There are 56.7 million Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities are our neighbors, our loved ones, and our family members and just like everyone else they deserve to lead healthy, happy lives free from discrimination. There are many civil rights laws that protect the 19% of the US population living with a disability today, and we wouldn’t have those protections were it not for the tireless work of the disability rights movement.
All marginalized groups in the U.S. have had to fight for their civil rights and the fight for disability rights is no exception. Disability activists have long fought for equal access and against segregation, isolation and abuse. The 1970s saw a surge of organizing, with activists mobilized into self-advocacy groups, such as DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund), ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation, later changed to Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today), and the CIL (Center for Independent Living). Activists employed a variety of tactics from legislative advocacy and bringing lawsuits to direct actions such as the 25 day takeover of a federal building in San Francisco, blocking intersections to protest the lack of accessible public transportation, and the “Capitol Crawl” when more than 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices to climb the 83 steps to the U.S. Capitol Building to demand the passage of the ADA.
Organizers were fighting to pass – and then pushing to enforce – landmark laws such as Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which bans disability discrimination in any federally funded program. In 1988, a broad-based coalition succeeded in amending the Fair Housing Act to protect people with disabilities, outlawing discrimination based on disability and requiring that reasonable modifications and accommodations be granted and that new multi-family housing be built to certain accessibility standards. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and government services, was passed in 1990.
Despite the legal protections now in place for people with disabilities in housing, discrimination is still pervasive. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, 55% of all Fair Housing complaints in 2017 were on the basis of disability.
If you think you’ve witnessed or experienced discrimination in any form by a landlord, property manager, realtor, mortgage officer or other housing provider, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100. Help is free and confidential.