DENVER (KDVR) — Council Member Chris Hinds has dealt with barriers since the first day he was elected into office in 2019, but a moment before a Monday night debate in his re-election bid stands out.

Hinds has been using a wheelchair since 2008, when a driver crashed into him as he rode his bicycle in Denver. He hasn’t been able to walk since.

When he arrived at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre in Denver on Monday night to debate his three challengers at 4 p.m., he was met staring up at a stage with four chairs. There was no ramp to the stage.

What followed was one of the most painful moments Hinds has faced in the public eye, as he tried to crawl his way onto the stage.

“What was going through my mind is, how do I remain composed?” Hinds said. “I’m about to start a debate, I’m about to do my best to share with the people who are in front of me why I am the best candidate. Meanwhile, I am out of my wheelchair, laying on the stage.”

After about 10 to 15 minutes, the candidates and the venue decided to bring the debate down to the floor in front of the stage.

Debate part of Denver’s new Fair Election Fund

One of the candidates, Shannon Hoffman, told FOX31 she pushed to reset the arrangement and that the crew at the theater worked to be as quickly accommodating as possible.

But for Hinds, he felt the moment gave him a binary choice.

“Either I forfeit the viability of my campaign or I get publicly humiliated,” Hinds said.

The debate was a part of Denver’s new Fair Election Fund law. Back in 2018, voters approved Denver’s Fair Election Fund by a popular margin, passing by more than 70% of the vote across precincts. The fund is a pool of $8 million that is directed toward candidates who get small campaign contributions from people living in Denver.

One of the stipulations of candidates participating in the fund is they must attend a certain number of debates or lose the pool of funding. Hinds said if he did not participate, he would forfeit $125,000 for his campaign.

“The lesson that I hope people learn from this is: We should be in an inclusive society,” Hinds said. “The government should be representative of all the people, not just those that are convenient to represent.”

In order to be eligible to host a debate, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre had to sign the terms and conditions of an application from the Denver Office of the Clerk and Recorder.

The application said the venue agrees that “in the event the Applicant Organization is selected to sponsor or co-sponsor one or more debates for the 2023 municipal runoff election(s), the staging, promotion, coverage of, and all other aspects of implementing the debate(s), will be in conformance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws (including the Americans
with Disabilities Act).”

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre responds

A spokesperson for the theater shared the following statement with the Problem Solvers:

“The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre facility and event team reviewed all logistics and requests for the District 10 debate. Upon communication with each candidate in advance of the event, there were no requests for additional or enhanced accommodations. Three of the four candidates arrived 2.5 hours in advance of the event February 13, 2023 upon the CPRD event staff request. This enabled final adjustments and accommodations.

“The CPRD team develops short-term stage accommodations in advance of events because we
know the CPRD Theatre stage has limitations. 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. We are working diligently on a long-term solution.

“Our team will continue to work with the Denver Clerk & Recorder’s office on candidate profile
updates and contact information. It is important to us as we look forward to hosting future
debates and events. We will continually check on campaign contact updates and information so
that we can plan as far in advance for necessary accommodations, even if they might be at the last minute.”

Malik Robinson, executive director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance

The spokesperson clarified the facility is ADA compliant, but the stage itself had limitations, emphasizing they are working to find a solution for the short and long-term for any potential future debates.

Denver Clerk Paul López issued the following statement to FOX31:

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