’s inauguration event that was hosted by Keke Palmer.
Unfortunately, the website did experience many technical difficulties that rendered some of the day’s events inaccessible such as incorrect captions and cut away shots to show the audience rather than ASL interpretations of the Pledge of Allegiance that was done by Fire Captain Andrea Hall.
But despite those cuts, Hall’s leadership through the Pledge of Allegiance proved to be just as integral and important to including disability in the narrative. In a conscious effort of inclusion, Hall led the Pledge verbally and through American Sign Language, a rarity for the Inauguration.
“I really just wanted to pay homage to the deaf and hard of hearing community,” CBS reported Hall saying, “The words of the pledge are significant not just for us, but for them as well.”
Hall’s signing of the Pledge of Allegiance was also an homage to her late father who was deaf and ensured that the Pledge was one of the first pieces she learned in ASL.
Other forms of representation throughout the ceremony were present, but more subtle. As Reverend Father Leo O’ Donovan prepared to lead the invocation, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt asked the crowd “Stand if you are able.” Advocates for disability inclusion have been trying to encourage the normalization of the sentence for years to include those in wheelchairs or with conditions in which standing was not an option. Though a short moment in the scheme of the event, many took to Twitter to show their appreciation of the phrase’s inclusion, crediting it as one of the most appreciated and notable moments for them.
Other more subtle forms of inclusion could be seen in the performances of the inauguration. After capturing the attention and appreciation of the world through her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman revealed that she has dealt with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment for most of her life. Up until a few years ago, Gorman heavily struggled pronouncing words with the “r” or “sh” sounds and used poetry as a way to practice her speaking skills while expressing her thoughts.
“The voice I’m hearing aloud can’t pronounce Rs, can’t pronounce ‘sh.’ It kind of sounds a bit garbled,” Gorman told TODAY. “But I hear this strong, self-assured voice when I am reading this simple text, and what that told me is the power of your inner voice over that which people might hear with their ears.” While many credit Gorman’s poetry as a device for her to overcome her impediment, Gorman claims that she still struggles with her impediment at times and her condition better frames her identity as a storyteller.
Her inclusion in the inauguration is also reflective on President Joe Biden, who has also openly spoken of his own speech impediment, a stutter. President Biden, even with his new position still advocates for the normalization of speech impediments that has inspired others with similar conditions around the world.
Since the beginning of his campaign, President Joe Biden has promised for further inclusion and accessibility to an array of differing abilities. Though his inauguration was not the perfect model for what these changes would look like, it does show the kind of attention to inclusion that needs to continue to better unite the nation.
Sources: TODAY, CBS News, The Verge, CNN