An incident on Monday afternoon at the venue hosting a debate for Denver City Council District 10 candidates is provoking lots of discussion today about the hardships faced by people with disabilities in everyday life. The Denver Post’s Conrad Swanson reports:
Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds couldn’t maneuver his wheelchair onto the stage at the Cleo Parker Robinson dance school Monday afternoon. The venue didn’t have a ramp for him…
So the councilman said he had to climb out of his wheelchair and crawl onto the stage in front of the debate crowd of several dozen people. The event itself had to be delayed during the process.
Ultimately, event organizers could not lift Hinds’s electric wheelchair onto the platform and the group held the debate on the floor in front of the stage.
The Cleo Parker Robinson dance school served as both the sponsor and venue for the debate, which was facilitated by the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
The image of Councilman Chris Hinds crawling onto the stage at the Cleo Parker Robinson dance school is jarring enough that we decided not to republish it here. Hinds’ bravery in confronting the situation has turned the incident into a major positive press event for his campaign–as much positive press as any of the mayoral candidates have earned, let alone a city council race. It’s sympathy that comes easy after the venue chose to make excuses instead of taking responsibility:
Patricia Smith, a spokesperson for Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, said the venue didn’t receive “requests for additional or enhanced accommodations” ahead of the event.
Hinds shouldn’t have had to request any advanced accommodation, [Pols emphasis] said Mike Oxford, interim director for Atlantis Community, Inc., an accessibility nonprofit in Denver. Because the debate was a public function, the event must comply with state and federal accessibility standards regardless of whether someone asks.
We were forwarded the complete statement from the Cleo Parker Robinson dance school, which not only fails to apologize for what happened but actually appears to blame the candidate for their own venue’s lack of accessibility. This statement, which we’ve annotated below, should be taught in crisis comms classes across the nation as a lesson in how not to do it:
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance goes the extra mile in accommodating presenters and audiences
Well, that’s the thing. You didn’t.
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.
Because they didn’t have to ask you for accessibility. Accessibility is the law and it’s the venue’s responsibility.
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.
We get it. It’s the guy in the wheelchair’s fault.
“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…” [Pols emphasis]
No, obviously, it isn’t.
“We understand the stage limitations, and plan in advance necessary accommodations prior to events. We are working diligently on a long-term solution,” said Malik Robinson, Executive Director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.
Translation: we know our venue isn’t up to snuff, but we hold events here anyway! Someday we’ll get it fixed, in the meantime blame the guy in the wheelchair.
“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,” Robinson added.
That’s it. That’s the whole statement. Not a hint of regret for this debacle, certainly nothing close to an apology to Councilman Hinds for a situation that in no way can Hinds or his campaign be blamed for causing. A simple apology would have done so much in this situation, but it couldn’t be pried out of these “crisis communicators” with a crowbar. This arrogant victim-blaming on the part of the Cleo Parker Robinson dance school simply has no place in the post-Americans with Disabilities Act world.
Surely there is a venue available that gets this for future debates.
Here is a shorter statement.
"We are very sorry. We don't have the money to fix the problem so we are going to ignore the law."
Well, in their defense, the law has only been in place for 33 years, they may not have heard of it.
Whose genius idea was it to hold the event there? Whoever it was didn’t do their job;scoping it out for accessibility, I’ll bet that’s not all they missed.
Also says a little about the other candidates. When they saw access to the stage was going to be an issue, rather that putting Chris thru a humiliating, and ultimately fruitless, process, they should have immediately offered to move their debate to the floor in front of the stage.
Not only would it have won them some points for sportsmanship, but also afforded the opportunity to address the issue of accessibility in out older structures in the city.
"they should have immediately offered to move their debate to the floor in front of the stage."
Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Where the PC crowd would see nothing more than something to complain about – violation of the ADA – others could have turned it into an opportunity to score some points!
The episode is telling, and leaves plenty of room for blame.
But before going on a rant, perhaps you can consider…
* who among us has had a conversation with people in wheelchairs about the barriers making their lives difficult? How about speaking to others who are not currently among the temporarily able-bodied who can navigate our public buildings and other elements of our civic life?
* how many public events have you attended without considering if the venue is fully (or even adequately) equipped for people with disabilities? If you have considered that access, how many of you have said anything about it to anyone?
* and if access is key, is your residence accessible? I've been sensitized to the issue, and my house is accessible in some ways. But there are still some aspects that don't measure up for friends who are in wheelchairs, and virtually nothing for other sorts of handicaps.
I don't know what happened or why, but I would blame a lot of people for being stupid. When I was active and involved in events we would make sure it was accessible. It was a check box. But for a Denver event to blow this, it is national news. Yup, news here inside the Beltway, that is saying something.
Just saw a WaPo article on it. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/02/17/denver-councilman-wheelchair-stage-debate/