The Salt Lake Organizing Committee is asking the disabled community for help in ensuring venues for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games are accessible.
"We will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. That's never been a question," said Shelley Thomas, senior vice president of communications and public affairs for the organizing committee.The question that remains to be answered, however, is the best way to meet the federal accessibility requirements. That's where a new committee on access comes in.
The SLOC Olympic and Paralympic Committee on Access met for the first time on Monday. Their job is to make sure that, come 2002, disabled athletes and spectators are able to get around both the Olympics and the Paralympics.
Organizers also hope to avoid the problems faced by the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. There, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in to investigate compliance with the law.
Atlanta's experience made it clear that the federal government expects temporary facilities such as office trailers to be just as accessible as permanent stadiums.
Will the U.S. government want to look into Salt Lake City's preparations?
"We would hope not," said Cindy Gillespe, head of federal relations for SLOC. She held a similar post with Atlanta's organizing committee.
Unlike Atlanta, the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Games is also putting on the Paralympics, the competitions for disabled athletes that follow the Olympics.
That means SLOC will be readying venues including the athlete housing under construction at the University of Utah for both Olympians and Paralympians. Competition sites for the Paralympics have not yet been set.
But organizers are looking at using the E Center in West Valley City; the speed-skating oval in Kearns; the cross-country and biathlon course being built in Wasatch Mountain State Park near Midway; and the Snowbasin ski resort.
Mike Schlappi, a member of the new committee, said he was pleased organizers are starting now to make facilities accessible.
"I just think it's wonderful we're ahead of the 8-ball," Schlappi said.
Schlappi, a three-time Paralympian in wheelchair basketball who represents athletes on the SLOC board of trustees, said organizers have to make sure they take into account a variety of disabilities.
Thomas said the blind and the deaf are represented on the committee, as well as motorized wheelchair users. Local, state and national groups that represent the disabled are also sending participants.
More groups are expected to be involved at the committee's next meeting in September. Even the Disabled Rights Action League, which recently staged a protest against SLOC, will have someone there.
"This is a very good step in the right direction," said the league's Barbara Toomer. "I'm glad (SLOC) is realizing we're part of the community, and we're happy to participate."