Athletes, spectators impressed by care

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 September, 2008, 12:00am

Disabled people at last night's Paralympics opening ceremony were impressed by the accessibility of the iconic 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium and the caring yet low-key volunteer service, despite an apparent lack of spontaneity.

Physically challenged spectators, especially those in wheelchairs, were given special treatment at security checks, while Paralympians were excited by the well-rehearsed welcome that matched that received by Olympians last month.

More than 5,000 front-row seats at the 91,000-capacity stadium were vacated to seat the Paralympians, coaches and officials for the three-hour ceremony. Unlike the Olympic opening ceremony, athletes entered the stadium before last night's gala performance.

'The order, a convention for the Paralympics movement, was designed to let the disabled athletes take seats and enjoy the ceremony with ease,' National Stadium spokesman Chen Shuxun said.

Almost all the 4,200-plus Paralympians participated in the ceremony. They started to arrive at the athletes' entrance in fleets of shuttle buses after 6pm, about two hours before the ceremony began.

About half a dozen clapping and dancing male volunteers clad in white T-shirts greeted each bus, setting up ramps for those in wheelchairs and escorting blind athletes.

'We have practised for a long time,' said one volunteer. He declined to confirm rumours that the volunteers were from the People's Armed Police.

Paralympians waved and flashed their digital cameras.

Looking on from outside the fence that segregated the athletes from passers-by in the large square west of the stadium, Sebastian Schraufstetter, 19, a wheelchair-bound German spectator, said: 'I like the festivity, no matter whether it's planned or not.'

Mr Schraufstetter, an amputee from Bavaria, said he had been well treated inside and outside Olympic venues since arriving four days ago.

'I'm here watching the Games ... So far I feel the people are nice, neither patronising nor apathetic,' he said. 'Not only in Olympic sites, the city, in general, is very [disabled] friendly.'

Zhang Qinghong, on crutches, was also impressed by the caring service provided for disabled spectators.

'They would let us go through a separate security gate, where no metal detector was used,' Mr Zhang said. 'Guards searched us in a polite way. That spared us a lot of trouble.'