The New Battlegrounds for Disability Rights


New Orleans  Sometimes in organizing we can see bits and pieces that seem isolated from place to place start to come together more firmly into something that might be greater than the sum of some small parts.  Perhaps this is happening now for advocates and adherents of disability rights over the issues of accommodation in housing and basic living conditions by more aggressive assertions of the definitions and impact of discrimination.

            For example settlements have been won under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf with Target stores and Netflix to create greater equality in access for on-line shopping and utilization of these on-line operations that have come to define consumption in these times.  Reports in the Wall Street Journal indicate that the Justice Department is “expected to issue new regulations on website accessibility later this year that could take a broad view of the ADA’s jurisdiction over websites.”  Such rules “…could mean websites will be required to include spoken descriptions of photos and text boxes for the blind, as well as captions and transcriptions of multimedia features for the deaf…”

The Deaf Equal Access Foundation of Louisiana (DEAF-La), a new group founded in New Orleans over the last six months, caught my attention in a number of ways, but the one that grabbed me hardest was the popularity of a petition they left on the counter of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse that hundreds of our customers have eagerly signed in support of expanded captioning.  The group has been campaigning for captions on the government access cable channels for City of New Orleans business, since they provide no other way that the deaf can acquire access to the information that they need as citizens.  Additionally the group has been trying to get captioning for disaster signals on all of the television stations.   In New Orleans on the eve of another hurricane season this would seem to be a no-brainer, but the heart of discrimination is often pretending to not notice differently-abled people.

In Albuquerque a unique new housing complex was built using some of the federal recovery funds to offer state of the art accommodation access for the deaf including video phones, flashing signals, and other tools.  There was an allegation that somehow this housing complex was discriminating against the hearing residents or applications since almost 85% of the units were occupied by the deaf.  HUD has now put the issue “on pause” according to the New York Times in order to work something out. 

Luckily, I can still hear, and unless I’m very wrong, I think I hear change knocking on America’s door, ushering in more equal access and opportunity as we finally come to recognize more fully the justice in disability rights.