By Laura Ramos, NLIHC Tenant Leader Cohort and President of E.A.C.H. Rolls, Inc.
Most people with disabilities have heard of accessibility rights for those who need wheelchair accessible housing or for those with service or emotional support animals. However, many people have never heard of “Effective Communications” as a reasonable accommodation for equal access to services. “Effective Communications” are for those who have difficulty hearing, speaking, reading, writing, or with cognition. Every government agency at all levels, all for- and non-profit organizations, and any entity that provides services or commerce to the public must provide equal access to their programs under the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” All entities that receive federal funding must provide equal access under Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act” as well, while Section 508 covers equal access to websites and other digital formats.
A person with vision and reading disabilities or who is blind may ask for a reasonable accommodation to receive materials in alternative formats, such as in large print, in an accessible digital document, in Braille, on a screen-reader accessible website, on tape, or even via a trained reader who can read documents to them. They may request more than one format at the same time if they need this. In the context of Fair Housing, whether you submit a complaint through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (HUD FHEO) Regional Offices or online, you can ask for the complaint forms, fair housing and civil rights information, and any other documents in the alternative format that you need. If you are unable to fill out a form, then intake workers at HUD FHEO must assist you in filling out the complaint form.
A person who has hearing difficulties or who is deaf may ask for communications via TTY (teletypewriter), CaptionCall telephone, virtual sign language interpreting, in-person sign language interpreting, or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). CART provides more accurate captioned translations of verbal proceedings or meetings than the automated or computer-generated captioning on Zoom or other platforms. I was once in a meeting on Zoom where the computer-generated captioning kept saying one person’s name was “F_ _k.” This was very awkward for all at the meeting.
There are fewer alternative forms of communication for those with speaking disabilities. Often, caseworkers will try to ask questions and get answers by writing them down. However, there are people with disabilities who not only have difficulty speaking but with physically using a writing implement or a computer for typing. Regardless of what the communications disabilities are, an agency is required to provide equal access to their services and to the Fair Housing complaint process. If a person with disabilities needs a reasonable accommodation and communications in another language, then the agency must provide both the alternative format documents or communications and the other language to allow equal access to their programs.
If you are told that “we don’t have to” provide large print documents, texts in Braille or sign language, or information via other forms of communications assistance that you require to access housing, it’s likely this person does not know their responsibilities under these laws and regulations. First, let them know what Effective Communications reasonable accommodation you need, and supplement the request with a letter from your physician or other provider. If they deny your reasonable accommodation request, then you should consider filing a complaint. The following links provide more information on the Effective Communications rights of people with communications disabilities:
Remember, I am not an attorney, nor is this legal advice. However, it is educational information coming from a person with lived experience that I hope will help others with disabilities and the frail elderly.