Despite living in an era of digital communications, many of the more than 9 million individuals who identify as Deaf or hard of hearing rely on relay services to conduct daily activities necessary by telephone. Acknowledging the importance of this means of communication, federal laws prohibit discrimination against relay service users in housing-related transactions.
Yet, in a recent investigation by the Equal Rights Center, 45% of telecommunications relay service users who sought rental housing in the greater Washington, D.C. area experienced discriminatory treatment while seeking housing. The scope of discrimination documented ranged from an outright hang up and subsequent refusal to answer calls, to misrepresentation of availability of apartments, higher rents, differing requirements, and no follow up.
The ability to have a one-on-one, real-time conversation is crucial in a number of human interactions, including the process of choosing a home. Two-way conversations can provide individuals with much more knowledge than a question and answer session over email. Potential renters may have a diverse set of questions for housing providers that require this level of real-time direct interaction.
As technology advances, so do options for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Through the use of the internet, video, captioning, and relay services, we now have the technology to achieve equal housing opportunities for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Housing providers simply are not utilizing it.
An individual’s right to choose where he or she lives impacts many aspects of life, including employment and educational opportunities, proximity to friends and family, access to transportation, commercial and governmental services, and even personal safety. When individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing are discouraged from renting an apartment through discrimination, it does not simply affect the physical place they call home; it impacts all aspects of their quality of life.
Gone is the day where individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing were openly relegated to second-class status. Yet, despite technological strides in communications and comprehensive civil rights protections, housing providers still leave them disconnected. That has got to change.
To download a PDF of the report, visit www.equalrightscenter.org/disconnected
To download an accessible word version of the report, click here.