CIVIL RIGHTS TESTING REPORT REVEALS BARRIERS TO HOUSING IN PERSON AND ONLINE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Washington, D.C.March 20th, 2019—Today, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), a national nonprofit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., released a new report based on a civil rights testing investigation into housing accessibility for people with disabilities. The report reveals numerous barriers to access for people with disabilities searching for housing in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, both online and in person.

From Click to Visit provides important insight into the barriers people with disabilities face when searching for housing. In particular, the report’s findings raise major concerns about website inaccessibility. Using civil rights testing, the ERC conducted a total of 50 tests: 25 online tests and 25 in-person tests. Civil rights testing typically involves one or more people covertly engaging in a transaction or interaction in order to uncover discrimination or compare conduct to legal and policy requirements. Both types of testing employed in this study, online and in-person, revealed significant barriers for housing applicants and residents with disabilities.

Online testing revealed striking results. The ERC used matched-pair testing to compare the experiences of a blind tester and a sighted tester while navigating the websites of multifamily housing providers. The blind tester relied on a screen reader, a form of assistive technology, to navigate the websites. In total, the ERC tested 25 websites in both their desktop and mobile forms.

Results showed that in 84 percent of desktop versions of websites tested and 76 percent of mobile versions, the blind tester faced accessibility barriers when

  • Trying to determine unit availability;
  • Filtering search results by preferred unit size;
  • And/or learning about rent specials.

In addition, 16 of the websites tested had online applications, 13 of which were inaccessible to screen readers. This prevented the blind tester from being able to fill out or submit the application. If the results of these website tests were applied to in-person visits, they suggest that in 81 percent of visits, a blind visitor would not even be able to submit an application.

“The internet has completely transformed our world and provides a major opportunity to increase access for all people,” said ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford. “The continued exclusion of people with disabilities from such technological advancement is inexcusable.”

In-person testing was conducted to evaluate compliance with accessible design and construction requirements, as well as leasing agents’ behavior toward testers with disabilities at recently constructed multifamily housing properties throughout the D.C. area. Tests revealed Fair Housing Act (FHA) violations at 16 of the 23 properties tested and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations at 13 properties. In total, testing uncovered 51 violations of FHA design and construction requirements and 31 issues of non-compliance with the ADA.

“It is unacceptable to find so many issues of non-compliance more than two decades after these design and construction requirements were put into place,” said ERC Director of Accessibility Rights Kay Pearson.

The results of this study suggest that website inaccessibility is a new threat to fair housing. In response to the findings, the ERC issues a series of recommendations to housing developers, property managers, and all levels of government to eliminate and prevent further housing discrimination against people with disabilities.

You can access the full report here.

CONTACT

Katherine Pearson
Director of Accessibility Rights
kpearson@equalrightscenter.org
(202) 370-3224

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ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.

The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

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