Equal Rights Center Uncovers Discrimination Against TRS Users

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Equal Rights Center Uncovers Discrimination Against TRS Users

Aug 27 2012

The Equal Rights Center recently published the report titled, Disconnected: Housing Discrimination Against the Deaf & Hard of Hearing.

The report’s Executive Summary:
In the United States, more than nine million individuals identify as Deaf or hard of hearing, and approximately 2.1 million individuals identify as having a speech impairment. Many of these individuals rely on a Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) to communicate by telephone. TRS is a term that encompasses a variety of technologies that facilitate telephone conversations for individuals with hearing or speech disabilities, including internet, video, and sign language systems. For many such individuals, TRS is a lifeline to government services, medical care, employment, and housing. TRS is a particularly useful tool when seeking rental housing, in that many prospective tenants contact housing providers by telephone to obtain critical threshold information about apartment availability, rental rates, and the application process.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) both prohibit discrimination against TRS users with disabilities in housing-related transactions, as do many state and local anti-discrimination laws. Despite these legal protections, TRS users often do not receive equal treatment, and the Equal Rights Center (ERC) continues to receive reports of discrimination against people using TRS.

To address this issue, the ERC initiated an investigation of the treatment of TRS users in the rental housing market in the greater District of Columbia metropolitan area. Between October 2011 and March 2012, the ERC conducted 100 fair housing rental telephone tests to compare the treatment of TRS users with non-TRS users. In these tests, TRS users experienced different and more adverse treatment 45% of the time.

The differences in treatment documented by the ERC’s testing included instances in which rental agents:

  • refused to converse with a TRS caller;
  • misrepresented apartment availability;
  • provided different rental terms, incentives, application requirements, or information; and
  • provided less follow-up to TRS callers.

In five tests (11% of tests where there was any different treatment), the TRS caller was treated adversely in multiple ways. The ERC’s findings make clear that discrimination against TRS users is a significant barrier to equal housing opportunity. To address this situation, both housing providers and prospective tenants must take action. First, housing providers must enhance comprehensive staff training to ensure that all prospective tenants—including those using TRS—are being treated equally. Second, TRS users should be aware of their rights under the FHA, ADA, as well as state and local laws, and step forward when these rights are violated.

To learn more about the ERC, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org or call (202) 234-3062.