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Games are ready to serve disabled

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The last time the Olympic Games were held on American soil ? 1996 in Atlanta ? was the first time Olympic organizers had to operate under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With the ADA in mind, planners erected Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, which then assistant attorney general Deval Patrick touted as "the most accessible stadium in the world" when touring the facility just months before the Summer Games.

Salt Lake organizers hope Attorney General John Ashcroft has similar praise for Salt Lake's venues following his visit this week to determine, among other things, how the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has complied with the ADA. Ashcroft made no public comment on that issue during his visit Saturday to Park City venues.

At indoor arenas Olympic organizers in Salt Lake have mirrored Atlanta in complying with the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities such as blindness and deafness and those in wheelchairs.

"We don't want to do the minimum," SLOC ADA director Bill Schaw said. "What we want to do is make sure we provide the best service to all who come to the Olympics whether they're able-bodied or disabled."

Planners have designated 1 percent of all seats for wheelchair users and dispersed the spaces throughout the facility, including in suites.

Also such seats are situated next to conventional spaces so that disabled spectators can sit aside their able-bodied friends. Moreover, wheelchair seats have a comparable "line of sight" so that occupants can see the playing surface when spectators in front of them stand.

But beyond indoor stadiums, Salt Lake organizers have faced challenges unique to the Winter Games.

Like how to maneuver a spectator in a wheelchair up an icy ski hill to view a slalom race. Or how to make sure ramps are not covered with ice in the early morning as disabled spectators wheel their way up to Utah Olympic Park.

To cope with its daunting task SLOC tapped noted Washington, D.C., ADA attorney Turner Madden to ensure the 2002 Winter Games would comply.

Madden, Schaw and SLOC's Committee on Access, which includes Paralympians and members of Salt Lake's disabled community, have developed measures they believe will provide disabled spectators the best views possible.

Wheelchair users who have tickets to downhill, super giant slalom or moguls events will be able to ride special sleds attached to a snowmobile to their designated mountain seats.

Beyond the snowmobile rides, spectators in wheelchairs will have access to special runners that attach to wheels and afford them better maneuverability in the snow.

For the deaf, hand signers will be available at all venues to describe Olympic action and announce winners. Ice hockey, Schaw said, is the lone sport without such signers since the action is too fast for signers to keep pace with announcers.

Event descriptions in Braille will also be available for the blind.

SLOC is encouraging those with disabilities to contact the organizing committee and let organizers know what event they will be attending. That way, Schaw said, organizers will have the correct accommodations for each event.

Still, even if the disabled do not give prior notice ahead, the venues will be ready, Madden said.

"If you have a ticket it doesn't matter if we know you're coming or not. We're ready for you," he said.

Disabled persons with tickets can contact SLOC for more information at 1-801-212-2002.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com