Monday, April 29, 2013

HUD raises discrimination concerns over housing project for the deaf

A housing complex for deaf seniors in Tempe, Arizona, has run into problems with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Arizona has allocated money from HUD to help pay for the project, but HUD has raised questions about the housing complex on the basis that it discriminates against people who are not deaf.

According to an article in the New York Times entitled "A Haven for the Deaf Draws Federal Scrutiny Over Potential Discrimination" by Fernanda Santos, 4/28/13, the project called  Apache ASL [American Sign Language] Trails is specifically designed to meet the needs of people who are deaf and use American Sign Language as their mode of communication: "Designed by a deaf architect to fit the needs of the deaf, its units have video phones and lights that flash when the phone or the doorbell rings. Wiring in common areas pipes announcements made through loudspeakers into residents’ hearing aids." The design fosters a sense of community among its residents and has the full support of the Arizona Department of Housing that hoped it would be a model for similar projects.

Other advocates say that HUD's finding of discrimination might "complicate" other projects in which federal money would be used to build housing for adults with special needs: "Already, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, based in Phoenix, has scrapped plans to use federal grants to help pay for a development designed for autistic adults, opting instead to pursue private financing."

HUD's adherence to convoluted and ideologically motivated reasoning has angered advocacy groups for people who are deaf and hard of hearing across the country. In a letter signed by 75 organizations, the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) writes, "In a nutshell, your agency, HUD, is forcing deaf and hard of hearing individuals to only live according to an ideological vision of forced integration. The tragic irony is that such an ideology has punished deaf and hard of hearing individuals seeking a higher quality of life and a safer place to live and has actually resulted in the forced isolation of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing."

Ironically, Jeff Rosen, who is deaf and the chairman of the National Council on Disability, which advises the federal government on disability policy, "…said these types of discussions could help the government better understand the challenges faced by groups of disabled people like the deaf, who do not often have the opportunity to live in a community that they feel is 'appropriate and fit for them.'"  Although the NCD has not taken a position on this particular issue, it recently published a report in support of deinstitutionalization of all people with developmental disabilities. 

The NCD, in a monumental display of overreach by the agency and advocacy groups supporting it,  declared that the term "institution" should be redefined as any congregate setting of 4 or more people "who do not choose to live together", ignoring the reality that many people with DD are not able to make such choices and rely instead on family members and guardians to decide for them. Furthermore, limiting settings based on the number of people is not mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision on discrimination. Strong objections to the NCD report have so far not moved the the agency to retract or modify its position on accessibility to a full spectrum of specialized settings by people who have developmental disabilities. 

According to the New York Times article, Mr. Rosen says, “Our understanding of discrimination and disability policies is evolving.” Let's hope so. 

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