Category Archives: accessibility

Recommended Reading for 3 December, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

It’s Your Fault! by that stunning and mysterious being, Chally, at the Don’t DIS My ABILITY blog:

The thing is, people with a disability need accommodations. Accommodations aren’t optional extras, they aren’t something we can give up if we try a bit harder. Neither are we out to get all the money/spots/benefits at the expense of the rest of the population.

Despite his disability, he wages war on HIV (I know, horrible title) by Chaitra Devarhubli at DNA India:

[Amrut] Desai visits various villages in Gujarat, where he conducts programmes on AIDS and educates villagers regarding the same.

UK: Access All Areas: Disability survey

Some 90% of people surveyed by the BBC believe the government should provide funds to make the workplace accessible for people with disabilities.

But 40% felt disabled people turned down job offers even when they were physically capable of doing them.

Deaf moviegoers sue Cinemark theater chain at the Associated Press (US):

Kevin Knestrick, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says Cinemark Holdings Inc. is the only one of the nation’s three largest movie chains not to offer closed-captioning equipment.

Sierra Leone: Disability Bill might become an Act on Friday by Poindexter Sama at Awoko:

it will institute, upon its enactment, a Disabled Commission, provide free education and vocational training for persons with disabilities at required levels, make provision for free medical care, ensure mobility in public buildings and public transports and a host of other facilities necessary for disabilities in all forms.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

An open letter to abled people who like to glare at people who use disabled parking spaces

Also see: An open letter to abled people who use disabled parking spaces by Annaham, which this is jumping off from. Since I drafted this, s.e. also wrote Dear Imprudence: Who Appointed You the Parking Police?!

Dear abled people who like to glare at people who use disabled parking spaces,

Hi there. It’s great that you’re so conscious that disabled parking spots are for disabled people! I’m pleased you’re so keen to keep disabled spots for disabled people – after all, that’s the law and the right thing. People who aren’t disabled certainly shouldn’t be using those spots.

However, you know what my problem with what you do is? My problem is when you take your anger out on people who are using those spots legitimately. I don’t know if you glare and shake your head and tut because you don’t notice the disability signs/stickers on the front of the car – or if you think they’re faking their disabilities – or if you think those crummy disabled people simply don’t deserve to hog the best parking spots. I don’t know if you do this because you don’t expect to encounter disabled people out and about, so you think the parking spot user isn’t legit. I don’t know why you’re letting dominant narratives crowd out the person there in front of you.

I’d also like you to keep in mind that some people who need disabled parking spaces are prevented from getting the sticker. The red tape involved can be incredibly difficult to negotiate, especially for someone running on the second shift for the sick. Some people who need stickers fall through the cracks formed by the “we need to tighten restrictions because of the tiny number of fakers!” meme.

Just keep in mind that, just as there are a lot of people out there who use disabled parking illegitimately, there are also a lot of people who make life harder for people who are using the parking legitimately.

Don’t be one of them.

Sincerely,

Chally

Dear Web Developers: Stop Breaking Functionality and Calling it a ‘Feature’

There’s something that keeps happening to me. Maybe it keeps happening to you too. I use a website. I get attached to it. I start relying on it for the services it provides. And then, there’s a redesign or they roll out a new feature, and suddenly I can’t use it anymore. Because the site has been rendered effectively inaccessible to me.

Maybe you have an old computer or you’re on dialup, and the resource-hogging ‘features’ make it functionally impossible for the website to load. You can’t even get it to load enough to see if you can opt out or to see if there’s a stripped-down version of the site for people on slow connections.

Maybe you have problems with visual perception and the site redesign makes it effectively unreadable. Perhaps you have sensory issues and having sounds and flashing lights and things that move across the screen means you can’t use the site anymore. Or those noxious preview popups that seem to be all the rage these days cause your brain to basically short circuit and you’re unable to do anything on sites that use them.

Maybe the site did a graphics overhaul and suddenly it is filled with a bunch of untagged images, including images you need to be able to SEE to navigate the site or understand the content. Or, hey, they’ve decided to start posting videos to describe key parts of site functionality so you know how to use them, and there are no captions. Or transcripts. Or text-only walkthroughs for people who might prefer that. Perhaps there’s a monstrous Captcha barrier.

Whatever it is, something about the site is fundamentally broken and you can’t use it anymore and you are annoyed and wish they hadn’t done that. Maybe you’re lucky and it’s a big site, say, Google, which decided to do something like add a ‘feature’ called ‘Instant Preview’ that makes it impossible to use their search products1 and someone kindly made a plugin to bypass said ‘feature.’ You can hope for a plugin only if the site is big enough that one of the people annoyed by the change is someone who can write plugins, and if the ‘feature’ isn’t so integral that it’s impossible to plugin around it. Say, a site that replaces its text with images. There is no plugin to add image descriptions to pictures that do not have them.

If it’s a smaller site or it’s a huge functional change that can’t be addressed with a plugin, maybe you write them and say ‘hey, you know, I really love your site, I have been using it a long time, and now I cannot because of this change you made, let me detail why it is a problem.’ Most of the time? The response is no response. Or it’s a canned form letter telling you all about the new feature you were complaining about and how great it is and aren’t you excited. Or. It’s someone writing to say ‘sorry, but your ability to access our site just isn’t that important to us.’

How many times have I encountered this. Let me count the ways. At this point, when web developers decide to break a perfectly usable site in the name of ‘improvements,’ I just quietly stop using the site. Because I know that asking them to reconsider, to provide other options, to make a fix to address the problem, is not going to have any results.

There are several ways web developers could avoid the problem of losing disabled users (and other people bothered by big site changes, for that matter), assuming they care about us in the slightest, which they apparently do not. The solution is not to demand that people freeze sites in time on the design that everyone is familiar with (especially since that design may not be very accessible either), but to ask that people redesigning sites and rolling out new features take some time to think about their users.

They could start by considering accessibility from the ground up in a redesign or a feature rollout. Small features that can be really easy to add can make a huge difference. Just for example, the microblogging site Tumblr could insert a field for an alt tag on image posts. It would be extremely easy to do, it would prompt users to add image descriptions, and it would seamlessly integrate into the functionality of the site. You could also remind site users to actually use the functionality. I cannot tell you how many sites I find with blank alt tags, showing that the code for an alt tag was inserted by whatever content management system they are using and no one used it, or alt tags like ‘DESCRIPTION HERE.’ How helpful.

They could also ask their users for feedback. Dreamwidth, a journaling site, regularly posts polls with mockups of planned site changes, including functional mockups you can navigate through, asking for reader feedback. They ask specifically about disability issues, with questions like ‘does this even make sense in a screen reader?’ as well as asking more generally if users find the planned functionality…actually functional and useful. And they incorporate that feedback into changes.

Both of these things, of course, actually require giving a shit about the people who use their site. Tumblr has been repeatedly asked to enable alt tagging on image posts and hasn’t responded. They don’t give a shit. Dreamwidth goes out of their way to address concerns about usability. They do give a shit.

Guess which site I use more.

  1. Not that this happened to anyone we know recently.

Accessing Sexual Health Part One: Barriers To Getting There

I gave a bit of a talk recently on what I viewed as the barriers to sexual health and education for people with disabilities, discovering that I have a lot of thoughts about the barriers not only to sexual health but to all levels of health care when one is disabled. These can vary from the difficulties in making appointments to waiting rooms where people who use wheelchairs are told to wait in the hallway.

Sexual health is something that weighs quite heavily on my mind. As we’ve highlighted here (and many other bloggers have highlighted elsewhere), people with disabilities, especially women, are vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Over the next few posts (the other two will be available next week), I wanted to highlight some the barriers I perceive in people with disabilities in getting access to sexual health-related care, and I encourage people of any gender, should they wish, to detail out their own struggles or successes in receiving sexual health care. I would remind commenters, though, that people do search and read comments, and if they wish to give their stories anonymously, that’s perfectly acceptable.

The two things I want to highlight today are getting an appointment, and getting into an appointment.

Over the past couple of months it’s been brought intimately home to me how difficult it can be to get a doctor’s appointment for any reason if you can’t use the phone. I’ve been unable to hear very well due to an ongoing ear infection, and Don has a frozen vocal cord, meaning he cannot speak much above a whisper. Trying to book an appointment to get my ear checked has been an effort in frustration: neither my GP nor the ENT clinic I was referred to have any indication of a way to book an appointment that doesn’t involve using the phone.

When I worked in Health Care I did receive relay calls. For those not familiar, d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing people can use relay calls where they use a TTY phone. They contact the relay center via TTY, and the relay center calls the person you wish to speak to. My understanding is that you then type what you want to say, and the relay operator repeats it to the person who you are talking to. They then type up everything the other person says. (The speaking person says “go ahead” when they want the text-part sent.)

[Interestingly, I only learned how to take Relay Calls when I worked in a call center for a major wireless company in the US. No one when I worked in health care discussed Relay Calls or how to handle them, although in my experience the operators were very kind and forthcoming with that information.]

However, phone issues are not limited in any way to people who may be able to take advantage of Relay Calls. Relay Calls are not appropriate for Don’s needs as someone with a frozen vocal cord, for one example. There are also people with audio processing disorders, people who have phone anxiety issues that make using the phone difficult, if not impossible. There are people whose phone-related issues are temporary rather than permanent and thus they don’t have the equipment available to take advantage of something like Relay Calls. These sorts of barriers to accessing health services, especially sexual health services, can cause people to just give up on the whole enterprise.

One solution to this would be for sexual health clinics and doctors offices to consider making people aware of alternative means of contacting them for appointments, be this via email or fax or even an online appointment booking service. While I have no doubt that these are available currently, I have never seen these services advertised. Certainly when trying to book my ear appointments I would have loved to have done it via email, since I couldn’t hear, which made making the appointment difficult.

Another seemingly simple problem that can be a barrier not only to any health service, but any building at all, is the dreaded Wheelchair Lift.

I mean, let’s pretend that every building you’d want to go to for health services was specifically wheelchair accessible (Note: This is not as true as one might imagine.) In many cases, this will mean a wheelchair lift has been added to one of the stairwells.

As many people who use wheelchairs can tell you, wheelchair access is often “in the back”. This can mean that you need to call ahead to let them know that you’ll be there in five or ten minutes and could someone be troubled to let you in? These doors are not always cleared of snow. The one for one of the buildings that Don’s had to enter doesn’t have a full sidewalk going up to it, so he has to deal with mud when it rains. It rains a lot in Halifax.

However, wheelchair lifts, bless them, do not really help a lot of people with other mobility-related disabilities. You can’t use a wheelchair lift if you use a cane. You can’t use it if you use a walker. Occasionally people in these situations will be allowed to use a chair and sit on it while the lift takes them up the flight of stairs, but this is not always something people are willing to do.

Again, these are physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing health services. They’re not deliberate, but they have long-term consequences that are easy to forget.

In praise of speech-to-text software

One thing that has helped me quite a bit as a blogger, writer, grad student and person with chronic pain subject to flare-ups has been speech-to-text software. The basic idea is fairly self-evident: You install the software, plug in the headset that comes with it, open up the word processing program of your choice, and start talking.

Repetitive motion is one of those things that can be the bane of one’s existence if that person happens to have chronic pain issues; while there are people who might say, Oh, typing at a computer can’t be that painful or Just work through the pain or some other ridiculous piece of “advice,” typing can, at times, be enormously painful or draining for some folks with pain issues. No matter how much one may want to complete a piece, post or assignment, sometimes it just will not happen due to pain. When it feels like your hands are encased in cement blocks, there is no “working through the pain.” Having your hands and wrists feel like they have been set on fire by pain when you are on a deadline — like a lot of circumstances surrounding pain flares — can be excruciating. It’s kind of like having your hands and wrists feel like the Human Torch, but without any of the cool superpowers.

With speech-to-text, the additional pain brought on by repetitive typing is significantly reduced, as it takes at least some of the typing (but not editing, as I will address below) out of the equation. There are some additional issues to consider, however: one is “fibro fog,” the name given to some of the cognitive effects of a fibromyalgia flare, which can, for the person experiencing the flare, make it difficult to put thoughts, words and sentences together with anything resembling coherency. This is more of a condition issue than one that has to do with typing, but it’s fairly obvious as to how fibro-fog could impact the use of text-to-speech: if your thoughts are jumbled because of pain and fatigue, it’s likely that they will be just as jumbled regardless of whether you are typing or speaking into a text-to-speech headset. I’m fairly lucky with fibro-fog myself, as it tends to be rather mild unless I am experiencing a pain flare that feels closer to acute pain than chronic, but typing is one of those processes that can seem bizarrely confusing during a massive pain flare-up (and the whole “simple things as confusing” side effect is damn near impossible to truly understand unless you’ve been through it).

Of course, there are some aspects of text-to-speech software that are less than perfect: similar to the iPhone’s auto-correct feature (some of the amazing slip-ups of which have been documented by websites such as Damn You Autocorrect),  speech-to-text software can “read” one spoken word or phrase as something else entirely, sometimes producing hilarious (or irritating) fragments that often make no sense within the context of what you are actually writing. My personal favorite thus far has been my speech-to-text program “translating” Judith Butler as Judas butt lark, which made me wonder if I need to work on my pronunciation skills if only for the convenience of my software program.

There is also the cost issue: many speech-to-text software programs are expensive. In a utopia, everyone who could benefit from text-to-speech programs would have a reliable and fairly-priced one ready for use. I’m one of those weirdos who thinks that accessible technology should not be something available only to those who can afford to pay for it, but that, unfortunately, is most likely a long time coming.

Language Interpretation and Health Care

As promised, here is a post and a place to discuss policies and procedures about language interpreting in a health care context. Unfortunately, it is going to be a slap dash post as I’m knee deep in a number of things, both professional and personal, including preparing to clean ALL THE THINGS and cook a great number of the things for the upcoming U.S. Thanksgiving.

So. Here are some assorted thoughts and resources on interpretation policy!

My first and most prominent thought is the absolute importance of having interpretation done well. It is essential that the health care provider be able to understand the patient’s reported symptoms and experiences and sensations, their medical history, their concerns, and their desires and goals for the medical treatment or care. It is also essential that the patient be able to understand the instructions and questions of the provider and discuss any potential treatment options, including tests, medications, and therapies. Without accurate and competent translation, the provider cannot understand what is wrong and the patient cannot understand how it will be addressed. While there are times that medical treatment takes place without communication – primarily emergency situations when the patient is unconscious – that is definitely the exception rather than the rule and is not a good model for non-emergency care or even most emergency care. Communication is crucial and should be important to all individuals involved in health care transactions. In other words, bad communication could kill people.  So, this is an enormously important issue, both to people who do not speak English (or whatever the predominant language is where they are) and to people with hearing impairments and d/Deaf people.

Problems with interpretation:

In my experience, there is usually a vast gulf between interpretation policies as written and as implemented in practice. Even when a policy requires use of a trained and certified interpreter during all interactions, with clear instructions on when and how to obtain an interpreter, there will be interactions where no interpreter is present. (See, for example, this recent audit of interpreter use by New York City police finding that officers routinely failed to comply with the existing interpretation policy.) This is in large part because of logistical difficulties with interpreter use that I’ll discuss below and seems to be a feature of nearly every interpreter policy. This kind of built in failure rate makes me inherently nervous about relying on interpreters.

Interpreter policies are logistical nightmares, in large part due to the difficulty of matching language competence to language need that we discussed last week. This is especially true in areas with significant language variation – the court where I worked had several Spanish interpreters and an Armenian, Russian, Farsi, Cantonese, and Tagalog interpreter on call all the time, and still had incidents when a litigant needed interpretation in a language that wasn’t available. This is even more difficult in an emergency room situation, when it is impossible to anticipate when a need will arise and there is no way to just have everyone wait for a bit until an interpreter gets there. This leads to using interpreter phones – where the provider and patient use a handset to speak to an off-site interpreter, which are both expensive and clunky. Even if an interpreter is on staff, finding them in the building, pulling them out of a meeting or their break, and getting them to the desired location to provide interpretation is often a hassle.

There also needs to be an entire infrastructure around training interpreters and measuring and certifying their competence. Language knowledge is not enough for competent interpretation, interpreters must also be trained in interpretation skills and professional standards. There is a lot to well-done interpretation – positioning yourself so the provider and patient can maintain eye contact, knowing when and how to ask clarifying questions, providing concurrent interpretation without interrupting the flow of the conversation. This training and certification requires time and money.

The limited-English-proficient patient has very limited ability to address problems in interpretation policy. To address the failure to provide an interpreter at all, they can provide their own, usually by bringing a friend or family member to do the interpretation. This is a big problem for a number of reasons. First, there’s no way to know the competency of the friend or family member in interpreting, especially with specialized medical vocabulary and concepts. When the doctor tells me that the leg pain I am experiencing could be a rupture of my plantaris tendon, plantar fascitis, or tendonapathy, is there any probability that my sister will be able to interpret that accurately? (Personally, I’d have trouble identifying even what portion of the leg was being discussed if I didn’t have Medline open to get those terms in the first place.)  Second, this is a major confidentiality issue. If I am going to the doctor to discuss genital warts, I am unlikely to be as frank or forthcoming if my brother is my interpreter. This is especially true for medical issues around sexuality, pregnancy, mental health, and injuries from domestic violence, when discussing symptoms and experiences can open the patient to strong stigma effects. This is even more problematic if a child is serving as an interpreter and being expected to interpret discussion about conflicts between his parents or his mother’s suicidal thoughts, which could be dangerous or traumatic for the child.

Overall, I am most concerned about the inherent non-compliance caused by the logistical hassle and the patient’s agency being limited to bringing a friend or family member to interpret, and it is these issues that make me prefer language proficient medical professionals rather than reliance on interpreters. I also think that language proficiency for providers would help with cultural competence issues, but that’s more a side effect.

So – have at it! Interpretation? Language proficient providers? What makes sense? What do we want?

Recommended Reading for 25 November, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

disability is a feminist issue by Wheelchair Dancer:

This conversation is an icon in the difficult relations of disability and feminism.

Study: Too Many Fat Women Don’t Even Know They’re Fat by Cara at The Curvature:

Trying to define and impose your definition of normal on other people — whether it be in relation to gender, sexuality, physical ability, neurological workings, weight, or some other category entirely, is alienating, damaging, and oppressive. There’s no way that defining people in opposition to “normal” and telling them that they must become normal for their own good is not harmful.

Access and Academia, Again by Liz at Dis/Embody:

Though it’s lamentable that this is necessary, twenty years after the ADA, these cases are exactly the kind of potentially broad-ranging challenges that could strengthen the civil rights protections of the ADA and the accessibility processes used in US institutes of higher education.

Boy With Disability Unable To Leave Apartment by Katie E. at Women’s Glib:

Denial of accessibility is a widespread issue for people with disabilities. Jaime’s education and right to leave his apartment is seen as trivial to the leasing office, but it is very, very important. Why should he be treated as a second-class citizen? Why don’t all people have a right to education?

In a first, Census 2011 to mark people with multiple disability by Surbhi Khyati at The Indian Express:

For the first time in India, people with multiple disability will be a part of Census 2011. The census will not only include the number of people in each disabled category but also recognise diseases like dyslexia and autism as forms of disability.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Recommended Reading for 19 November, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

little light at Questioning Transphobia: clamavi ad te. Please note that the post discusses suicide, abuse, and murder of trans people. If you think you can handle it, though, it is powerful reading, as is everything little light writes.

When you have been told you are less than human–less than sacred–less than beautiful–your community has failed you. When you believe it, it is because your community has failed you. I do not intend to mince words. … You deserve better. Because you are not the problem. You are not broken. You are not worthless. You are not a problem and you are not a mistake.

Liz at Dis/Embody: Thoughts on World Usability Day:

Now, of course, usability is not the same as accessibility; it is focused on ease of general use, for a mass audience. And, usability doesn’t always incorporate a universal design perspective in which the needs of those who face the most challenges are centered, with the understanding that products designed for that group may also be more usable by others.

That said, usability and communication is an interesting theme, as it seems to implicitly tie back to media accessibility in particular.

Interviews conducted by Meena Bakhtash at the BBC: Voices: Disability and the Hajj to Mecca:

The annual Hajj pilgrimage – a religious duty that every adult Muslim is expected to do once in their lives – can be a tough challenge.

But the obstacles are infinitely greater for Muslims with disabilities, who choose to take the journey.

Melissa Jenkins at the Sydney Morning Herald: Disability package gets tick:

The Victorian government is taking the right approach by directing the majority of its disability package towards early intervention, advocacy groups and unions say.

Kirsty Whalley at This is Local London: Disabled girl from Norbury a “health and safety risk”, says school

A disabled 11-year-old girl has been rejected by an academy school because she poses a “health and safety risk” to other children.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Action Alert: United States: Congressional Hearing on ADA TODAY

*** HEARING THURSDAY ***

Landrieu to Chair Hearing To Examine Regulatory Burdens Facing Small Businesses

WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will hold a hearing Thursday, November 18, 2010 entitled “Next Steps for Main Street: Reducing the Regulatory and Administrative Burdens on America’s Small Businesses.”  This hearing will give small businesses the opportunity to discuss federal regulations resulting from labor and workplace safety law, environmental protection laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Committee will also have discussions on the Form 1099 reporting requirement taking effect in 2012.

Your coverage is invited

Who:

U.S. Senate Small Business Committee Chair Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Small Business Committee Members

What:

Hearing entitled, “Next Steps for Main Street: Reducing the Regulatory and Administrative Burdens on America’s Small Businesses”

When:

Thursday, November 18, 2010
10:00 a.m. EST

Where:

Russell Senate Office Building
Room 428A
Washington, D.C. 20510

More information at the Justice for All Website. ht/ @lizhenry.

Disability and the House Key: Housing Discrimination, Disabilities, and Where the Law Falls Short

This post originally appeared on this ain’t livin’.

A 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act in the United States specifically banned housing discrimination on the basis of ability status. Under the law in the United States, landlords, mortgage lenders, and management companies legally cannot discriminate against people with disabilities when it comes to renting and selling housing. ‘All types of housing transactions,’ according to the Department of Justice, are covered.

Specific provisions are included to oblige landlords to make ‘reasonable accommodations.’ If housing has a no pets policy, service animals must be permitted. Tenants who need to make modifications to make their residences accessible must be allowed to do so, although landlords are not required to pay for them. Other accommodations that might be necessary must be permitted, under the law, if they withstand the ‘reasonable’ test.

Provisions were also specifically provided to regulate construction of new housing. Landlords are not required to retrofit old housing, but companies building new housing must build it in ways that meet accessibility standards. At multiunit developments in particular, apartments designed to accommodate wheelchair users must be designed and implemented. This is designed to increase housing access for people with disabilities in the future, and it also benefits older adults, who are not necessarily disabled, but do appreciate modifications made for people with disabilities, like shower chairs and grab bars.

So, under the letter of the law, housing discrimination shouldn’t happen to people with disabilities1. Yet, in actuality, discrimination happens all the time. The Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study in 2005, ‘Barriers at Every Step2,’ documenting discrimination against people with disabilities. Using a time-honoured HUD technique known as paired testing, HUD used functionally identical applicants for housing, one disabled and one nondisabled, and compared responses.

What they found is that, well, landlords discriminate against people with disabilities. Realtors discriminate against people with disabilities. So do mortgage lenders. Management companies. Workpeople. All sorts of people involved in housing transactions. As many people with disabilities could have told HUD if they were asked, and as many did in reports to the agency documenting discrimination and asking for help.

Sometimes, housing discrimination is the small cut. It’s arriving at a house for rent and seeing that there’s a step to the door, a bathroom too narrow to wheel a chair into, stairs. In housing that’s actually accessible, it takes the form of turning in endless applications and being assured ‘you’ll get a call’ or ‘oh, we just rented it,’ it’s being asked probing questions about disabilities, ostensibly to see if you can afford the rent, but really with the goal of prying and snooping. Deaf applicants with landlords who refuse to communicate with them. Applicants who ask if they can make a reasonable modification, say, like installing a ramp to get in the front door and being told ‘no.’

This isn’t legal, but it happens anyway. Just like it’s not legal to refuse to rent to a single mother, or a young Black man, or a woman, on the basis of those traits alone, and it happens anyway. Housing discrimination is widespread and it’s entrenched. A lot of landlords are ignorant of the fact that there are laws governing this kind of activity, and others know, but don’t care. Because they know it’s highly unlikely that these laws will be enforced. They can continue on their merry discriminatory way as long as they like.

Few people report housing discrimination, because, when you are searching for a place to live, reporting discrimination isn’t high on your list of priorities. You sigh and cross that information off your list, you tell friends not to bother with that house if it comes up for rent in the future, and you move on. You’re struggling to pack, and get organised, and deal with a thousand tiny details that aren’t going to go away on their own. You don’t have time to file a discrimination complaint. To pull together the documentation. To go through questioning and court and investigations. You are too busy trying to survive.

There are occasional victories, which shouldn’t have to happen at all because the victims shouldn’t have been discriminated against in the first place, but these victories are thin on the ground. HUD uses what funding it can to identify and pursue egregious cases, in addition to following up on complaints filed by people who experience housing discrimination, but it can’t keep up. No one could keep up.

Because this is all the result of entrenched social attitudes. Combating discrimination with laws is great, because those laws provide a framework for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting discrimination, but legislation alone cannot be relied upon to address issues like housing discrimination. As long as people genuinely think that people with disabilities are bad people or difficult tenants or unreliable or ‘difficult,’ they are going to continue refusing to rent to us, refusing to grant us loans, refusing to show us houses for sale.

We need a two pronged approach, which is why I applaud organisations that are working on public outreach and education to familiarise landlords with the law so that they can learn, you know, why legally they should not do this, while also providing people with education about why it’s not ok ethically, as a human being, to engage in housing discrimination. These programs realise that the only way to stop housing discrimination is not with a law, is not on a case by case basis, but rather by actively fighting social attitudes that contribute to discriminatory beliefs and practices.

Our housing options are limited by so many things. Many of us don’t make very much money, and can’t afford the cost of living. Many of us have disabilities that render many types of housing inaccessible. Must we also endlessly combat discrimination from landlords and other people of power when it comes to property transactions?

  1. And families, and people of colour, and on the basis of gender.
  2. No, the irony of this title is not lost on me.