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Inauguration praised for inclusive messaging, including ASL Pledge of Allegiance

TODAY logo TODAY 1/20/2021 Kerry Breen
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by TODAY

The inauguration of President Joe Biden included several inclusive moments for the disability community, leading to praise from viewers and advocates.

The most talked about moment occurred early in the ceremony: Georgia firefighter Andrea Hall led the Pledge of Allegiance in American Sign Language and in spoken word.

The moment quickly went viral on social media. Actor and disability advocate Marlee Matlin shared a video of the moment on Twitter, and Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, called the presentation "beautiful."

There were other, more subtle moments throughout: Before Reverend Father Leo O'Donovan led an invocation, speaker and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt asked the crowd to "stand if you are able," language that many in the disability community have asked to replace standard requests to rise. On social media, plenty praised the comment.

Throughout the pandemic, the deaf community has expressed concern about being left out of the conversation surrounding COVID-19: Masks make lip reading impossible, and communication over Zoom or other video-chatting services can be difficult. In September, the Trump administration was sued by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and five other plaintiffs for not providing sign language interpreters during public COVID-19 briefings. A judge ruled that the White House would have to provide such interpreters beginning on Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has made a commitment to inclusivity: According to the Biden inaugural website, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are "committed to providing opportunities for equitable participation" which allow "everyone to engage" with events. The website included links to watch inaugural events through a variety of accessible options, including those with live captions, audio description and American Sign Language. The website also said that certified deaf interpreters would be available at all broadcast events.

Related: "I'm happy that for most of you reading this, the physical distancing and isolation you’ve experienced during the pandemic is temporary."

Inclusiveness was also present in the line-up of performers at the event: Lady Gaga, who performed the National Anthem, has spoken in the past about being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and Amanda Gorman, who recited a powerful poem after Biden was sworn into office, has dealt with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment. Biden himself has spoken frequently about overcoming a stutter as a child.

Inauguration Day will close out with a primetime special, and the inclusivity will continue: Brayden Harrington, a teenager with a stutter who bonded with Biden on the campaign trail, will be part of the event.

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