chris hinds denver city council district 10 (copy)

FILE PHOTO: Denver Councilman Chris Hinds.

A Denver city councilmember who relies on a wheelchair said he found himself under a humiliating spotlight during an election debate on Monday, when he either had to crawl onto stage or skip the event and lose public financing for his reelection campaign. 

The stark choice for Council District 10 Councilman Chris Hinds, his campaign said, was to either preserve his campaign’s viability or keep his dignity.

Hinds said he chose to preserve his campaign's viability.  

“I am incredibly disappointed and disheartened after the public humiliation I endured at Monday’s District 10 City Council Debate," he 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.”

Hinds, who is campaigning for reelection, participates in the city's Fair Election Fund program, under which candidates who agree to raise money in lower amounts get a matching disbursement from the city. The small contributions are matched on a nine-to-one ratio, turning $50 into a $500 contribution.

The program requires candidates who receive matching funds to participate in the debate — or forfeit the funding.

In Hinds' case, he stands to lose $125,000, his campaign said.   

The councilmember said the studio of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, where the debate was held, was inaccessible.

City Clerk and Recorder Paul D. Lopez apologized for the incident. 

“No one should have that experience, and I have apologized to Councilman Hinds personally,” López said in a statement. “Our office continues to communicate with all debate sponsors to ensure that they can fulfill ADA requirements and other needs."

In order to be sanctioned by the Denver Clerk and Recorder's Office, debate sponsors must fill out an application stating they meet basic requirements, including adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The debate organizers submitted an application, which was approved, according to the Clerk's Office. 

Lopez disputed Hinds' allegation that neither the debate organizers nor the clerk's office informed him about the debate, which he said was scheduled during the council's regular Monday meeting.  

It was only after learning about the debate that the clerk's office told him he is legally obligated to show up or lose his matching funds, Hinds alleged.

Lopez called the claim "false," saying candidates received multiple emails from his office's campaign finance team, including debate schedules and their obligation to attend them, as far back as December. In addition to reaching out to the campaigns, debate details are also available on the clerk office's website, Lopez said.

Hinds, an advocate for people with disabilities, earlier said the city performs an inadequate job of clearing snow from sidewalks and crosswalks. On several occasions, he said, he's had to roll onto a street, putting himself at great risk.

In a statement after the debate, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Executive Director Malik Robinson said the dance company is working on a long-term solution.

"The CPRD team develops short-term stage accommodations in advance of events because we know the CPRD Theatre stage has limitations," Robinson said. "We are deeply involved in plans to ensure full accessibility of CPRD Theatre facilities in the near future. Our stage is home to performers of all abilities. We understand the stage limitations, and plan in advance necessary accommodations prior to events."

The dance company said the candidates were asked to arrive 2.5 hours early, but Hinds arrived five minutes after people were allowed to take their seats and 10 minutes before the debate started.

The dance company also said it did not receive any requests for "advanced accommodation" from any candidates, adding its building is ADA compliant. 

Hinds' campaign said it was not informed of the request to arrive early. 

Passed more than 30 years ago, the American Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities, established accessibility requirements for government spaces, places of public accommodation and commercial facilities.

"People often think that the ADA solved accessibility problems, but here is a stark reminder that serious issues still persist," Hinds said.

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