Last week I took the reigns on a project that had been mentioned around the office – a housing guide for the disabled people of Maine. My boss had brought up the idea of it with me earlier in the summer, but it had been dropped in light of other, more immediate needs. But, when the workflow started to thin and my days became much, much more boring, I decided I had to take the work into my own hands.
I found online a 2012 publications of Disability Rights titled “Disability Rights Maine: An Employment Guide.” This guide was a FAQ of sorts; it walked a potential disabled individual’s search for a job. Can my employer as about my disability? Can I be paid less because of my disability? What is a “reasonable accommodation?” Some of these answers were obvious, some not. But it served as a fantastic template for my own model.
I started off with the applicable laws and statutes. The Federal Housing Act and Maine Human Rights Commission, along with select language from the Americans with Disabilities Act, were my main sources of information. I explained what it meant to be “disabled,” and who is protected under the law.
Again, some of this information was obvious. A potential buyer cannot be discriminated against based on disability, just as they cannot be discriminated against based on race, sexual orientation gender, etc. That means they must be offered the same prices, terms of service, etc. as any other potential buyer. But, somewhere along the lines the issues get a bit muddier. Who pays for home modification in a federally renovated apartment unit? If you can’t charge extra fees for service animals in a residence, can you require the tenant pay the cost of keeping the unit clean? These question were incredibly difficult to answer, and thats with the applicable legal language sitting right in front of me.
So, it got me thinking. If I’m a (soon to be) college educated employee, working at a firm who deals with these issues every day, with the written statutes printed out and sitting on my desk, who can’t make heads or tails of a dispute over service animals, how are the affected tenants going to fare? Take an individual with an developmental disability such as autism. How is this person, who needs to be able to live in peace with their service animal, going to be able to correctly and confidently know their rights? I’m realizing that issues like this are arising every day, and I am beginning to understand how many of these people are left without really knowing their rights.