"I felt like a circus monkey. I felt exploited"
DENVER, Colo. -- A Denver city council member who uses a wheelchair faced a difficult situation this week when he participated in a political debate at a venue that did not have full accessibility, prompting him to drag himself onto its stage.
Chris Hinds, who is running for reelection, said he has received apologies from the venue for the incident.
"I felt like a circus monkey. I felt exploited," Hinds told CNN Thursday.
When Hinds arrived for the Monday debate, which was held at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance facility's theater in Denver, he was told organizers intended to carry him onto the stage. Hinds found the idea both humiliating and impractical.
"My wheelchair weighs 400 pounds. I'm about 200 pounds. That's 600 pounds they wanted to try to lift," Hinds said.
Organizers asked Hinds if he could raise himself onto the stage's floor so they would only have to lift his chair, he said. Video shows Hinds, who is paralyzed from the middle of his chest down, shifting himself from the chair's edge to the edge of the stage floor, and then using his arms to pull his legs onto the stage.
He then struggles to sit upright until someone brings him a chair to lean on, the video, which Hinds provided, shows.
Hinds was reluctant to try to get onstage without his wheelchair, he said, but felt he had no choice because candidates in Denver must forfeit public campaign funds if they decline to participate in an official debate.
"My thought process was, I have to participate in this debate or end my campaign," Hinds said.
Eventually, organizers agreed to allow the debate to take place on the main floor of the theater at the foot of the stage, where he could sit in his wheelchair. Video shows him sliding himself back off the stage's edge to his wheelchair.
In a written statement, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance's executive director Malik Robinson publicly apologized to Hinds.
"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," Robinson said.
Hinds says he also received an apology from the office of the county clerk, who organizes the debates, and says he is satisfied with their response.
Hinds pointed out that many people with disabilities continue to struggle with lack of access more than 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. When he became the first person in a wheelchair elected to the council, the chambers where they hold meetings were not wheelchair-accessible, nor were the restrooms at City Hall, he said. That was quickly rectified after he was elected, he said.
"I sure hope that we can use this as a teaching moment to understand why it's important for democracy to be representative of all the people, including people with disabilities," he said.
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