On Monday afternoon, Denver City Council member Chris Hinds arrived at a local dance theater prepared to discuss politics ahead of a municipal election. Unfortunately, the stage was inaccessible to Hinds, who uses a wheelchair. He is paralyzed from the chest down. Staff scrambled to find a solution.
At first, they wanted to lift Hinds onto the stage. Hinds’s power wheelchair weighs 400 lbs making this impractical and dangerous. Power wheelchairs aren’t designed to be lifted. Their large size makes this nearly impossible to do.
However, Hinds indicated that if he did not participate in the debate for the city’s District 10 council seat, he would have to forfeit approximately $125,000 in campaign funding from Denver’s Fair Elections Fund.
Sadly, there was no way for Hinds to access the stage safely. An audience member took a video of the uncomfortable situation that followed. Hinds told reporters that “he felt like a circus monkey” while climbing onto the stage
Hinds lifted himself out of his wheelchair, pulled his legs onto the stage, and clung to a metal chair leg as the audience murmured and the debate’s organizers discussed how to accommodate him. Hinds described the experience as “humiliating” and pictures of him climbing onto the stage, as well as a subsequent Denver Post story, drew criticism on social media from politicians and disability advocates. Hinds hopes it raises awareness of this issue for disability accommodations, which he says was why he became involved in local politics.
Mike Oxford, interim director of Atlantis Community, Inc., a Denver accessibility nonprofit, said that Hines shouldn’t have had to request accommodations in advance. The debate was a public function. It was required to meet state and federal accessibility standards regardless of whether or not anyone asked.
Hinds was scheduled to attend a second debate on Thursday. A representative from that venue attended Monday’s event and assured him that access would not be an issue for his second debate. López stated that his office is working with all of the city’s debate sponsors to ensure that all accessibility requirements are met.
It is 2023. All public places should be accessible to people with disabilities. No one should be forced to find a solution to inaccessibility during an event. Access shouldn’t be seen as a privilege but rather as a right.
Swanson, Conrad. “‘Humiliating’: Denver City Council Candidate Had to Crawl on Debate Stage Due to Lack of Wheelchair Access.” The Denver Post, The Denver Post, LLC, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.denverpost.com/2023/02/15/denver-council-candidate-chris-hinds-wheelchair-debate/.
Wu, Daniel. “Paralyzed Councilman Asked to Climb out of Wheelchair onto Debate Stage.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Feb. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/02/17/denver-councilman-wheelchair-stage-debate/.
Good points made, Grace. Your writing about these topics is spot on and informative. What Hinds had to endure to get his message across is ridiculous. Two steps backwards. The need for accessibility is not something that we woke up to just this a.m.