Accepting People of Disability in Your Neighborhood

By Nelson W. Burns CEO, Coleman Professional Services

In the United States, people with disabilities have the right to live in any neighborhood they choose, as outlined in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is 27 years old this year. This act was passed in response to historic exclusion and unequal treatment of people with disabilities.

People of disability:

  • are individuals with physical or mental impairment that are substantially limited by one or more major life activities or
  • have a record of such impairment.

Before ADA, inaccessible housing kept people with disabilities from choosing where they wanted to live. This lack of access, often translated into the inability to find a local job, own property and feel liked they belonged in a community.

Today’s post will examine the laws surrounding ADA, enforcement of such laws and how you and I can prevent this level of discrimination now and in the future.

The Laws

On a federal level, the Fair Housing Amendments Act amends Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in housing sales, rentals or financing, to include those with disabilities.

At the state level, the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C. is a ruling that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. It is intended to move people with disabilities out of institutions and into neighborhoods.

At local municipalities, they can pass a Reasonable Accommodation Ordinance that provides individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodation in regulations, policies, practices, and procedures to ensure equal access to housing and to facilitate the development of housing for individuals with disabilities.

The Funding

Many local government and agencies (including Coleman Professional Services) receive funding from The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to provide people of disability with meaningful choices in housing.

HUD allocates a portion of its funding through Housing Choice Vouchers for people with disabilities who are transitioning from an institution to a community. With Section 811, HUD provides funding to develop and subsidize rental housing for very low- and extremely low-income adults with disabilities.

Unfortunately, The Office of Management and Budget puts HUD's funding at $40.7 billion for 2018, down from $46.9 billion in 2017, representing a cut of 13.2% of which most of these cuts will be in the area of helping redevelop low-income neighborhoods and encourage homeownership.

The Enforcers

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) enforce ADA and FHA acts and amendments on a federal level, however local and state governments are tasked with complying with federal mandates. The DOJ has brought lawsuits against 25 states who failed to offer community-based housing for people with disabilities.

In addition, HUD has Fair Housing Enforcement Offices that conduct compliance reviews to ensure people of disability transitioning out of institutions are having their needs met with community housing.

8 Recommended Courses of Action

While there are many ways you can help advocate for the rights of people with disability on a national, state and local level, I would like to take a moment to drill down to eight simple ways to be an inclusive neighborhood.

  1. Take a hard look at your own biases and alter them.
    Treat each person, regardless of their disability, as an individual. Don’t talk down to them, but do be patient and use simple, concrete words. Most of all, model inclusive language and behavior to your children.
  2. If you have a person with disabilities in your neighborhood, treat them as any other.  
    Take them baked goods, exchange emails/phone numbers and do your best to make them feel welcomed into the neighborhood.
  3. Encourage your school to host a diversity and inclusion day.
    Because most biases and stereotypes occur between 3 to 12 years old, it is important to create an environment of counter bias.
  4. Host a school Mix it Up Lunch Day on October 31.
    Often children sit with the same group of students’ day-after-day thus potentially promoting cliques and fear of anyone that is different. Students are required to sit next to someone they do not know on Mix it Up day. 
  5. Ask your city council to support a Reasonable Accommodation Ordinance to ensure individuals with disabilities are treated fairly in your city, town or village.
  6. If you know of any ADA injustice, report it on the DOJ website.
  7. Contact US Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and request they support keeping the HUD funding the same for 2018 as it has been this year.
  8. If you are an employer, consider hiring someone with disabilities into your company. Contact Coleman Employment Services for more details about our services.
About Coleman Professional Services

Coleman Professional Services is a nationally recognized not-for-profit provider of behavioral health and rehabilitation programs that improve the lives of individuals and families in an eight-county region of northern Ohio. Contact us 24/7 with any questions you may have regarding accepting people of disability into your neighborhood.