Incumbent Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds hoisted himself onto a debate stage earlier this week after arriving at the historic venue to discover there was no ramp to roll his 400-pound power wheelchair onto the platform with the other candidates.
Debate organizers reportedly offered to lift Hinds with his chair onto the stage, which would have been around 600 pounds. He declined, opting to raise the chair to a height that enabled him to hoist himself onto the stage.
“I got out of my wheelchair and was laying there on the stage. They gave me a chair that I just hugged. I can’t move most of my body. I’m paralyzed,” Hinds told Westword, self-described as “Denver’s independent source of local news and culture.”
This happened as the audience was filtering into Cleo Parker Robinson Dance studio for the debate. Ultimately, the wheelchair was not lifted onto the stage. Hinds got back into his chair and the District 10 council debate was conducted in front of the stage.
“I am incredibly disappointed and disheartened after the public humiliation I endured at Monday’s District 10 city council debate,” Hinds said in a news release.
“The lack of wheelchair accessibility on the stage at the debate culminated in an extremely uncomfortable outcome: I had to climb out of my wheelchair and attempt to crawl onto the stage in front of a crowd.”
The venue issued a statement that said candidates had been asked to arrive two and a half hours before the debate, which would have allowed for accommodations to be made. Hinds arrived shortly before the debate was set to start.
After reaching out to the city Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Hinds was informed that he had to go to the debate or he would have to return the $125,000 in Fair Elections Fund money that he had gotten so far. The city’s Fair Elections Fund rules require candidates qualifying for the fund to participate in one sanctioned debate.
“The binary choice that I had was to participate in the debate and face public humiliation or lose my campaign viability,” Hinds told Westword.
The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, a disability rights organization, tweeted, “We expect every candidate for council, mayor or other city office to publicly denounce this. We will notice who does when we vote.”
Both the city and dance center officials have apologized to Hinds.
“I don’t understand how it is possible today, more than three decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, that there would be this complete lack of any research or thought into the process,” he told Westword.
Hinds is the current District 10 representative, elected to the Denver City Council in 2019. According to his campaign website, he is the first Denver official — local, state, or federal — who uses a wheelchair for mobility. He was paralyzed from the chest down as a result of a motor vehicle crash in 2008.
According to the Denver City Council website, Hinds has fought for equitable access at the local, state and national levels.
“In May 2018, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Chris Hinds Act into law. This new law closes loopholes to prevent the fraudulent use of disability parking, and is the result of hundreds of hours of Chris’s research and advocacy,” Hinds’ profile states.