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Denver councilman in wheelchair expresses humiliation following mandatory debate: "I don't think anybody should have to go through that"

Councilman in wheelchair discusses lack of accessibility at mandatory debate
Councilman in wheelchair discusses lack of accessibility at mandatory debate 02:43

City councilman, Chris Hinds, does not hide that he's in a wheelchair. 

"I've been a disability advocate for years. All my material has my wheelchair in it," Hinds said. 

So, when he showed up for a mandatory debate Monday afternoon at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, he was surprised they were surprised. 

"The first person that greeted me said, 'Oh, I didn't know you were in a wheelchair,'" Hinds expressed. 

The debate was supposed to take place on a stage that did not have wheelchair access. 

Hinds says the first solution proposed was unacceptable if not impossible; to lift him and his chair onto the stage. 

"I said this wheelchair is 400 pounds and I weigh close to 200 pounds," Hinds said. 

So, he left his chair and hoisted himself onto the stage. He says he felt humiliated. 

"I was effectively just lying on the stage," Hinds said. 

The debate was eventually moved to the floor in front of the stage, but Hinds says the damage was done.  

"I felt like a circus clown," Hinds said. 

Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez said his office does not plan, advertise, or facilitate debates and that Cleo Parker Robinson signed an application stating they were basic ADA compliant. 

In a statement, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance says, "There were no requests for additional or enhanced accommodation." 

Hinds says they should have known. 

"Someone didn't do some just basic research," he said. 

The dance studio also says if they had more time, something could've been figured. Hinds arrived just before the debate started. 

"That's unfair because they're telling me that I should have been more prepared when clearly they were unprepared," Hinds said. 

Clerk Lopez says he has reached out to Hinds to apologize. 

"I don't think anybody should have to go through that," he said. "We're going to be making sure that we're working with any one of the folks that are sponsoring debates to make sure that they understand those ADA requirements." 

Hinds says he hopes this never happens again. 

"I hope that the takeaway is that we need to learn from this and understand why it's so important that we have disability representation," he said. 

Cleo Parker Robinson says they were already working to make sure their stage is more accessible in the future when this event happened. 

A statement was issued from the theater sending an apology to the councilman saying:

"On behalf of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, I want to apologize to Councilman Chris Hinds for the experience he had at the District 10 debate in our theatre Feb. 13. While our theatre is accessible for all patrons, the stage in our theatre is not ADA accessible.  Due to the limitations of the theatre space, we have worked within space constraints to facilitate access to the stage for people with disabilities. This incident was an important and visceral reminder that accessibility, in many forms, is critical for all members of our community. We are always working to meet the highest level of responsibility while we are serving the needs of our vibrant and diverse Village."

"Cleo Parker Robinson Dance is a community hub, and we strive to meet many areas of inclusion. Our main stage access is one area which does not fully meet inclusionary access. We have often mentioned advance planning in preparation for access challenges. It is not incumbent upon visitors to assure our compliance to accessible spaces in our facility. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance is currently undertaking a more comprehensive plan to address physical accessibility issues that challenge access for all throughout our historic building. I deeply regret it took this incident to elevate the urgency for this change and we are committed to ensuring that no one experiences lack of access to the stage again."

CBS News Colorado reporter and anchor, Justin Adams, was the moderator for this debate but had no hand in planning for the event. 

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