Debate Organizers Thrown by Candidate's Wheelchair

Paul Hinds, running for reelection on Denver's City Council, says he had to crawl onto debate stage
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2023 8:59 AM CST
Without Wheelchair Access, Pol Has to Crawl to Debate Stage
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/demaerre)

A debate this week in Denver for a City Council seat is making headlines not for the debate itself, but for what one candidate calls his "humiliating" experience as he tried to participate. The Denver Post reports that the event was held Monday at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, a local school sponsoring the debate for the District 10 seat, with help in the setup by the Denver Clerk and Recorder's Office. Incumbent Councilman Chris Hinds, who uses an electric wheelchair and says he's a known local disability advocate, tells Denverite that when he arrived at the event, he found he wouldn't be able to maneuver his wheelchair onto the debate stage. Staffers assured him, however, they'd hoist him and the wheelchair onto the stage, which he notes is a 600-pound lift.

The employees weren't able to do it, however, and due to a requirement that candidates participate in debates to receive local funding, Hinds felt he had no choice in what he did next: He crawled out of the wheelchair and onto the stage, then propped himself up against a chair while workers tried to lift the wheelchair without him in it. "It was a choice between my campaign's viability or my dignity," he tells the Denver Post. Ultimately, workers couldn't get his wheelchair up on the stage, so the debate was moved to the floor in front of the stage. A photo of Hinds trying to get onto the stage ended up on social media, which only made things worse. "It's really frustrating," he tells Denverite. "The whole point of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], which was passed a lot more than three decades ago, was that we wouldn't have public humiliation like this."

A spokeswoman for the dance school—which noted in its application to host debates that it was "ADA accessible via our back entrance"—says they didn't receive any requests for "additional or enhanced accommodations" beforehand. But a rep for the Atlantis Community accessibility nonprofit tells the Post no such request is needed, as public functions are supposed to automatically comply with state and federal guidelines.The head of the CPRD says they're looking into permanent fixes for its accessibility issues, and Denver Clerk Paul Lopez says his office will work more closely with venues to make sure they're accessible. "No one should have that experience, and I have apologized to Councilman Hinds personally," he says in a statement. Meanwhile, the venue for a second debate set to be held Thursday evening has already contacted Hinds to let him know access won't be an issue. (Read more disabled access stories.)

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