Sen. Tammy Duckworth sheltered on her own on January 6 because evacuating the Senate would have been nearly impossible for a wheelchair user

Sen. Tammy Duckworth sheltered on her own on January 6 because evacuating the Senate would have been nearly impossible for a wheelchair user
Senator Tammy Duckworth in 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth didn't shelter with her colleagues on January 6 because she uses a wheelchair.
  • She told Insider she feared the lack of accessibility in the Senate would have hindered her escape.

Evacuating the Capitol on January 6 was no easy task, but for Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who uses a wheelchair to get around, it would have been almost impossible.

Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, was heading through the tunnels to the Senate to give a speech when a Capitol police officer told her the violent mob had breached one of the doors. As a veteran who lost her legs in a crash when her helicopter came under fire in Iraq in 2004, she had a split-second decision to make.

"Do I go and still be with the other senators? Or try to secure myself and hope that I can stay someplace secure until they can come get me?" she recalled to Insider as part of an oral history of January 6 with interviews from 34 lawmakers, staffers, journalists, and police.

Duckworth has served in Congress since 2013, first in the House before ascending to the Senate in 2017. Meaning she'd had eight years of experience with the US Capitol's shortcomings when it came to allowing people with disabilities to navigate the complex.

"Being a wheelchair user, knowing how few entrances and exits and ways off the floor there are for me in my wheelchair, and that the stairs wouldn't be an option if they needed to move, I decided not to go forward," she said.


Duckworth and two staffers - including her body man, former Kurdish fighter Abdulla Sindi - returned to her office where they prepared to weather the insurrection on their own. They barricaded themselves inside her office, waited, and watched the melee unfold on television.

"I was in communications with Sen. Amy Klobuchar the entire time," Duckworth said. "I texted her and said, 'Hey, I'm not coming to join you guys. I'm going to secure myself. Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I know how to take care of myself. I will let you know if I think we're gonna be in trouble.'"

A recent biannual report by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights found 1,996 barriers for people with disabilities throughout the Capitol complex. While about 900 of those barriers came from issues with restroom facilities, 134 identified barriers came from doors, 131 from "interior routes" and another 38 from stairs.

Duckworth's decision to head back and shelter on her own turned out to be both practical and prescient.

"I was gonna stop by my hideaway," she said. "And my hideaway is immediately to the right of where they broke into the Capitol. In fact, they tried to initially get in via my hideaway windows.


"Had I gone on, I would have been in my hideaway right when they were trying to come in," she said.

Read the full oral history with accounts from 34 people here, and other related stories.